In Nod to Latinos, Obama Eases Deportation Policy

In Nod to Latinos, Obama Eases Deportation Policy

By Alexis Simendinger - June 16, 2012

President Obama tossed rocket fuel on the immigration debate Friday, making an overt bid for Latinos' votes by temporarily halting the deportation of young offspring of illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria.

"It's the right thing to do, period," the president said at a White House event.

Obama’s decision to ease enforcement could spare up to 1.4 million unauthorized immigrants expulsion to other countries, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

And his action has the potential to attract support from hundreds of thousands of Hispanics -- if not more -- in Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and other key electoral states. Latinos make up 16 percent of the U.S. population, but they lag other demographics in voter registration and participation in elections.

Obama’s policy of deporting illegal immigrants at record levels -- averaging 400,000 a year since 2009 -- has been deeply unpopular with a majority of Hispanics, according to polls. Although polls show Obama far ahead of Mitt Romney among Latinos, their mobilization for the president and participation in November has been a nagging question for his campaign team.

The president’s new policy, outlined at the Department of Homeland Security, turned the tables on Republicans by exposing long-running divisions about how to deal with some of the estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States, particularly children educated here as well as those who have served in the armed services.

Iowa conservative Rep. Steve King immediately said he would take Obama and his new policy to court, arguing it is unconstitutional.

The president’s action cheered Latinos and Democratic lawmakers, many of whom have been lobbying Obama for more than two years to take similar executive action. Less than a year ago, the president traveled to the Mexican border at El Paso, Texas, to explain in a speech why he would not use his executive powers in the absence of reform legislation in Congress.

On the campaign trail in New Hampshire hours after Obama’s White House statement, Romney condemned the temporary fix, but in doing so he refined his tough-enforcement statements issued during GOP primary debates.

"I'd like to see legislation that deals with this issue," Romney said. "I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country.”

Romney said he thought Obama’s announcement made it “more difficult to reach that kind of long-term solution, because an executive order, of course, is a short-term matter that can be reversed by subsequent presidents." The former Massachusetts governor, referencing his immigration adviser, Florida Sen. Rubio, added, “I happen to agree with Marco Rubio, as he said, this is an important matter [and] we have to find a long-term solution."

A possible vice presidential candidate, Rubio has been drafting a compromise to the Democrats’ DREAM Act legislation, aiming to put a more tolerant face on the Republican Party with an attempt at a compromise, bipartisan bill. Rubio’s statement Friday said the president’s decision “will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short-term answer to a long-term problem. And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one.”

Arizona Sen. John McCain recently told RCP he believes Romney should be able to persuasively pitch his conservative views on taxes, small government and abortion to Hispanics, but would be advised to find “a humane attitude towards the issue of illegal immigration,” potentially the DREAM Act. Democrats’ version of the measure would offer children of undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, while Rubio’s fallback is legal status for such children.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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