What Will President Obama Do to Bring Immigration Reform

Reflecting back on the State of the Union Address, it has been a month since President  Obama said he was not afraid of using his executive powers to make sure immigration reform will happen. There is pressure on President Obama 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.

Young immigrants may be in luck.  Recent polls are showing that for the first time that Americans are just as concerned about what to do with people already in the country illegally as they are about securing our borders. Historically, people have been 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 “What should be the main focus of the U.S. government in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration,” 54 percent selected “developing a plan that would allow illegal immigrants who have jobs to become legal U.S. residents.” Only 41 percent chose “developing a plan for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here.” In 2010, the numbers were significantly higher calling for tighter border security.

In the run-up to the 2012 election, President Obama issued the Deferred Action executive order; Republicans called 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 – one which the president had failed to address. Further, President Obama had incensed Latinos by picking up deportations to record levels.

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 Romney’s 27 percent. Since that group made up 10 percent of the electorate for the first time in the nation’s history, that lopsided outcome proved pivotal to Mr. Obama’s success. In particular, his lead with Hispanics gave him the edge in Nevada, Colorado and Florida –  all states that were pivotal to his success.

Mr. Obama’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, “The fact is that President Obama has inflicted more pain on immigrant families than any other President in history.”

The costs and hardships are at record deportation levels – 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. “More than half of all federal prosecutions are now for immigration-related offenses,” according to the Immigration Policy Center. The costs alone should be a clear indication that reform is on the move. Consider — last year we spent $17.9 billion on immigration enforcement, compared to $14.4 billion on “all other principal criminal-law enforcement.

With 2014 being a mid-season election year, it is important for President Obama to help his party by cutting back on deportations before the Latino community begins to stray. Already, some Republicans are stepping up to take advantage of Mr. Obama’s waffling. Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV) has introduced a bill that would broaden exclusions available from deportation. He represents Nevada’s third district, where approximately one quarter of the voters are immigrants. Although he was first elected in 2010, Mr. Heck is now considered vulnerable, because of the Republican party’s stance on Immigration. He is trying to walk a middle line, pushing for reform. If him and other Republicans are able to make strides for immigration reform, it will make it more difficult for Mr. Obama to help is fellow Democrats. What happens in the next couple months concerning immigration reform and his actions will set the tone for whether Democrats stay ahead in the immigration reform race or if Republicans catch up in addressing the issue.