Tens of thousands of young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children are lining up to fill out paperwork that could let them live and work legally in the U.S., under an initiative by President Obama that took effect on Wednesday. The program offers fewer benefits than the Dream Act, which Congress rejected in 2010, as it doesn't offer applicants a path to citizenship. Still, GOP critics say it's a backdoor amnesty for the estimated 1.2 million people expected to apply for the renewable, two-year deportation deferments, and a naked ploy for Hispanic votes. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who gained national prominence after signing Arizona's hard-line immigration law in 2010, issued her own executive order barring state agencies from giving driver's licenses or benefits to the estimated 80,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona who qualify for Obama's program. How has the new initiative changed the immigration debate? Here, four takeaways:
1. Obama is making people's lives better: "Unlike most of what happens in an election year," says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, "this policy is actually changing... lives." For the illegal immigrants it affects, the initiative makes life "genuinely different." For those it doesn't affect, it at least sends the message that Obama "actually is interested in figuring out solutions for them." And that could make a huge difference in November. "These immigrants, of course, can’t vote. But they have friends, family, and are part of communities that can."
2. The president just made true immigration reform harder: "The U.S. immigration system is broken and in dire need of reform," says Jessica Zuckerman at The Heritage Foundation. Instead of uniting the nation with reasonable bipartisan reform, Obama chose to "undercut the legislative process and abuse the latitude the president has under existing law," by imposing part of a plan Congress has already rejected. That might impress Obama's fans, but all it really does is "poison the well looking at collaborative solutions for the way forward."
3. Some eligible people will be scared to apply: Not everyone who stands to benefit from Obama's program will rush to sign up, says Jens Erik Gould at TIME. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says it will weed out people who have been convicted of a felony or "significant" misdemeanor, or who pose some kind of "threat" — without explaining what they "mean by 'significant' and a 'threat.'" That will scare some people away, as will the fear that "misinformed" or dishonest attorneys or notaries will use this as an opportunity to cheat them out of their money.
4. States won't necessarily go along: In theory, this is a big break for eligible immigrants, says Franco Ordonez at McClatchy Newspapers. But many states "forbid undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses or require them to pay out-of-state tuition at public universities," and it's unclear whether Obama's policy overrides those policies. Obama can defer deportations for people who qualify, but "it will be up to the states" to decide how many privileges they'll enjoy when they come out of the shadows.