I will grant you that President Obama has brazenly political motives for announcing on Friday that immigration agents would no longer deport roughly 800,000 young, illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria (e.g., no criminal record and either military service or school attendance). This is an obvious play for Latino votes and an attempt to preempt Sen. Marco Rubio’s plan along similar lines. I will also agree with critics who question whether the president has the right to enact this sweeping change by fiat when legislation to accomplish this goal–the DREAM Act–has been stalled in Congress. But all that aside, I believe Obama’s move is right on the merits.
There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. For all the tough talk on the right about deportations, there is no realistic prospect that any but a tiny minority will ever be deported. That leaves a vast number of people living in a shadow economy where they are not allowed to work legally, subject to exploitation, and are, in effect, exempt from the protections of the law. This is not a tenable, long-term status quo. The sooner those who are here can be moved into a more legal status where they can work legally and pay taxes, the better.