A couple of years ago, my wife and I were invited to a quinceañera for the daughter of a friend. This rite of passage is a Latin American tradition that formally celebrates a 15-year-old girl's transition to "womanhood." It's a festive event with lavish dresses and formal attire and much music, food, and dancing. We had a great time.
The daughter, whom we'll call "Angela," was brought to the U.S. illegally as a very young child. She is a typical American teenager in every perceivable way, having attended Shelby County public schools her entire life. She's just graduated from a suburban high school with excellent grades. She's bright, articulate, and motivated to succeed, but she faces an uncertain future.
That future just got a little less dire as a result of President Obama's recent decision not to pursue deportation of illegal immigrants under 30 who meet the following criteria: They were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16, have lived here for five continuous years, committed no crimes, graduated from high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. The approximately 800,000 U.S. residents, including Angela, who qualify under these conditions are now allowed to file for renewable two-year work permits.
It's not yet a path to citizenship, but it at least will allow these young people to come out of the shadows and contribute openly to our society by working at jobs commensurate with their skills and education and, yes, paying taxes.
Obama's decision provoked the usual outrage from the right. It was a cynical political move, opponents said. The president was also excoriated for his "arrogance" and for acting like an "emperor." These same folks, one suspects, had little problem accepting George Bush's 157 presidential "signing statements" that, in his view, exempted him from following laws passed by Congress. Bush, of course, had the advantage of not being Kenyan.
There is little doubt that the White House considered the fallout from this move and calculated it would be a net plus, politically. And judging from Mitt Romney's utter inability to form a lucid response to the president's decision, pro or con, the Obama team's calculations were on target.
But, political considerations aside, this moves the ball forward on our immigration problem. And in concert with the fact that net migration from Hispanic countries into the U.S. is now zero, this seemingly intractable problem may not be so unsolvable as it once appeared to be. For Angela's sake — and ours — I hope so.