A prediction: President Obama is about to unilaterally change the lawâ€¦again. How do I know? The polling tells me so. Just as Mr. Obama ordered the Justice Department to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act when public opinion began to favor same-sex marriage, the president is surely poised to topple our immigration laws.
The pressure on President Obama is intense â€“ especially from those whose favor he curried heading into the 2012 election. Young immigrants, members of United We Dream (UWD), are demanding that the president stop deportations of illegals. They recently rallied in Phoenix, marching the streets while chanting, â€œObama, Obama, donâ€™t deport my mama!â€ They believe him when he says heâ€™ll use his pen and his phone as a mighty Excalibur to further his agenda; they believe him when he says they rank high on his agenda. Meanwhile, the deportations continue.
Dreamers may well be in luck. A recent Gallup poll showed for the first time that Americans are as concerned about what to do with people already in the country illegally as they are about securing our borders. Historically, people were more worried about shutting down border crossings.
Further confirmation of a sea-change in attitude comes from a recent CNN poll. Last month, in answer to â€œWhat should be the main focus of the U.S. government in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration,â€ 54 percent selected â€œdeveloping a plan that would allow illegal immigrants who have jobs to become legal U.S. residents.â€ Only 41 percent chose â€œdeveloping a plan for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here.â€ In 2010, 38 percent chose the first answer while 60 percent called for tighter border security.
President Obama opened the door to Dreamers in June 2012, when he initiated a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That law suspended for a renewable 2-year period deportations of people under the age of 31 who were brought to the U.S. as children and who had passed various milestones, including being in school or having graduated from high school, and having no felony record. Some 520,000 candidates have received deferrals, allowing them to hold jobs and acquire driversâ€™ licenses.
The president created Deferred Action in the run-up to the 2012 election; Republicans rightly declared it a campaign stunt. Hispanics, like the rest of the country, were disappointed in the pace of economic recovery under Mr. Obama; they repeatedly cited jobs as their number one priority â€“ one which the president had failed to address. Further, President Obama had incensed Latinos by ramping up deportations to record levels. He had some work to do.
The Deferred Action program turned out to be extraordinarily effective. In 2012, the president won 72 percent of the Hispanic vote (up from 67 percent in 2008) to Mitt Romneyâ€™s 27 percent. Since that group made up 10 percent of the electorate for the first time in the nationâ€™s history, that lopsided outcome proved pivotal to Mr. Obamaâ€™s success. In particular, his lead with Hispanics gave him the edge in Nevada, Colorado and Florida â€“ all key battleground states.
Mr. Obamaâ€™s capture of the Hispanic vote is remarkable in that it flies in the face of reality. As the UWD says in a recent press release, â€œThe fact is that President Obama has inflicted more pain on immigrant families than any other President in history.â€ Last year alone, we deported 369,000 illegal aliens â€“ nine times the number sent home two decades ago.
Last year, most of the people deported were apprehended trying to cross the border. But more than 100,000 were arrested in the United States. Many were deported for minor offenses such as driving without a license or being unable to produce papers; others were criminals sent home after serving their prison terms. UWD director Cristina Jimenez said in a recent press release, â€œPresident Obamaâ€™s administration is responsible for almost 2 million deportations and the inhumane separation of countless families. More than any other president before him, he has aggressively detained and deported hard-working immigrants and members of our communities.â€
In a recent piece, The Economist describes the costs and hardships of the record deportation levels â€“ overloaded courts, people being sent home to countries that they left as infants and workplaces disrupted by aggressive ICE enforcement. Currently there are 1.1 million cases before the immigration courts. â€œMore than half of all federal prosecutions are now for immigration-related offenses,â€ according to the Immigration Policy Center.
The cost alone should win advocates of reform. Consider — last year we spent $17.9 billion on immigration enforcement, compared to $14.4 billion on â€œall other principal criminal-law enforcement.â€
Dreamers want the president to end deportations. President Obama claims he is unable to do so. But, he has taken it upon himself to unilaterally change any number of other laws â€“ in addition to not enforcing DOMA, making 27 changes to Obamacare without Congressional authorization, ending work requirements for welfare, and going to war in Libya, for example. Currently the Supreme Court is hearing evidence on whether the EPA can change yet another law â€“ the Clean Air Act, without the approval of Congress. Latinos should begin to wonder, how committed is the president?
My guess: he will soon override the law, and cut back on deportations before the Latino community begins to stray. Already, some Republicans are stepping up to take advantage of Mr. Obamaâ€™s waffling. Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV) has introduced a bill that would broaden exclusions available from deportation. He represents Nevadaâ€™s third district, where approximately one quarter of the voters are immigrants. First elected in 2010, he is now considered vulnerable, because of the GOPâ€™s posture on immigration. He is trying to walk a middle line, pushing for reform.
The GOP has to figure out the immigration puzzle, or risk death by demography. So does President Obama; he will need all oars in the water come November.