Obama panders to hispanics and decreases the likelihood of broader immigration reform

In an attempt to gain the enthusiastic support of Hispanic voters, President Obama today announced that, in the words of the Washington Post, his administration “will block deportations of hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants who had been brought to the country as children.” Obama stated: “Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.”

Obama described his decision as “a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely, while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.” This is nonsense, unless the administration plans meaningfully to test the talent, drive, and patriotism of the young illegal immigrants in question. He almost surely does not – they will be presumed to have these characteristics based on nothing very substantial.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also uttered nonsense when she declared:

Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner. But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language.

In reality, our immigration laws are designed to exclude from the U.S. those who are not here legally. Firmly enforcing them means doing just that, as Obama himself has said in the past in response to criticism for not taking the kind of action he took today. If immigration laws were designed to take into account the individual circumstances of those who are here illegally, they would contain language that says so. There’s a case to be made that the administration is violating its duty under the Constitution to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

As a practical matter, however, there may be less to Obama’s new policy than meets the eye. Although it is described as blocking the deportation of hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants, I doubt that, absent the policy shift, anything like that number of young illegal immigrants would have been deported. One occasionally hears of a young illegal immigrant facing possible deportation, but the ones I know personally have not encountered this problem. Rather, they remain here year after year, living fairly normal lives.

In any event, from a policy point of view, I have little practical concern about the new policy. My main concerns are that illegal immigrants of any age or circumstance not receive special benefits, as would be conferred by a DREAM Act, for example, and, above all, that they not be given a path to citizenship. In view of our limited enforcement resources, and taking humanitarian considerations into account, it is not imperative that violations of immigration law always be punished. Deporting young illegal immigrants who are here because their parents violated the law is not my idea of a good time. But violations should not be encouraged, or indeed invited, by handing out goodies and status to illegal immigrants.

Obama’s decision probably reduces the likelihood that the scenarios of greatest concern to me will come to pass, especially if Obama is re-elected. Irate Republicans are even less likely than before to cooperate with the administration on this issue now that it has acted so high-handedly and in such a patently political manner. As Marco Rubio, who is planning to sponsor some sort of DREAM Act, said today, by imposing a new policy by executive order, Obama has made it harder in the long run to reach consensus on “comprehensive policy,” i.e., one that gives illegal immigrants additional benefits and a path to citizenship.

Squandering opportunities for long-term consensus in order to gain short-term political advantage. That’s the Obama administration in a nutshell.

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