The Politics of Obama’s Immigration Policy
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 we’ve been here most of their lives, done everything right, even graduated at the top of their class, all to be deported to a country whose language we may not even speak. He also talked about how Republicans blocked the DREAM Act that 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’s change in immigration policy 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 looking for Latino votes. This news also pre-empts Rubio’s bill, which, other than perhaps SB 1070, was the biggest news looming in the immigration community.
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: 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. This could be one of the reasons why Latinos are less enthusiastic to vote than the general public. This immigration policy, however, is a game changer, with half of Latinos polled in swing states by Latino Decisions saying they were more enthusiastic to vote for Obama after it.
Marco Rubio has been scrambling to get enough support in the house to pass his bill, and now the boulder he’s been pushing uphill has split in two and rolled back down the hill. He can practically hear people asking “What Marco Rubio bill? Is that like the president’s DREAM Act?” This also spells trouble for Romney, who was counting on Rubio to garner him some of the Latino vote after a brutal primary season where campaigns kept alive on SuperPAC life support constantly forced him to the right on immigration issues.
During an interview with “Face the Nation,” Romney refused to answer whether or not he would overturn Obama’s new policy. He reacted the same way as Jan Brewer, John McCain, Marco Rubio and every other Republican who’s made a statement, droning on about border security as though it would change the situation for those who are still here, and applauding the legislative process that has failed so badly lately. He then talked about E-Verify, an important part of his “Self-Deportation” strategy he unveiled during the primaries while Rick Santorum applauded Joe Arpaio across the stage.
While the new policy at DHS 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 of TIME and Mitt Romney’s immigration stances, it’s hard to to see the downside of this move for either Obama or the Latino rights movement.
In the end, Mitt Romney has an ugly record on immigration, vetoing in-state tuition for the undocumented immigrants while governor. He has, time and time again, jumped to the right on immigration while he tries to stay a bit more moderate on other positions, making it clear which voters he’s willing to sacrifice first. If he makes it into office, you can expect that he’ll roll back President Obama’s immigration policy when it’s politically convenient to look like a conservative, and leave the entire DREAM Act question to a dysfunctional congress that can’t get anything done.