Obama’s Deportation Shift
Obama began his announcement in the Rose Garden, talking about DREAMers. “They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” He talked about how they’ve been here most of their lives, done everything right, even graduated at the top of their class, to be deported to a country whose language they may not even speak. He talked about how Republicans blocked the DREAM Act which he wanted to sign and how it didn’t make sense to deport talented young people who weren’t responsible for their immigration status. “Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is moving to lift this shadow from their lives” Obama said, explaining how he would authorize them to work without worrying about deportation.
This executive order will grant working papers to undocumented immigrants who qualify, as well as offering them deferred action. Along with the working papers come a social security number and driver’s licenses. These will all make huge differences in the lives of those affected; it will allow them to take part in the US economy, which they are often pushed to the margins to.
Obama’s executive order is exactly what the Republican party didn’t need right now. Obama’s Latino numbers are as high as they’ve ever been, currently placed at at 68% vs. 24% according to recent Latino Decision poll. This number is set to jump at the news, while SB 1070’s Supreme Court decision is set to fall like a hammer on conservatives. This pre-empts Rubio’s bill, which, other than perhaps SB 1070, was the biggest news looming in the immigration community.
Marco Rubio is still scrambling to get enough support in the house to pass his bill, which is an uphill battle all the way. Rubio is the fastest-rising Hispanic star in the Republican party, and he just got his momentum swept out from under him. For Rubio to avoid having his “Act” murdered in committee, he would have to make deals like E-Verify or increased, military-style policing at the borders to placate strategic politicians like Lamar Smith, neither of which the Latino community want. Obama’s executive order wouldn’t offer everything that Rubio’s bill would, such as being able to visit their families back in their countries of origin, however, it would let them work and live without the constant threat of deportation without any right-wing offsets.
Latinos have been overwhelmingly leaning towards Obama, but not particularly hard. This was largely a product of a Republican primary where Mitt was forced to the right on immigration again and again: on SB 1070, the notorious racial profiling law, he called it “a model for the nation;” he promised he would veto the DREAM Act, a law which enjoys a 91% approval rating and is very well known in the Latino community; his alternative to the DREAM Act is “Self-Deportation,” where he seizes control of local laws to deny undocumented immigrants as many government services as possible. These are all terrible stances, but Obama had been deporting record numbers of immigrants, not exactly pushing Latino communities into his arms. This could be one of the reasons why, according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, only 68% of Latinos were enthusiastic about voting, as compared to 81% of the general public. This executive order is a game changer.
While this may not make a large difference in the Obama vs. Romney numbers overall, this will highly energize the Latino base. With articles like “Yo Decido” demonstrating the power of the Latino vote on the cover, it’s hard to to see the downside of this move for either Obama or the Latino rights movement. The right wing of the immigration debate has yet to react to this, but Obama knows that he wasn’t going to win anti-immigrant organizations like FAIR anyway.