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Commentary: Obama's immigration stance still has a way to go

Leave it to a reporter to spoil the party.

“So what’s the political advantage of the president’s decision?” was the query poised by a colleague Friday as immigration activists swooned and critics stomped over the Obama administration’s decision to give a break to some undocumented children.

Under certain conditions, they can avoid deportation, for a limited time. Nothing is permanent.

That’s one reason “What’s the advantage?” is a good question. There might not be one. Or at least not the one the White House is courting. In an election year, that’s votes.

Of course, this was a calculated political move.

The decision gives a two-year reprieve from deportation for those who arrived before they turned 16, have lived in the U.S. for five years and are under 30. They must have no criminal record, have earned a high school diploma or its equivalent or have served in the military. They can reapply.

I agree with the decision. Wholeheartedly.

Only a foolish nation would chuck the K-12 education already invested in these students. They can also apply for a work permit. So they’ll be taxpayers, too.

Most of them were brought to the country as youngsters. The predicament of their legal status was not of their own making. A lot of these children don’t figure out they’re illegal immigrants until they try to get a driver’s license. By then, their lives are ingrained in America.

Obama, of course, hopes this will curry favor with Hispanic voters. It will, with limits. He was already the favorite for the majority of the 21 million Latinos eligible to vote.

So he was vying for an additional advantage.

Obama one-upped Republicans. Sen. Marco Rubio, in an effort to win Hispanic support, has been floating a legislative proposal nearly identical to the president’s plan. Obama beat Rubio to the punch.

Mitt Romney has been playing verbal semantics since Friday. He doesn’t want to endorse the Obama plan, even though the GOP was winding up to offer the same idea through Rubio.

But Romney is correct to emphasize this is no solution. Not to the young people’s problems with legality, nor to the overarching issues in our messed-up immigration system.

The plan puts these immigrants in a holding pattern. They are not being offered permanent legal residency, much less the next step — U.S. citizenship. And it could all implode under a new administration.

Still, Republican critics are wrong to assert that Obama’s move will make it harder for Congress to find real solutions, to overhaul immigration.

That will be true only if Congress remains gutless on the issue.