Hard-liners may say: But Obama is not enforcing the law; he is rewriting it through his latest initiative. This, too, is incorrect, precisely because the administration has pledged to stay at the level of removals that corresponds to appropriations, even while keeping Dreamers off the deportation list. Its three-year track record of high-volume deportations, maintained in the face of sharp criticism from key supporters, shows its commitment to law-bound enforcement.
Some might still object: How can Obama give these people work authorization? But such an approach is no novelty, and it certainly is not lawless. Foreigners given deferred action have been eligible for work permits for 25 years under regulations — carrying the force of law — adopted during the Reagan administration.
Because ICE’s annual appropriations, vast as they have become, still allow for removal of only about 4 percent of the estimated undocumented population, enforcement is inevitably quite selective. Hard-liners are only bluffing when they posture about across-the-board enforcement rigor. In reality, they are essentially asking for random removals — just charge whomever a field agent happens to stumble across, until that month’s resources run out. How can that make for effective policy?
Instead, ICE is systematically applying the kind of judgment and discretion that properly belong to the executive, in order to adjust the focus of enforcement within the bounds that Congress marks. This approach began with a prosecutorial discretion guidance memo from ICE Director John Morton in June 2011. Although its implementation is still uneven, ICE is turning the removal spotlight toward criminals, recent arrivals and repeat immigration violators — and away from youths who are not culpable for their illegal presence. The Dreamer policy is simply a more detailed element of that broader effort.
Our country’s best chance for a long-run cure to our sick immigration system is to combine sophisticated enforcement with humane realism about its targets.
that this precise mix is winning support for Obama’s Dreamer policy. May it someday be a model for full legislative reform.