Substantively, I like President Obama’s move to defer deportation for certain undocumented immigrants through executive action (and thought the speech Thursday night was very strong). The immigration system is broken, and the House has consistently resisted action, even after Senate D’s and R’s passed a comprehensive bill. So, good for the president for acting.

Moreover, regarding any labor market impacts, the undocumented workers who will gain temporary legal status are already here, so we’re not talking about increased supply effects. In fact, by entitling them to leave the shadows of the undocumented workforce, their own pay could get a boost, especially as they may now be more mobile across both geography and sectors of the economy. And the pay of those with whom they compete is also helped by this change. If you’re competing with someone who can be exploited by dint of their undocumented status, that hurts you too.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers has a report out Friday morning with these predictions as to the economic impact of last night’s announcement:

  • Over the next decade, it will raise GDP by between 0.4 and 0.9 percent.
  • They predict no impact on the likelihood of employment for U.S.‐born workers.
  • Average wages for U.S.‐born workers would be 0.3% higher in 2024.
  • The budget deficit would be $25-$90 billion lower in 2024.

I wouldn’t put much weight on such predictions — there’s no way we can reliably predict a 0.3 percent difference in pay 10 years from now (or, for that matter, 10 months from now). The point is to the extent you’d predict gross domestic product, job or wage impacts, they’re small positives; not just for affected immigrants, but for those with whom they compete.

Now, a few words about the politics, because even by the standards of our benighted world of relentless, incoherent political nonsense, what I’m hearing is really beyond the pale. I’m not talking about technical debate over the legality of this executive action, though I’ll mention that below. I’m talking about this notion that by pre-empting congressional action, the president is poisoning the well, or he’s making it impossible for the R’s to take legislative action on their own (this was the position of everyone except me on a CNBC panel Friday morning — [this is a partial clip of the segment])

• Poisoning the well?!? Are you serious? What well are you talking about? That water has been undrinkable since about late 2010. We’re talking about the chamber that’s voted something like 50 times to repeal Obamacare. That is actively suing the president. They’ve talked of impeachment. And they’ve had over a year to take up the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. The idea that the House was just about to take action on comprehensive reform until the mean, old president jumped in ahead of them is beyond ludicrous.

• He’s made it impossible for R’s to take action on immigration. Huh? I don’t get it. How is this executive action stopping them? To the contrary, if they want to render his actions moot, pass a bill. His action is by definition limited; most of the pieces in the Senate bill require Congress, from a path to citizenship to more H1-b visas. The House isn’t taking action because the Republican majority in that body does not agree with the policy, full stop. Which is precisely why the President needed to act.

• It’s illegal! I’m not an immigration lawyer; I don’t even play one on TV. But one argument that’s bubbled up on this makes a lot of sense to me. Congress allocates resources that facilitate the deportation of about 400,000 immigrants a year. That’s about 4 percent of the stock of undocumented workers in this country. That means either someone decides by which criteria the 4 percent of deportees are chosen or it’s just random. A criminal stays; a working parent with a broken taillight gets pulled over and deported.

I’m sure the courts will be called upon to hash this out, but it seems clear that the president can, should, and must use his prosecutorial discretion to make this call.