Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced big news: Effective immediately, eligible undocumented youth are granted deferred action from deportation (a form of administrative relief).
This important and sensible step by the Obama administration provides immigrants under the age of 30 who have been in the United States for at least five years and are currently enrolled or have graduated from high school or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military and do not have a felony or misdemeanor the right to live and work in the United States. This change in policy is similar to the proposed Dream Act that would have offered legal status and a path to citizenship for the same population that was blocked by Congress in 2010.
With no hope at the end of the term for congressional action on immigration reform, this action is being lauded by immigrant advocates and supporters. For the most part, these youth were brought to the United States as young children by their parents and have grown up and been educated in U.S. communities. By their own accounts, they feel very American, and many have few ties to their country of birth.
Their joy and relief spilled into the streets, including in front of the White House, where President Obama made a speech announcing the change in policy.
For their part, the Department of Homeland Security, which under this administration has had the greatest number of deportations ever on record, will be better able to concentrate resources on high priority removals.
This is a temporary fix to a more permanent problem, although deferrals can be renewed after two years. By then perhaps Congress can get a bill through.
Both parties have been thinking about this kind of reform in various forms. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, bandied about as Republican vice presidential candidate, had been floating something similar to this administrative action in recent weeks and has cautiously signaled support for the policy change but also has said that it does not go far enough.
It would be almost tragicomic if he convinced Republican candidate Mitt Romney to take it one step further.
Ultimately, the United States will want to bring this group in permanently. As the U.S. labor force begins to shrink in just a few short years, most future growth will come from immigrants and their children, including these children. They will now be pursuing education and jobs that will benefit them and our economy with some hope of a more permanent pathway.
We have already invested in schooling these folks, let’s give them permanent relief in the form of U.S. citizenship and get a permanent return on our investment.