(photo: Jobs with Justice)

I mentioned President Obama’s speech on immigration reform yesterday. Today, Senate Democrats reintroduced the DREAM Act. But both of these measures, which make a pass at a legislative resolution to the immigration debate, are stuck in neutral, as even their supporters acknowledge. Harry Reid made a game effort today in trying to sell the idea that Republicans will come aboard a policy their base considers amnesty, but even his heart wasn’t all that into it. I think everyone realizes that this push toward immigration has a few goals: Latino turnout in 2012, a reorienting of the debate to frame immigration as an economic imperative, and Latino turnout in 2012.

But while I think that immigration reform groups are generally appreciative of having their message delivered in a high-profile way, they aren’t likely to wait while concrete steps could be taken by the Administration right now to improve the lives and standing of undocumented immigrants. For example, Marissa Graciosa of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement acknowledged the long odds of the DREAM Act, but called for the President to stop the deportations of DREAM-eligible undocumented students. There is evidence to believe that student deportations have been de-emphasized in favor of undocumented convicts, but students who had no say in moving to America still face the threat of deportation every day while they go to school or work. Graciosa said, “President Obama can and should give ICE clearer guidelines as to where our laws should be tempered by fairness and DREAM students allowed to live free of fear of deportation.” She admitted this would be a stopgap solution, but an important one to show the commitment to giving students who only know life as Americans and want to contribute to America a chance.

Similarly, Presente, a coalition of immigration reform advocates, pushed for an end to the student deportations:

Today there are literally tens of thousands of young men and women facing deportation because the DREAM Act isn’t law. Raul is one of them. He was brought here as a child and currently attends the University of Texas where he’s studying to be an architect, but has a deportation hearing on May 26th where he could be told he must leave. And unfortunately, President Obama’s speech didn’t say anything about helping kids like Raul who need an intervention right now.

The President has the power to help. He can issue an executive order to stop the deportation of DREAMers until we get that legislation passed. And if he’s serious about immigration reform, that’s exactly what he should do.

Presente set up a petition to the President to have him end deportations by executive order. Legal experts believe the President has this authority, though the White House has resisted that approach. [cont’d.]

Adam Serwer has more on this, including some other areas where Obama could show through actions and not just words.

That doesn’t mean immigration reform advocates are completely happy with the administration. “They want legislation and don’t want to take bold administrative action,” said Sharry, who wants to see the administration halt deportations of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries.

“[Obama] said we’re not supposed to be in the business of separating families. he said that in his speech, but yet he’s deporting more people than President Bush,” said Graciosa.” We know it’s happening. Either president Obama is ignoring that fact, or he doesn’t know what’s going on in the Department of Homeland Security.”

Administrative action could complement the long-term legislative approach. With the same border/worksite policies and a humane stance toward those who can actually contribute to society, the White House could show its vision of a better immigration system in real time. So I expect immigration reform groups to continue to pursue every angle to improve the lot for those who could benefit this country tremendously.

David Dayen

David Dayen