Dream Act lite
Obama's immigration maneuver
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

President Obama has decided to spare from deportation aliens who were brought to this country illegally as children, are in school or are military veterans, and have not committed serious crimes. It's the right policy. It's also brazenly political.

This being a presidential election year, we are shocked — shocked! — that the president would stoop so low.

But, seriously, the president is right that it makes no sense to spend immigration enforcement resources deporting young people who came to the United States under the age of 16, have lived in this country for at least five years, live here now and are Americans except for the fact that their parents broke the immigration laws.

The president's new policy relies on prosecutorial discretion, a nice term for using the government's resources to deport the bad guys — criminals, people who repeatedly cross the border illegally, risks to national security — and letting the small fish go. Prosecutors make those kinds of practical decisions every day. They have to. There's only so much manpower and money to go around. That's why it's good to set priorities.

What the president is saying in this case is that we, as a nation, don't see that much is to be gained by deporting young people who are willing to finish high school and go on to college, or serve honorably in the military and gain an honorable discharge. These are the young people — they have to be 30 years old or younger — who are going to contribute to society, to launch careers and start businesses. It's a waste to spend time and money kicking them out of the country.

Any reprieve granted to such a young alien will be temporary. It will last for two years, but will be renewable. In the meantime, the person can apply for permission to work.

The president's political opponents are outraged. They argue that the president is essentially imposing the Dream Act by executive fiat. The Dream Act is a bill that would provide undocumented aliens who were brought to this country as children a path to legal status. Congress has never passed the Dream Act, and Republicans are screaming that the president's action is an unconstitutional end run.

As a political maneuver, the president's move is an end run around a Congress that is incapable of immigration reform. He's trying to woo Hispanic voters who are not happy with his vigorous border enforcement.

But the cry of "unconstitutional" is overwrought. The president isn't changing immigration law, he's changing priorities in the way it's enforced. That's a subtle but important distinction. And it's the right thing to do.