The Obama administration's welcome decision to suspend deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety is a pragmatic approach to dealing with one of the nation's more vexing issues. The new policy properly refocuses deportation efforts on those who have engaged in criminal activity or flagrantly violated immigration laws, while offering otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants and children who are illegally in the country through no fault of their own an opportunity to stay. That will avoid breaking up families and afford illegal immigrants the opportunity to attend school, obtain work permits or serve in the armed forces without the fear of a knock on the door.
Under the new "prosecutorial discretion" guidelines crafted by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the government will review about 300,000 pending court proceedings of illegal immigrants who are facing deportation. Court dockets are clogged with deportation hearings involving illegal immigrants swept up into the system because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or because of minor infractions. The new, more coherent policy targeting illegal immigrants engaged in criminal behavior or flagrant violations of immigration laws represents a far more reasonable and efficient use of law enforcement resources and court time.
For all practical purposes, the new policy is a de facto adoption of some elements of the Dream Act legislation crafted by Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin, which has languished in Congress for 10 years. The Dream Act would allow children brought to the United States as minors by parents who were illegal immigrants an opportunity to achieve legal status by entering college or military service.
This is not amnesty for illegal immigrants as some critics have claimed. And it is not a clear path to citizenship for any of 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Instead, it focuses on providing modest peace of mind to illegal immigrants who were in many cases brought here by their parents when they were too young to decide for themselves and who obey the law. For many the United States is all they have known, and they are contributing members of society. The Obama administration's revised policy recognizes those contributions and focuses limited law enforcement resources on those illegal immigrants who pose a greater threat.