News and Commentary on Obama’s Immigration Move

Some of the news coverage on Obama’s new immigration stance:

CNN:

In an election-year policy change, the Obama administration said Friday it will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements…

Those who might benefit from the change expressed joy and relief, with celebratory demonstrations forming outside the White House and elsewhere.

Pedro Ramirez, a student who has campaigned for such a move, said he was “definitely speechless,” then added: “It’s great news.”

Yahoo! News suggests the political impact depends on spurring more Latino voter registrations:

President Barack Obama’s decision to grant temporary legal status to as many as 800,000 young illegal immigrants was met with praise from Hispanic advocacy and civil rights organizations on Friday. The new rule “gives Latinos an added reason not only to support the president but to actually turn out and vote,” said Brent Wilkes, the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Obama’s campaign must be hoping that this move will encourage  Latinos—who have the lowest voter registration numbers of any major ethnic group in the United States, despite their growing demographic—to register and show up at the voting booth…

Nelly Medina, a 62-year-old Miami resident who canvasses new voters as a volunteer for the National Council of La Raza, says that hasn’t been easy.

“The people don’t want to vote,” she says in Spanish. “There’s a lot of apathy. The two candidates that there are, they don’t like either of them … [politicians] don’t come through on their promises.”

Medina has helped 1,000 new voters register over the past few months, but for every person who wants to vote, there’s a handful who say they’re not interested.

And get-out-the-vote leaders say their groups are more underfunded than in election years past, meaning there are fewer people like Medina trying to convince people to vote in the first place.

The Christian Science Monitor is confident about political benefits:

Barack Obama’s surprise announcement on immigration this week – in essence, a DREAM Act end-run around Congress – had immediate political benefits for an incumbent president fighting to win a second term.

Nathan Pippenger at The New Republic writes that “Obama’s Immigration Move is a Huge Deal. Here’s Why”:

This morning brought the biggest immigration news of Barack Obama’s presidency: Effective immediately, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children will be granted relief from the threat of deportation and will be able to obtain work authorization. To quote Joe Biden, this is a big f-ing deal.

Immigration reform advocates, whose mounting discontent over the administration’s policy dysfunction has become a serious political dilemma for the White House, are ecstatic. Marshall Fitz, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, called it “huge, beyond big” and said “it’s the biggest thing that we could have possibly hoped for.” That sentiment was widely echoed: America’s Voice, a leading reform advocacy group, sent out a blast email hailing “the biggest news on immigration in 25 years,” and advocates are planning celebrations at the White House later today.

Why are advocates so excited? Because this is the most important reform the White House can make without going to a deadlocked Congress for new legislation. With Republicans blocking even the most trivial legislation, no one has any realistic hope for a comprehensive immigration reform law in the near future. Even the DREAM Act, which passed the Democratic-controlled House in late 2010, was blocked by a minority in the Senate (55 votes in its favor were not enough).

But this policy will provide relief to so-called DREAMers: people who were brought to the United States at a young age; who count America as their home country; who, though here illegally, are not here as a result of intentionally breaking the law. They will now be able to come forward and apply for deferred action, which will grant them relief from deportation for two years. They’ll also be able to apply for work authorization, so they can support themselves as well. The policy may affect as many as one million undocumented immigrants who would have been eligible for the DREAM Act. After the two years are up, they can reapply for an extension of those benefits…

And while earlier moves by the administration on immigration have brought disappointment, this policy could actually mean relief for hundreds of thousands who deserve it. First, the directive is written in clear, strong language—and it appears to actually be more of a directive than a “recommendation.” In the past, discretion has been, well, discretionary, and non-compliance among field-level immigration officers has hampered attempts by headquarters to change enforcement. This time, there seems to be a firmer, more mandate-like approach from the leadership. (Though, to be sure, people will be watching closely to make sure the policy is implemented.)

Second, this is an affirmative process: Anyone, including those who have never been subject to enforcement action, can come forward and apply for these benefits. Prosecutorial discretion, as I have documented, is something that people who are already in the midst of enforcement actions request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—the agency responsible for enforcing the law. But this process will be handled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is the agency that handles benefits, not enforcement. The culture and mentality are different, and the affirmative nature of the process means that the emphasis will be on granting these benefits whenever possible, to whoever comes forward.

