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The looming immigration fight [Editorial]

The Department of Homeland Security reported recently that the flood of unaccompanied minors from Central America illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico has slowed to a trickle compared to just a few months ago. The reason? Mexican authorities, at the urging of the Obama administration, are intercepting the migrants and deporting before they ever reach the U.S. That bilateral cooperation appears to be more effective at deterring illegal immigrants than anything tried so far, and if continued it could finally begin to ease the humanitarian crisis on our southern border.

Mexican police and immigration officers have begun patrolling the railway tracks in southern Mexico used by the freight train known as "La Bestia," or the Beast, which has long transported migrants north. They also have set up roadblocks to check the documents of bus passengers and rounded up suspected migrants living in makeshift shelters along the route. The Associated Press reported that a train that once carried up to 1,000 migrants was nearly empty when Mexican authorities boarded it during a recent unscheduled stop.

The drastic reduction in the number of people entering the country illegally is good news for the Obama administration, which has struggled with Congress to get approval for billions of dollars in emergency spending needed to provide food, shelter and medical care to tens of thousands of migrants who are already in the country and to fund more immigration judges and caseworkers at the border to process asylum requests. There was already a huge backlog of such cases, and despite the recent drop-off in immigration the process for resolving such requests is stretched to the limit.

Moreover, even if the decline in new arrivals can be sustained, it won't relieve the U.S. of its obligation to treat those already here humanely. Having failed to spur congressional action on the issue, President Barack Obama reportedly is preparing to act on his own through a series of executive orders that could result in sweeping changes to nation's immigration policies as well as affect the political fortunes of his party in November.

One measure being discussed, for example, would expand a program that temporarily halts deportations for undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children to include their parents and other family members as well. The president could even extend the halt in deportations to include all the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, a move that could affect up to 5 million people, or nearly half the country's undocumented population.

Other options available to the president could include granting humanitarian parole to children fleeing violence in their home countries, lifting the current cap of 366,000 on the number of green cards the government issues, or extending the temporary H1-B work visa program to the spouses of immigrant laborers in the U.S.

Any of those options would likely produce a backlash from Republicans in Congress and possibly political consequences for the president's party in November's elections, in which a number of Democratic incumbents in swing states face tough races against Republican challengers.

But Mr. Obama seems to have concluded that Congress is so gridlocked it won't pass comprehensive immigration reform at any time in the foreseeable future, and that this may be his last chance to put his stamp on an issue he long ago pledged to address before leaving office. A legislative response would be far superior, as there are some things a president cannot do alone. But Mr. Obama should not hesitate to do what he can within his legal authority to bring some sanity to our broken immigration system.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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