Obama's immigration action brings needed relief to millions

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President Barack Obama tries to quiet the second of three hecklers as he addresses the crowd after meeting with community leaders about the executive actions he is taking to fix the immigration system Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

On Thursday night, President Barack Obama — in a much anticipated announcement — unilaterally issued an executive order that altered the immigration system in significant ways. He shielded between four and five million undocumented immigrants from deportation, albeit temporarily. And while the majority of these migrants in question, all those with American citizen children, may not be University students, they are likely friends and family to many around campus. Additionally, other components of this plan have a far more direct impact on the University.

Obama’s plan expands eligibility under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a similar executive action undertaken in 2012 to shield the “Dreamers,” people brought into this country as children without proper authorization. One of the ways it expands this eligibility is by removing an obsolete requirement in which people needed to have been younger than 31 on June 15, 2012 (the date DACA was announced) to be eligible for the program.

Obama’s executive order also ends the misguided Secure Communities Program, which this editorial board has previously lambasted as “Orwellian” and a deprivation of due process rights. While the program merely shared immigration status with the federal government of anyone accused of even a non-violent crime, Obama has promised a suitable replacement that would actually focus on violent criminals.

The president is well within his legal authority to advance this plan. The concept of using the executive branch’s prosecutorial discretion to prioritize the deportation of some people over others is a bipartisan notion that has been invoked by most modern day chief executives. Claims from the right that Obama is ignoring the U.S. Constitution to engage in some type of mass amnesty are patently false, especially since deportation has escalated to record numbers — much to our ire — over the course of his presidency.

This country’s immigration system is simply broken, and comprehensive steps are necessary to fix it. Last year’s reform legislation, which passed a bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate but languished in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, was a good start. We hope Congress can reach some type of deal on this heavy matter, including a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. But we’re not naïve enough to think that will happen with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress. Accordingly, we strongly urge President Obama to defend his plan in the face of the unwavering criticism and pushback it will surely receive from the next Congress.