(photo: longislandwins / Flickr)

In campaigns much of the policy debate ends up being theoretical and feels detached from real people’s lives. One side puts forward a plan to change something and the other side puts forward their counter proposal. After the election the number of veto points in our legislature often means regardless who won, nothing is passed, leaving the status quo in place. When a law is actually passed it is so ruined by compromise and corruption that it barely resembles what was promised. This is a source of much of Americans’ political cynicism.

For a long time, this is how the immigration debate felt, with each side making promises for years but no laws getting passed. In a very important way, though, this changed yesterday. Earlier this year President Obama announced a plan for DREAM eligible young people and yesterday many could start applying. Based on the outpouring of interest yesterday, at least tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, will apply before the election. This makes this issue very tangible and a simple binary choice.

President Obama created this through executive action and he promises to leave it in place if re-elected. Romney has failed to say exactly what he would do with these people who apply in the short term, but his statements imply he would end it with executive action.

The question is now no longer theoretical or aspirational, but about making big immediate changes to real people’s lives. There will be thousands of people who will benefit from this program Obama started, and Romney will have to decide whether or not to take this away from them or to stop new people from applying. Talking about long term legislative goals that may never make it out of committee is not enough. Romney alone will have to make a decision about what to do with these people who entered the program that will immediately impact their lives in such a big way.

Soon on the campaign trail you might have young people who have benefited from deferred action directly asking Romney if he will take this away from them. It will be a deeply visceral question about something Romney will have sole authority over and that he must make a decision about right after taking office. If or when it happens, it will be a powerful and telling moment the media is sure to eat up.

The nature of the program does mean that the young people most affected can’t vote, but it is likely they will have family, friends and co-workers who can. Whether Romney will decide to take an action that immediately and directly hurts your brother, cousin, neighbor, or significant other makes the policy debate extremely real to these voters