Congressional Republicans have a decision to make. They can keep arguing about the limits of executive power, or they can grab the initiative and accept President Barack Obama’s challenge to pass an immigration reform bill that’s been necessary for decades.
Obama made the first move last week as he bypassed Congress and put the focus for reform precisely where it should be — on immigrants themselves.
His orders will allow as many as 5 million people in the nation without permission to “get right with the law.”
As a practical matter, most weren’t in imminent danger of deportation anyway. But now, rather than living in fear of seeing their families ripped apart, they can apply for temporary legal status that will help them land better jobs, become full-fledged taxpayers and get on with their lives.
These issues are massively important to New York.
The NYC planning department last year estimated the citywide population of unauthorized residents at nearly 500,000 — or about 6 percent of our population.
Their fortunes are our fortunes in more ways than we can count. Most want to stay here and climb our economic ladder. Temporary legal status will help more than a few — finally — land better-than-menial jobs. It will encourage some parents to play a more active role in the education of their children in public schools.
It will encourage more people to call the cops without fear when they’re crime victims and to seek legal redress when they’ve been cheated by employers or landlords.
Obama has started a process that should bring millions of folks out of the shadows and point them toward a life as hardworking, middle-class taxpayers. The president’s strategy does leave a lot undone for now — like a path to legalization for all 11 million people in the country without papers. But it’s a plausible start when Congress won’t act.
The people his plan will most affect are our neighbors, our classmates, the workers who repair our homes and care for our kids and elderly. They flock to this country because of its freedom and opportunity. The task now is to manage their hopes and our needs.