President Obama says he is giving some 800,000 students and military veterans, generally the children of undocumented immigrants, the opportunity to escape deportation and apply for work permits. Making policy by executive order is not an ideal way to govern, but Congress' politically motivated obstruction of broader immigration reform has left Mr. Obama no better choice.
The President's new policy is the right thing to do. It will enable law-abiding, productive, educated young people to avoid the threat of deportation for two years. It affects only immigrants under the age of 30 who have been in this country for at least five years and were brought here before they were 16. They do not deserve to be punished for actions of their elders over which they had no choice.
The new policy gives Congress more time to pass the Dream Act, a bipartisan proposal that would set a path to citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants who attend college or serve in the Armed Forces. Lawmakers, mostly Republicans, who oppose the bill may be more willing to consider it after November's election, when they will not need to pander so overtly for nativist support.
Anti-immigration critics have attached their buzzword of choice — amnesty — to the President's order. It is no such thing. It does not confer immunity, citizenship, or even a green card.
A future president could reverse the new policy. But in the meantime, it offers a temporary opportunity to drain some of the poison from the immigration debate, and to enact comprehensive reform that will enable its beneficiaries to participate fully in American society.
Critics complain that the order demands selective enforcement of immigration law by the Department of Homeland Security. But the government is not going to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.
It makes sense to apply law-enforcement resources to expelling the most serious and chronic criminal offenders, security risks, and rootless illegal immigrants who came here more recently. Mr. Obama is not the first president to exercise such discretion; Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush also did so.
Of course political calculations inform the new policy. Mr. Obama seeks to shore up support among Latino voters and other impatient advocates of immigration reform — just as other candidates seek to reap political benefit from the immigrant-bashing extremism they preach.
Predictably, Republican challenger Mitt Romney condemned the President's order. And predictably, he failed to offer a better alternative. Mr. Romney opposes the Dream Act, and emptily proposes that illegal immigrants "self-deport."
Mr. Obama's order will help young people such as 24-year-old Manuel Bartsch, who was born in Germany and brought by his grandfather to Putnam County when he was 10. Jailed for two weeks and nearly deported at age 18 because of his undocumented status, Mr. Bartsch graduated this spring from Heidelberg University in Tiffin.
He says he and others like him who consider America their home seek only "the opportunity to get a work permit and pursue our education and start our careers." In providing that opportunity, Mr. Obama has shown effective leadership.