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Yesterday’s announcement of the Obama Administration’s important step towards bringing deportation practices in line with its enforcement priorities already is generating predictable responses from many Republicans and their mass-deportation allies. Typical of the reaction was the statement from Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ), who noted:
“This plan amounts to backdoor amnesty for hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of illegal aliens.”
Right on cue, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said:
“The Obama administration has again made clear its plan to grant backdoor amnesty to illegal immigrants.”
Such reactions are not only flat out wrong on policy, they are terrible politics for a Republican Party that already has huge problems with Latino voters – just as the 2012 cycle kicks into high gear.
Mindful of the way yesterday’s news is likely to infect the Republican presidential field and GOP members of Congress, below are assessments about the actual policy implications of yesterday’s news, as well as a reminder about the political state of play regarding immigration and Latino voters.
What This Policy Announcement Actually Does – and Why GOP Opponents are Wrong: Yesterday’s announcement is based on common sense – it recognizes that it is both a smart use of limited resources and sound law enforcement practice to go after drug smugglers, violent felons and serious criminals rather than wasting resources on young people who are attending college or members of military families. This new policy spells out particular classes of people that should be less likely to be entered into deportation proceedings as a result of yesterday’s news, including veterans and military personnel, minors and elderly, those present in the U.S. since childhood, long-term lawful permanent residents, and victims of domestic violence and trafficking. Hard line opponents claiming that this is “backdoor amnesty” are not only engaging in an outrageous distortion of this limited and temporary relief in which low-priority individuals will be considered on a case-by-case basis, they reveal their own agenda: they believe that it is practical and desirable to try to drive out of the country 11 million people, a population the size of the state of Ohio.
Why This Matters to Latino Voters: The Latino voters see immigration as a top priority because it is an issue that affects their families, their future and their sense of being fully accepted in America. In a 2010 election eve poll conducted by Latino Decisions in eight states, 83% of Latino voters said that immigration was an important issue in their voting decisions, and fully 60% said it was the most important issue or one of the most important issues. Polling released in June 2011 by Latino Decisions and impreMedia shows that a majority of Latino voter poll respondents, 51%, thinks immigration reform is the single most important issue facing the Latino community, ahead of economy/jobs (35%) or education/schools (18%). Why is this such a mobilizing and defining issue for Latinos? Because the issue is personal. June polling by impreMedia/Latino Decisions found that a majority of Latino voters (53%) said they know someone who is undocumented, while one-fourth (25%) said they know a person or have a family member who is facing deportation or who has been deported. The findings about Latino voters’ personal connection to the immigration debate echo 2010 polling of Latino voters in twelve states by Bendixen & Amandi, who found that 78% of Latino voters considered the immigration issue important to them and their families, including 51% who called it “very important.” Additionally, 62% of respondents in the Bendixen & Amandi poll reported knowing an undocumented person vs. only 33% who did not.
Why This Has Big 2012 Implications: Anti-immigrant hard liners are the face of the Republican Party these days to Latino voters and the GOP has a earned its reputation as anti-Latino – a very dangerous development leading into 2012. Most experts say the Republicans have to win 40% of the Hispanic vote if they are to take the White House in 2012, but right now, the GOP tops out at 18% with Hispanic voters. June 2011 polling of Latino voters found that by a 65% – 19% margin, Latino voters trust President Obama and Democrats more “to make the right decisions when it comes to immigration policy” compared with Republicans. Again, immigration is the biggest driver behind these numbers. Polling of Latino voters in twelve states by Bendixen & Amandi found that 72% of Latino voters would not even consider voting for a congressional candidate who was in favor of forcing most undocumented immigrants to leave the country vs. only 19% of Latino voters who would consider it.
One of the surest ways for the Republican Party to help re-elect President Obama is to oppose this common sense policy change. The message these hard liners send is clear: Latinos are not welcome in this country no matter how hard they work, how much they achieve and how much they contribute.
A young person who is a valedictorian and wants to go to college but can’t because they arrived in diapers and have no legal status? The Republican response: Any relief would be “amnesty,” only deportation is in order.
A loved one of a hero who fought for his country in Iraq and Afghanistan? The Republican response: no relief, only deportation.
A mother who has lived in America for 15 years with her U.S. citizen husband and four U.S. citizen children? Again — no relief, only deportation.
For these ideologues, anything short of the mass deportation of 11 million people is an amnesty. They are wrong. Yesterday’s announcement is a limited measure that says “let’s target the worst of the worst rather than best and the brightest.”