It must be beach season in Washington, because elected officials seem to have taken flip-flopping to a whole new level.
Case in point: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith's recently-introduced HALT (Hinder the Administration's Legalization Temptation) Act, a bill designed to effectively tie the Obama administration's hands regarding discretion on any sort of immigration issue, no matter how small or dire. The bill, which was introduced two weeks ago and recently discussed in a congressional hearing, stands in stark contrast to a letter Mr. Smith signed in 1999 asking then-Attorney General Janet Reno to exercise more discretion when considering whom to deport. The partisan nature of the bill is evident: if allowed to become law, the bill will expire on January 21, 2013 -- the day after the winner of the next Presidential election is sworn into office.
Those unfamiliar with our byzantine and broken immigration system may wonder why the Executive Branch would need to develop and exercise priorities when carrying out immigration enforcement activities. The truth is that presidential administrations have utilized their discretionary power to allow immigration officers to make decisions about the most vulnerable members of our society since at least 1975.
For families in the process of adopting a child from Haiti in January 2010, this discretion served as a lifeline for their children. Paperwork documenting the time-intensive adoption process was, on occasion, lost in the rubble of the devastating Haiti earthquake. Parents recount helplessly watching the news coverage featuring destruction where their children's orphanage once stood. Some of these children had serious medical conditions that required life-saving medicine, which was in short supply after the earthquake.
Had the Obama administration not utilized Humanitarian Parole, an executive form of discretion that would be banned by the HALT Act, many of these parents would have had to undergo excruciating delays before bringing their adoptive children home.
The Obama administration, like administrations before it, can and should exercise similar discretion when considering the cases of countless young Americans-at-heart who have grown up knowing and loving no other country. Many of these students are future community and economic leaders like Nelson and Jhon Magdaleno, who were brought to the United States from Venezuela as young boys. They are both currently honors students at Georgia Institute of Technology where Nelson dreams of one day using his computer engineering degree to create a small business and Jhon is a biomedical engineering major.
When reviewing Nelson and John's case, immigration officials rightly determined that they should be able to continue their education here in the United States. As a result, both Nelson and Jhon will be able to continue their studies without fear of deportation. These brothers aren't alone: there are thousands of others like them who, given the chance, would like nothing more than to serve the country they call home.
The truth that everyone in Washington knows but few acknowledge is that our immigration system is broken. We need more -- not fewer -- tools to give immigration authorities the freedom to allow individuals who make valuable contributions to our society to stay in the United States. We must allow our president to make immediate decisions about immigrant populations whose home countries have suffered tremendous natural disasters. Instead, the HALT Act serves another dose of partisan politics while pushing children, students, workers and other immigrant communities into the deportation pipeline.
Immigration reform isn't a partisan issue, it's practical policy. Sadly, we will continue to suffer political sideshows like the one put on by Smith until our elected officials set about creating an immigration system that finally meets our societal and economic needs. It's time to stop the HALT Act and start working on real reform for all our families.