There is a long way to go before an immigration deal is struck, but the president and Congress can draw its outlines clearly, starting now. Any worthwhile reform must give 11 million undocumented immigrants a way to live within the law as American citizens. Mr. Obama’s stopgap move to protect young immigrants and students from deportation by a regulation similar to the Dream Act was sensible and necessary. But these Americans-in-fact deserve the chance to be Americans on paper, too. So do their parents, and whoever else in the 11 million wishes to journey from “them” to “us.” Republicans are floating schemes for temporary legal status for workers without a clear path to citizenship. Mr. Obama should make clear that basic equality demands more than that.
Meanwhile, he should be reforming the way his administration is carrying out current law — starting with scaling back its arbitrary, self-imposed quota of 400,000 deportations a year. There is enforcement work to be done, like finding more effective ways to stifle illegal employment, but any strategy that fixates on deportations and the border is foolish and ineffective. Illegal border crossings and arrests at the border have fallen to the lowest levels in decades. The unauthorized immigrants whom hard-liners want to keep out are already in the country. They are the workers and families Mr. Obama says he wants to integrate and assimilate, even as his policies break those families apart. Mr. Obama’s own Department of Homeland Security is a huge part of the problem, with its dangerous and widening use of state and local police officers as surrogate immigration enforcement agents. Its Secure Communities program has led to mass deportations of minor offenders and even people with no criminal records.