Editorial: Another delay for anxious immigrant families

Diana Calderon, Barack Obama, Joe Biden

President Obama and Vice President Biden listen as Diana Calderon, a student who has benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, speaks at a reception in the White House on Oct. 15.

(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

When President Obama announced last year that he would use his executive authority to shield some 5 million people living illegally in the U.S. from deportation, we voiced our skepticism and discomfort about the process behind the policy while supporting its impact on the lives of those immigrants. Then 26 states, led by Texas, sued the Obama administration, bringing a case based more on politics than law. On Monday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals wrongly upheld an injunction against the president’s executive actions, so we were pleased on Tuesday to learn that the administration will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that decision. We hope the court takes up the issue quickly.

Nearly two-thirds of the nation’s estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally have lived here for more than a decade, and the vast majority of them play positive roles in the economy and in our communities. It doesn’t make sense to remove them all, and besides, Congress budgets only enough to deport some 400,000 people a year. So it is rational and necessary for the Obama administration to focus its enforcement efforts on those people who pose a threat to public safety, or whose criminal convictions make them ineligible for entry.

So what to do with the rest? Under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (which was not challenged in the lawsuit), 1.1 million people brought to the U.S. as minors and who meet a menu of criteria — including having no criminal record — are eligible for a reprieve from deportation and to seek permission to work. Obama’s 2014 executive actions (which are being challenged) expanded that pool by about 300,000 people by adjusting age and length-of-residency limits, and the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents would shield 3.7 million more people.

The states argue, among other things, that the government should have followed lengthy administrative review procedures in adopting the new regulations. Although the three-member appeals court panel agreed 2 to 1, we don’t find that argument persuasive. We find more merit in Judge Carolyn Dineen King’s dissenting opinion that Obama’s actions fall within the administration’s existing authority to devise policies to best enforce the law.

Policy issues like these are best handled through legislation, not unilateral executive action by the president. But the American immigration system is unworkable and unfair, resulting in a permanent class of illegal workers. And although Congress has been discussing these issues for more than a decade, it has repeatedly failed to send a comprehensive immigration reform bill to the president’s desk. Obama’s executive actions do not create new laws but are reasonable exercises in prosecutorial discretion that we hope will offer some breathing room to millions of immigrant families while they wait for Congress to act.

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