President Barack Obama recently announced a new government directive that effectively stops the deportation of a projected 800,000 undocumented immigrants. Essentially, the Administration’s initiative is a promise not to deport youngish undocumented immigrants on the condition they have no criminal record, lived in the country at least five consecutive years, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or have served in the military.
For those content with superficial gains on the immigration front, this can be welcoming news. But President Obama's directive was not a genuine move toward immigration reform, but just an outcrop of election year calculus.
Despite screams of amnesty, the Dream Act is a sensible plan that views immigration through a moral and economic lens. Recent surveys conducted in December by Fox News show that the proposal polls considerably well among American voters.
Sixty-six percent of registered voters support giving undocumented immigrants temporary residence and a pathway to citizenship as long as they meet a few conditions. Among Republicans surveyed in December, 57% supported giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship providing they learn English, pay back-taxes, and pass federal background checks.
There are two fundamental reasons the Dream Act does so well among the general public. First, few people believe that children brought to the U.S by no choice of their own should be culpable for border laws their parents violated. The other reason is that most people presume that merit should play a role in immigrant residency or citizenship. Consider the undocumented immigrant that serves several tours in Iraq. Should he be given a pathway to citizenship or should he be deported upon return? Most would agree that merit does matter.
Republicans shouldn’t be too surprised by an incumbent President willing to leverage his presidential powers for an election year advantage. Obama knows that the Dream Act is polling well among the American electorate - especially among Latino voters. The gauntlet has been thrown. Republicans can get behind the President or risk estranging the fastest growing demographic in the country.
The high profile news coverage of Arizona’s SB1070 did no favors for the Republican brand among Latinos. For years, it mattered not to Republicans what Latinos thought. Despite remarkable growth rates, Hispanics were simply not active enough politically to affect real change in the Republican Party. Things are changing, but Republicans seem slow to act.
Harshly renouncing Obama’s administrative directive could pit Republicans against the fastest growing demographic in the country - not the sort of thing they want during an election year. Yet, if they are tepid in their response, they would appear to condone the sidestepping of a proper venue for passing public policy. Republicans invited this problem to their doorstep. Their inaction on immigration reform has given Democrats many opportunities to embed their roots in the Hispanic community.
Politically speaking, this Dream Act directive is Machiavellian. It puts Republicans on their heels and could shift more Latinos in southwestern states toward Obama come November; or it could cause a backlash.
If President Obama had the power to execute this directive now, then he had such powers years ago. Why wait nearly four years to make good on your word? Does a last minute initiative sound like the conduct of a President who considers immigration reform a top priority? And doesn't Obama's timing put the directive’s longevity at risk? Unless Mitt Romney reverses his view on the Dream Act, he will likely repeal Obama’s directive if elected President.
This puts on display the silliness and chicanery of Obama’s recent announcement. For more than a year, Democrats had controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. They used their influence and power to pass a wide-ranging overhaul of the health care industry - one the public didn’t want.
What Latinos get is an eleventh hour ad hoc reversible directive only made to promote one man’s ambition for reelection. After the initial excitement wanes in the Hispanic community, Latinos may come to see Obama’s initiative as nothing more than a mockery of their political value and intelligence.