Commentary

The President gets real on immigration reform

There were lots of compelling moments in the President’s speech last night on immigration policy. Especially during the moments in which he appealed to the better angels of our nature with powerful rhetoric and Biblical citations, Obama reminded us of why he can be such an inspiring figure to so many Americans. For example:

“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?”

What appealed most to me, however, were the moments when the President talked simple practicalities, as he did in this passage:

“But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants — in every state, of every race and nationality — will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.” (Emphasis supplied.)

He’s completely right, of course. Short of turning the U.S. into a police state, deportation of these people simply ain’t gonna happen, no matter what the xenophobes and Tea Partiers say. Indeed, it’s one of the great ironies of modern American politics that the same troubled souls who drone on and on with their conspiracy theories about nefarious plots by the IRS and the UN to come confiscate their guns and fluoridate their water are often the same people demanding that we militarize immigration enforcement and turn it into some kind of modern American Stasi.

The bottom line: The President’s announcement last night falls far short of what is ultimately needed, but it is an obvious and highly pragmatic beginning. As Raleigh’s News & Observer noted this morning:

President Barack Obama acted against inaction Thursday. In a TV address to the nation, he announced an executive order that will shield from deportation up to 5 million people who are in the United States illegally.

For a few years, it will keep families from being pulled apart and focus immigration resources on finding and deporting undocumented immigrants whose criminal backgrounds pose an actual threat to the nation.

It’s a needed, sensible and overdue step.

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