Today's New York Times editorial, "A Start on the Dream," eloquently makes a point I have been trying to make to the President of the United States since at least December 2010. Namely, that as Chief Executive, President Obama has extraordinary leeway under our current immigration laws to prevent the deportation of certain immigrants if it is not in our national interest to deport them. The New York Times editorial argues in particular that the President should suspend the deportation of students who qualify for the DREAM Act; young people who arrived here as children and have steered clear of crime.
Congressional Republicans are determined to block the comprehensive immigration overhaul Mr. Obama promised for his first term. They have even blocked the Dream Act, which would legalize potentially hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who were brought here as children and demonstrate their good citizenship by going to college or serving in the military.
There is one important thing Mr. Obama could do right now to give these young people hope: He could use his executive authority to halt deportations of those who would be eligible for the Dream Act.
The powers the president has to close or favorably resolve deportation cases have been enumerated for him by a number of experts inside and outside of his government. In early 2011, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus appealed to the president to use these powers, as did a group of 22 Senate Democrats. A memo from his own staff in 2009, the opinion of legal experts -- including two former INS General Counsels -- and now an open letter signed by nearly 100 law school professors all concur that the president is firmly within the law to halt deportations for immigrants that meet certain criteria.
Indeed, the President currently uses -- and previous presidents have used -- those powers all the time. When Cubans reach the U.S., they are paroled as a matter of policy and become eligible for permanent legal status and citizenship quickly. It is in our national interest to do so, whether they are economic or political refugees. When the tragic earthquake in Haiti made returning orphans unwise, President Obama acted to suspend certain deportations because it was in our national interest to do so.
And in June of 2011, the Obama Administration announced it would exercise some of its powers of prosecutorial discretion to close or resolve deportation cases against those who meet certain criteria that made them low priorities for deportation so that our limited deportation slots could be used for felons and serious criminals.
I applauded that policy announcement in June 2011 and have spent the last year promoting its application to deportation cases that split up families with U.S. citizen dependents, military families, DREAM Act youth, and others with no criminal record and deep ties to their communities in the U.S. I have gone around the country making immigrant communities aware of this new tool to fight the deportation of people who are clearly assets to their communities in the U.S. In Chicago, I formed an informal advisory group to identify cases that should be addressed by the prosecutorial discretion policy, and Family Unity Defense Committees are forming in several other states.
But that policy, as statistics bear out a year after it was announced, has not been used as widely, as fully, and as consistently as it should be used to prevent deportations that are not in the national interest.
Now we have the editorial page of the New York Times saying to the President not only Yes We Can but Yes We Should dial back deportations, especially for immigrant youth.
Whatever personal journey the president is on with regard to deportations, I hope he is coming around to see that he holds a key that will be very helpful towards building support for him and for immigration reform in his second term. The DREAM Act is enormously popular and the immigrant youth it would spare from deportation are precisely the type of immigrants the public broadly supports and sees as assets, not liabilities. Republicans in both the House and Senate have introduced or are planning to introduce legislation to prevent the deportation of immigrant youth. And a clear political contrast would be drawn between the president and his presumptive opponent in November, Mitt Romney, who vowed to veto the DREAM Act if it ever reached his desk.
It is time to put the national interest first and halt the deportation of those whose removal hurts our country. On principle, on policy, on law, and on politics, it is time for the president and the Department of Homeland Security to fully implement its prosecutorial discretion policy as a down payment on the immigration reform I and others will enthusiastically fight for in the President's second term.
Follow Rep. Luis Gutierrez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LuisGutierrez