For three and a half years, Hispanic activists have complained the Obama administration was all talk and no action when it came to satisfying their demands for more lenient immigration guidelines. But with the president’s re-election campaign looking increasingly shaky, the need to solidify the Democratic base has led to a not terribly surprising policy about face. The announcement today of an executive order that the United States will cease any efforts to deport young illegal immigrants is just another instance of how politics rules all in the Obama administration.
The change, which resembles to some extent the Dream Act that would have granted a path to citizenship for youngsters who came to the country illegally, will mean that up to 800,000 undocumented people will be able to get a two-year deferral on steps to make them leave the country and then allow them to apply for work permits. Though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claims the measure is not a form of amnesty and does not grant immunity, that is exactly what it is. While there is a strong argument to be made that such deportations are a waste of government resources and that the country will be better off if such persons have their status normalized, there is no question the motivation here is purely political. But whether the president’s fiat will help more with Hispanics than it hurts with the clear majority of Americans who take a dim view of policies that seek to legalize the presence of undocumented aliens is yet to be determined.
Even Mitt Romney, who swung hard to the right on immigration, has said he was willing to accept some form of the Dream Act, as long as it solely covered those illegals who were willing to serve in the armed services. But public resistance to what might otherwise be considered a humanitarian and prudent course of action has been considerable. Support for stringent enforcement of immigration laws has never waned principally because most Americans see the porous border as a sign the rule of law is breaking down. Amnesty provisions such as this executive order make sense in that deporting all 800,000 illegal youngsters is no more feasible than deporting all of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. But doing so effectively makes a mockery of the concept that laws on the books must be enforced.
However, the timing of the announcement at the start of a long general election campaign strips away any pretense that the decision has been dictated by anything but politics, especially because the president could have issued this executive order at any time in the last three years. As to the impact on the November election, it may help bring out the Hispanic vote for the president in some states, but it is also likely to create a backlash among the majority who believes illegal immigration is a serious problem. That makes it doubtful the move will have much effect on battleground states such as Arizona and New Mexico, where the large number of Hispanics who may be happy about the decision will be offset by other voters who see it as an example of how the administration has disregarded their concerns about the impact of illegal immigration on their communities.