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The Next America - Immigration 2012 / Immigration

Analysis: Obama's Immigration Maneuver

June 20, 2012

I welcome Obama's decision on immigration. Pursuing and deporting illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children is inhumane. If the US stands for something, it should never sink so low.

Out and out lawlessness, Charles Krauthammer called the decision. America is supposed to be a nation of laws. Yes, when it chooses to be. A settled, intelligent and indisputably legitimate immigration policy is needed. But there's no sign of it. In the meantime, resorting to a legal maneuver that lets the administration leave a cruel law unenforced is the best that can be done, and in my view much the lesser evil.

It would be nice to call it a brave decision, but the timing tempers one's enthusiasm. What took him so long? Oh yes, there's an election coming up, and the Latino vote could be pivotal. Shame about all those earlier deportations, the ones the administration was boasting about until recently. The decision looks nakedly political. You can hardly claim to be standing on principle when you're driven entirely by tactical calculation.

 

Since it's the right decision I hope it pays off. A new Bloomberg poll suggests it might. But perhaps the administration is taking more of a chance than it knows. Sean Trende thinks the electoral calculation may backfire for three main reasons. Latinos aren't concentrated in important swing states. (Florida? Latinos in Florida don't vote like Latinos elsewhere.) White working-class voters are likely to be offended by the decision. And Latinos might not care about immigration policy quite as much as Democrats are apt to think.

[J]ust as there's a ceiling on the Republican share of this vote, there's probably something of a floor. (Harry Enten provides some good analysis here.) 

I'd just add that in 2008, only 69 percent of Latino voters described illegal immigration as "very" or "extremely" important to them in exit polls. Of these, nearly one-third voted Republican, suggesting that a near-majority of Latinos either thought that illegal immigration wasn't an important issue, or thought it was and voted Republican anyway...

In short, it's not really clear what Obama's tack on immigration really accomplishes, politically speaking. It probably will result in minimal gains among Latino voters, in states with only a few electoral votes. But what it costs him could easily offset those gains, and then some. 

Is it possible Obama did the right thing, even suspecting it might cost him in electoral terms? These days, sad to say, that's hard to believe.

Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.



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