With the stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama did two things Friday: He gave hundreds of thousands of promising, undocumented youth a chance to dream and put a presidential hopeful on his political heels.
The policy directive issued Friday will halt the deportation of law abiding undocumented youth who are in school, graduated or served in our armed forces. The new policy certainly doesn't fix America's badly broken immigration system, but it allows the promising young people known as DREAMERs to stay in America -- the only country most of them have known -- while Congress has the space to roll up its sleeves and get to the hard work of fashioning an immigration policy that works.
The ink on the directive was barely dry before the Republicans offered their tepid and confused response. Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R-FLA), widely considered to be on Governor Mitt Romney's Vice Presidential shortlist, was first out of the box. "By once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long term one," Rubio said. Yet at the same time, Rubio welcomed the news that promising, young undocumented immigrants would not face deportation declaring, "There is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own, but there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future."
Unfortunately Rubio, despite all his talk about offering his own version of the DREAM Act, did not have the courage to support Obama's directive, which, in essence, offers temporary relief to undocumented youth similar to what Rubio has been taking about lately. His reaction suggests Rubio's recent interest in immigration policy may be more about politics than about offering real solutions to America's immigration mess.
Oddly enough, Rubio was followed -- not led -- by his potential boss, Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. One would expect that the presumed Republican nominee would have preceded a potential running mate on an issue of such magnitude to the American people. Yet, the statement Romney issued was fumbling and inarticulate. "I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country," Romney said. "I think the actions that the president took today make it more difficult to reach that kind of long term solution because an executive order, of course, is a short-term matter that can be reversed by subsequent presidents."
Is Romney, who expects to be the next president, saying he would reverse this policy?
Predictably the restrictionists were also out decrying it with their usual racially charged talking points -- usurpation of congressional power, pro-illegal aliens, and that old favorite, backdoor amnesty. Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- who is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for an ugly pattern of anti-Latino civil rights violations in Maricopa County -- popped up on CNN just before the President outlined the new policy in the Rose Garden, employing the same, tired restrictionist talking points.
Maybe Arpaio and his friends in the extremist anti-immigrant movement should read the Constitution. The last I checked, it said the President was the chief executive officer of the United States. And what Mr. Obama did Friday -- prevent the deportation of deserving undocumented youth until Congress sees fit to fix the broken immigration system -- was squarely within his job description as Commander-in-Chief.
The authority to prevent the deportation of deserving young DREAMERs derives from the legal tradition of prosecutorial discretion, which is the authority of the government to decide whether or not to enforce the law against someone. The exercise of discretion is nothing new; it is central to American law enforcement and upholding the rule of law. All law enforcement agencies, including those that enforce immigration laws, have the authority to decide who within their jurisdictions to investigate, arrest, detain, charge and prosecute. When it comes to immigration law, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion not only conserves limited enforcement resources, but also protects core American values of humanitarianism and fairness.
Mr. Obama's exercise of his legal authority to issue this critical directive supports those values that make America great. It's unfortunate that so far the GOP has failed to join him in doing the right thing for DREAMERS and the country.