On Tuesday, a panel of judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against the request to lift the hold on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. What this means is that immigration is now certain to be one of the most enduring and divisive issues in the upcoming presidential election.
As you may remember, the President announced in November 2014 a list of actions that included protections for unauthorized immigrants from deportation. When initially reported, the plan was expected to affect up to five million of the 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants in our nation.
This was in large part to be completed through the creation of a program in which 4 million undocumented parents of American citizens or legal permanent residents could obtain a deferral – but was exclusive only to those who have lived in the U.S. for a minimum of five years. Under the program, these individuals would be authorized to work for three years at a time in our country.
Other items included in Obama’s executive action was the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the redirection of law enforcement priorities toward criminals, and increased efficiency measures in visa and court procedures.
Although this was the most progressive step President Obama has taken to fulfill his initial campaign promise of immigration reform, criticism was heartily served up from both sides of the aisle. Advocates for full reform argued that the actions did not go far enough, as the plan was by no means a pathway for obtaining full legal status, and it lacked protections for farm workers as well as DACA-eligible immigrants. Great backlash was also served up by those on the right over the President’s use of an executive action and they decried the move as an unconstitutional and illegal abuse of power.
So, why did the President take this route?
In short, it was his attempt to bypass longstanding congressional gridlock. It’s worth noting that he did not do this without precedent or without reason. Last June, the then-Democratic-led Senate passed a bill that included a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, but the Republican majority in the House would not support any plan that included such a path.
Although the political terrain has shifted even further to the right since all of this occurred, the recent decision handed down by the Fifth Circuit court will prove to be a tremendous problem for the GOP as they move into the 2016 election cycle.
The Latino vote carries more weight than it ever has, and now that a door has been closed on the most progressive move made in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, blame is certain to be passed around and it’s going to fall upon those who have said no to everything every step of the way.
There is data that obliterates the idea that illegal immigration is increasing, and shows that the unauthorized immigrant population has been slowing down over the last eight years. Both the recession and an increase in deportations have played a large part in this, and as I like to remind those who believe that President Obama is “soft on illegal immigrants,” his administration has deported more than 2 million people since he took office. A record number of over 430,000 individuals were deported in fiscal year 2013 alone. Take that for what it’s worth.
While neither Democrats nor Republicans can claim much victory when it comes to being effective on reforms in this domain, voters are going to reward those who have put forth a good effort to promote equality, efficiency, and a better immigration system overall.
The GOP knows this. It’s even acknowledged in their party’s official analysis of the 2012 election cycle, which, as you may remember, was the same cycle that the Republican nominee for the presidency urged Latinos illegally residing in our country to “self-deport.”
The report actually states “If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In essence, Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.”
We’ll have to wait and see which candidates take this truth to heart. But if that analysis isn’t enough, there are numbers to drive this home.
Mitt Romney won only 27% of the Hispanic vote, whereas McCain and Bush won 31% and 40% respectively in previous cycles. If anything, this decline in numbers tells us one thing: This demographic is paying close attention to who will best represent their interests. Given that the overall white vote in 2012 was the lowest ever measured (72%), every vote really does matter – especially for a party unable to capture a significant portion of non-white voters.
Should Obama choose to engage in a series of legal battles to defend his executive actions, the lawsuits could surpass his presidency and ultimately be left in the hands of the Supreme Court before the November elections. If the court rules on this before Election Day, it is hard to see how their ruling would not benefit the Democratic nominee for President, as either way the vote goes, people will remember how the issue landed in the lap of the court and will be paying close attention to the discourse leading up to their decision.
Hillary Clinton has already come out in support of the President’s executive action on the grounds that precedent for his actions had already been set. She’s even stated that she would go further on the issue if given the chance. If I had to guess, any other Democrat vying for the nomination will take the same stance.
Demographers at the Pew Research Center have noted that our country’s population of illegal immigrants tripled between 1990 and 2007 to more than 12 million. Now the numbers have dropped by 1 million, and the illegal immigration flow has fallen to its lowest level in the last two decades, Pew says. If we have managed to get these numbers under control, then there really is no excuse for not moving forward on creating a comprehensive plan to tackle immigration reform and to create a more efficient path toward citizenship for individuals who wish to play by the rules and be a part of our society. To not do so for partisan reasons is foolish and displays a lack of investment in our nation’s future and security.
The time to confront one of our most pressing issues has finally come and there will only be room at the table for those with concrete solutions and a true commitment to progress. We can be sure that the Latino vote will accurately reflect the person most poised to do this.