Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants got a better chance to fulfill the American dream last week when President Obama announced that the administration will stop deporting undocumented youth who are law-abiding, pursuing an education or military service, and came to the country before turning 16. At least for now, hardworking people who grew up here, are contributing to our society, and are not at fault for their immigration violations no longer face the constant threat of being expelled from the country.
This was a bold, historic decision, and it’s long overdue. Until now, the Obama administration has been justifiably criticized for its aggressive deportation practices. The last time Congress had an opportunity to stand up for these admirable young immigrants, 36 Republican Senators and 5 Democrats filibustered the DREAM Act despite face-to-face pleas from youths facing deportation.
The faith community deserves a great deal of credit for last week’s victory. Tireless advocacy by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and Justice for Immigrants kept the issue on the agenda when most political leaders preferred to sweep it under the rug. Clergy across the country have called attention to the plight of young people facing deportation and pressured lawmakers to remedy the injustice. Days before President Obama’s announcement, an ideologically diverse group of leading evangelicals held a Capitol Hill press conference outlining moral principles for immigration reform.
Mitt Romney and the Republican Party now face a serious political dilemma. So far Romney has dodged the question about whether he would reverse the President Obama’s new policy, but the media will keep asking until he answers. Eventually Romney will have to choose between alienating Latinos (arguably the most important bloc of voters in the 2012 election) and infuriating right-wing voters who harbor anti-immigrant views or inaccurately believe President Obama has granted amnesty to them.
During the GOP primaries, Romney burnished his anti-immigration bona fides. He said he would veto the DREAM Act and even endorsed “self deportation” which is a euphemism for policies designed to make life so harsh for immigrants that they simply leave the country. It was as cowardly as it was craven. I hope he hears the faith community’s demand and changes course.
Regardless, our nation is still a long way off from fair, compassionate, practical immigration policy that keeps families together, strengthens our nation and provides a clear path to citizenship for those who are already here. We still have work to do.