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Our Views: The wrong fix for immigration problem
Obamas end run on immigration bypasses Congress in a cynical play for Latino votes
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

One way you can tell it’s an election year is not only by the campaign ads and signs that litter the airways and roadways. Another clear indicator is when a public official launches a new policy plan clearly aimed at voters, or a specific group of them.

That seems to be the case with the new immigration policy from President Barack Obama. Recently, he issued an order to cease deportations of illegal immigrants under age 30 who were brought here before age 16 and have lived here for five years, provided they have graduated from high school, earned a GED or served in the military.

The issue aside, our bone to pick with the president is over how and why this was done. In a year when both he and Republican rival Mitt Romney are scrambling to attract more votes from the nation’s growing Latino population, it smacks of pure pandering.

The idea is not new, the concept conceived in the DREAM Act that stalled in Congress. And it’s a valid argument that children of illegal immigrants who had no say in coming here, and who are American in nearly every way (some don’t speak their native language or have visited their birth country) shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ decision.

That’s the case for many in Georgia, including a bright Hall County high school student we profiled recently who is struggling to find a college he can afford because he is undocumented.

Yet many rightfully oppose legislation that would let the children of illegal immigrants move ahead of others who are here legally. That’s why the issue needs to undergo the full legislative process of debate and compromise, the goal being to crack open the door to young people who seek a future without granting full amnesty that rewards or encourages those who have acted outside the law.

And unlike a law, the order is temporary, as Obama acknowledges. If Romney is elected, he can overturn it as soon as he is sworn in, which would leave many young people in limbo. Some could enter college under Obama’s decree only to face deportation later.

“This is the right thing to do,” the president said. So why did he not do “the right thing” in any of his previous three years in office? Because he didn’t need their votes then.

Clearly Obama is trying to improve his standing with Latino voters, a key bloc in battleground states like Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. Even if he is able to sway them his way, it is an arrogant way to accomplish what he could not in his term in the White House through the usual give-and-take with Congress.

Latinos are understandably cool to Obama. Under his administration, the number of deportations has increased even as he gives lip service to creating a more humane immigration policy. And now he cynically offers Latino voters this cookie, one he has held behind his back, as if to say, “OK, here’s what I got for you; now I need something in return.”

It’s too early to tell what the effect of the move may be. Early indications are that his end run effort may only harden opposition and delay efforts to create a policy that will solve the issue beyond one election cycle.

As often mentioned, inaction on the federal level has spawned a number of state and local laws designed to crack down on illegal immigrants, including one passed by Georgia last year. A similar law in Arizona is before the Supreme Court, with a decision possible this week, opposed by the same White House that seems to want to work both sides of the fence. Yet such laws usually just lead migrant workers to move elsewhere, shuffling the problem to another state or city.

The proper solution is the one that has eluded Congress so far, a comprehensive plan that fulfills two key goals: 1. Enforce the U.S. borders to make it harder, if not impossible, for those who do not have legal documentation to enter the country; and, 2. create a more efficient and viable guest worker program that allows qualified, law-abiding immigrants to fill jobs in industries that need their labor.

Such a plan was created by a Republican president and Congress in the last decade but shouted down by those who seem to oppose any kind of immigration. Some of this could be accomplished with existing laws or modest changes to them, but resistance from hard-liners on both extremes have kept such reform from becoming reality.

The process of registering migrant workers for agricultural work remains wrapped in so much red tape that employers resort to hiring workers outside the law. Young people brought here by their parents are caught in-between, unable to achieve full legal status and without a country they can call home.

Finding a way to enforce the borders and then legally document immigrant workers and their children is in everyone’s best interests. We just need leaders with the will to make it happen.

Yet that does not seem to include this president. If Obama were serious about a long-term solution, he would have proposed one. If he really wants to remove obstacles to legal status for illegal immigrants, he should roll up his sleeves, sit down with leaders from both parties and work out a plan.

We’re all for finding a way to fix our immigration dilemma. But the problem calls for a lasting resolution, not one scribbled in pencil for political gain.

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