President Obama’s bold stroke to prevent deporting nearly 800,000 undocumented people who came to America before they turned 16 will be analyzed by most through a crude political lens: will this pump up Latino turnout or not?
I’m not naive enough to believe that politics had nothing to do with this decision. But that’s true of any decision by any President in all of history. Good policy and good politics are not mutually exclusive.
The right question is: is this good policy?
It’s morally just. 800,000 people who are in a legal predicament through no fault of their own, who are American in every sense except for a piece of paper, now won’t have their lives turned upside-down.
It’s economically sound, giving us a boost of growth and demand. As Education Secretary explained in testimony supporting DREAM Act legislation:
By creating opportunities for these bright, talented youth to attend college, they will contribute much, much more than they ever could as struggling workers moving from one under-the-table job to another. With a college education, they can fill important jobs in fields facing critical shortages, such as engineers, nurses, and teachers. Today, even in tough economic times, our country has 3 million unfilled jobs. By 2018, we’ll need to fill 2.6 million job openings in the fields of science, technology, and engineering, and mathematics.The students who will benefit from the DREAM Act can absolutely help fill those jobs.
By working in these fields, they will contribute to our country’s economic growth. With a bachelor’s degree, their earnings will be up to 80 percent higher than if their education ends in high school. With those extra earnings, they will purchase homes, cars, and other goods to drive economic growth.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka agrees that keeping the DREAMers in America grows the economy, as opposed to taking jobs away from other Americans:
It is ironic that at the same time that business is calling for immigration reform that makes it easier for foreign high skilled workers to come to the US, America is sending some of our best and brightest into the underground economy. Our nation has already made an investment in the education of these students. Forcing them into the underground economy is an extensive loss of human capital.
And by growing the economy, we’re growing the tax base and bringing down our budget deficits. The DREAMers would bring in $1.4 trillion to $3.6 trillion in taxable income during their working lives.
The only thing not to like is that an executive order is only as good as long as there is an executive willing to keep it in place.
But that’s speaks to why President Obama is doing this at the right time.
An executive order is not as good as passing the DREAM Act, which is not as good as passing comprehensive immigration reform to end all uncertainty.
But legislation can’t pass the Senate without Republican help.
When congressional leaders determined that broader reform wasn’t legislatively possible, they tried the less controversial DREAM Act to at least help those who never deliberately violated immigration procedures. But even though they put it on the Senate floor during the least politically polarized time — the post-election December 2010 session — Republicans still led a filibuster to kill it.
Then three months ago, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio proposed a fresh DREAM Act compromise. But it’s always been dubious whether he really wanted to pass legislation this year, or just give his party political cover with Latino voters. Just yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times pointed that Rubio hasn’t actually put on paper any specifics to what his compromise would entail, nor has he shown he can bring other Republicans with him on a deal.
The legislative options are exhausted for the time being. Too many people’s lives have been in limbo for too long. President Obama rightly concluded that taking unilateral action was the best remaining option.
And if Republicans feel like Obama is getting away with the politics, instead of complaining, they should restart real negotiations with Democrats, pass broader reform, and get a piece of the action for themselves.
What do immigration advocates believe the next steps for reform are? Come to the June 18-20 Take Back the American Dream conference, and check out the panel “Immigration and Justice: The Way Forward” with Gabe Gonzalez, Gaby Pacheco, Christine Neumann Ortiz, Sulma Arias, Sindy Benavides and Morna Ha.