To me, too, this seems like a landmark moment. More from TNR (Nate Cohn):

While Obama already possesses an overwhelming share of the Latino  vote, enthusiasm and turnout are still a challenge. Latinos vote at a  substantially lower rate than the rest of the country; Gallup’s tracking  poll has consistently shown Hispanic voters less likely to indicate  that they will “definitely vote,” compared to other racial/ethnic  groups. Although there is some evidence that Hispanics were already  beginning to tune into the race, there is still plenty of room for the  president to benefit from rejuvenated Latino enthusiasm.

Increased Latino turnout is the most likely benefit that Obama could  derive from this position, but don’t discount the possibility that Obama  could make additional gains among Latino voters, even beyond his  impressive 2008 performance. McCain had a moderate reputation on  immigration issues, even if he abandoned comprehensive reform in pursuit  of the GOP nomination. Romney’s stances on immigration are even less  palatable to Latino voters, and it’s unclear whether most Latino voters  are aware yet of Romney’s most controversial stances. Most polls suggest  there are more undecided Latino voters than other racial/ethnic groups,  and Romney is generally polling below McCain’s eventual standing among  Latino voters. If Obama won an outsized share of undecided Latino  voters, he could perform better among Latinos than he did in 2008, even  if that seems unlikely given the economic circumstances.

This places Romney in a dangerous position. The Romney campaign  recognizes the danger of losing an outsized share of the Latino vote,  and there was already chatter about a Rubio-led GOP version of the DREAM  act. Obama’s new policy has preempted such a move, and Romney now faces  the delicate task of appeasing conservatives while avoiding alienating  the Latino vote. Romney’s criticism might focus on Obama’s decision to  exercise executive authority, rather than pass a bill through  Congress—but voters are uninterested in process and Latinos will likely  interpret opposition as opposition.

But it’s not clear why Obama has “preempted” a move by Romney to nominate Rubio for VP and endorse his version of the DREAM Act. He could still do it. It might even make more sense now. Here’s an interview with Rubio by theNational Review:

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida tells National Review Online that President Obama’s executive order on immigration is part of a “growing consensus” in American politics about the children of illegal immigrants, but he is troubled by the president’s lawmaking “by fiat.”

“There is a growing sentiment in America about these kids,” Rubio says. “If you were four years old when your parents brought you here illegally, and you have grown up here your whole life and don’t even speak Spanish, and you are your high school’s valedictorian, you have a lot to contribute to our future. It kind of feels weird to deport you.”

Rubio acknowledges that his position on illegal immigration will not please every member of his party. But he believes that he can still be an opponent of illegal immigration while working to help the children of illegal immigrants to avoid deportation. Immigration is “not a black and white issue,” he says. “It’s a complicated issue. Complicated issues require careful solutions. On one hand, we want to help these kids, but we also do not want to do anything to encourage illegal immigration.”

Before Obama made his Rose Garden announcement, Rubio was planning to bring his own immigration bill — a variation on the Democrats’ DREAM Act — to the Senate floor. The legislation, according to various reports, would likely grant residency to illegal immigrants who plan to serve in the military or pursue higher education.

Rubio is now unsure of whether his immigration bill will move forward. He is considering various legislative options, but he has not settled on any particular path. In the meantime, he remains frustrated with the president. Obama should have consulted with lawmakers, he says, instead of “ignoring” the Constitution and Congress. “For kids who are desperate, this is good news,” he says. “But there will be long-term, negative consequences, in terms of arriving at a responsible solution.”

For the moment, Rubio has not discussed his legislative proposal with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, but he is optimistic that GOP leaders, including Romney, will recognize the complexity of the immigration issue and his rationale for proposing a policy that may mirror Obama’s position more than the position of border hawks.

Let’s hope so… but I’m also struck by the inadequacy of saying that “it sort of kind of feels weird” to deport a high-achieving, raised-in-America, innocently illegal immigrant. It doesn’t “sort of kind of feel weird.” It’s an outrage. Barack Obama’s rhetoric, at least, is far more adequate on this.

Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith is an assistant professor of economics at Fresno Pacific University. He did his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University and has also worked for the World Bank. Smith proposed Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It, one of the more comprehensive keyhole solution proposals to address concerns surrounding open borders.

See also:

Page about Nathan Smith on Open Borders
All blog posts by Nathan Smith

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