Blog Archive

Monday, September 20, 2010

Steps add up on immigration Policies change in significant ways

The Tennessean
September 19, 2010

The Obama administration may not have been able so far to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but changes are taking place that are a move in the right direction at last.

Since 2001, deportations of illegal immigrants had been increasing dramatically, and most often the deportees came to the attention of law enforcement because of routine traffic stops and other minor incidents. In the past year, however, the administration has shifted the emphasis to detaining and deportation of people who have committed serious crimes.

It's a common-sense change that nonetheless has been criticized by hard-line nativist groups, especially in an election year in which opponents of President Barack Obama feel they can embarrass him and take away his party's control of Congress. Yet the plan is working.

As a recent report done by ProPublica with USA TODAY showed, the focus on criminal immigrants has started to chip away at the huge backlog of deportation cases that has built since 2001. ProPublica cited government data showing immigrants have to wait an average 459 days for deportation hearings.

With a record 387,000 people deported in 2009, it's easy to see how courts and detention centers have struggled with the influx of people, many of whom have led mostly productive lives in the U.S. They also have relatives, through birth or marriage, who are American citizens or have legal residency, and the politicized push to deport them has torn apart good, hard-working families.

Democrats tried earlier this year to introduce immigration reform with Obama's endorsement, but it quickly bogged down in the toxic atmosphere after passage of health-care and financial reforms. So the president instead has made changes that are within his executive powers. They include:

• Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials have been ordered to begin dismissing deportation cases against people who haven't committed serious crimes and who have viable immigration applications pending.

• ICE officials are considering prohibiting police from sending people to them based on misdemeanor traffic stops, unless they are found to have a record of serious crimes. This took on urgency because it would have been routine under the Arizona immigration law that has mostly been overturned by a federal judge. As other states try to emulate Arizona, federal agents are right to nip this dangerous practice in the bud.

• Obama also lent his support to the DREAM Act, which would allow thousands of young immigrants a path to legal U.S. residency. The Senate bill would apply only to people who came to the U.S. before age 16, lived here for five years, and agree to two years of military service.

"It is time to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents," Obama said in a meeting last week at the White House.

The administration will continue to take heat for these steps — at least, until the elections. But the immigration process is broken now, with thousands of people paying too harsh a price for unwisely choosing to lie about their status. All who are born here pay, as well, through the legal tangles and racial and ethnic tensions that have been stirred up in communities across the nation.

The steps the White House has taken could help restore some sanity to the discussion before it goes completely off the rails.