For a legislative cadaver, U.S. immigration reform has been kicking up a fair amount of dust.
Pro-immigration activists have been protesting in front of the White House and lambasting President Barack Obama as the nation’s “deporter in chief.” Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner made news last month in Ohio when he chastised his colleagues for being too timid to take up immigration legislation, then made news again when he returned to Washington and took it all back, placing blame, as usual, on Obama for the presence of the stiff on Boehner’s operating table.
But Obama should give Boehner and the House more time just in case. Then, once the patient is truly, surely, undeniably dead, the president should act. He has already directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to review options for easing deportations.
The demise of immigration reform would be a humanitarian failure as well as a political one. Millions of undocumented immigrants are locked in place, with deep roots in communities but limited ability to realize their full potential or contribute their full measure to the economy.
An estimated 4.4 million undocumented immigrants have children who are U.S. citizens. An additional 600,000 or so have spouses who are either American citizens or legal residents. Most have been in the United States for a decade or more. Many have jobs in addition to families.
These immigrants are rarely among the deported. Most expulsions occur within 100 miles of the Mexican border, often targeting recent arrivals. Still, thousands of otherwise law-abiding immigrants with legal family members are deported each year, and millions live under the threat of it.
Having already deferred deportations for “Dreamers” — young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children — Obama should extend the policy on similar terms to undocumented immigrants with lengthy residencies in the U.S. and family members who are U.S. citizens or legal residents.
The possibility that the U.S. will deport 11 million undocumented immigrants is no more than a cruel fantasy. A comprehensive immigration bill, with the imprimatur of Congress, remains by far the best possible outcome. A bipartisan majority of the Senate has already shown the way; the House need only follow suit.