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Republican Sprint to the Right Should Help Obama, but DHS Continues to Undercut His Latino Outreach Efforts
Last night’s Republican presidential debate, as expected, featured more fireworks over the issue of immigration and turned into a contest of who could talk tougher on the issue. In an attempt to defend his past household employment of an undocumented worker, Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) explained why he insisted his workforce be legal by saying, “I’m running for office for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals.” Is it any surprise that the shape-shifting Romney was motivated more by appearances and not core convictions? Or that newly minted hard-right immigration hawk Mitt Romney once embraced the McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform bill and criticized Republicans for opposing President George W. Bush’s push to get it passed?
It got worse for Republican and Latino voters. As Elizabeth Llorente wrote on Fox News Latino, “a man in the audience told the candidates that most Latinos were not undocumented immigrants, and what message did they have for the roughly 50 million Latinos in the nation. None of the candidates directly answered the question; most of the ones who answered it – after several attempts by moderator CNN reporter Anderson Cooper – did so vaguely, usually saying that their messages were for all Americans. Some candidates said efforts to single out an ethnic or racial group were not productive. In a post-debate analysis, Gwen Ifill, political analyst on PBS, said the Latino audience member’s question to the candidates had gotten no better than a ‘flat-footed’ response. ‘Many didn’t know what to say…as far as appealing to the fastest-growing community in this country.’”
As a result, it’s not surprising that the Republican Party faces continued low approval among Latino voters, according to new polling from Latino Decisions/impreMedia. Only 9% of Latino voters are certain to vote for the Republican presidential nominee and only 22% of Latino voters are certain or likely to do so – a long way from the 40% minimum needed for the GOP candidate to re-take the White House. In the same polling, Latino voters rated immigration right up there with the economy as issues of top concern.
However, on the same day that Republicans were falling all over themselves to alienate Latino voters, the Department of Homeland Security bragged about the Obama Administration’s record deportation numbers for the past fiscal year, adding for good measure that of the nearly 400,000 immigrants deported, more than half were “convicted criminals.” A closer examination of the numbers suggests that something closer to 20% meet a common-sense definition of the “worst of the worst.” In any case, DHS’s track record of record deportations, a dragnet that sweeps up ordinary immigrants who are “convicted” for driving with broken tail lights or without drivers licenses, and its delay in implementing the Administration’s popular promise to use prosecutorial discretion no doubt offers solace to Republican operatives. These operatives dream of blurring the distinction over immigration between Republicans and Democrats by running Spanish language ads accusing the President of deporting hundreds of thousands of people he previously promised to legalize. Their goal would be to suppress the Latino vote in 2012 and boost the GOP nominee. On a day when the Obama campaign should have been high-fiving over the sprint to the right on immigration in the Republican race, one suspects they were shocked and awed by the DHS tone-deaf announcement.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “I didn’t think it possible for the Republican field to move even further to the right on immigration, but the developments of this week – from the comments of Cain and Bachmann to the Perry and Romney spat last night – have entrenched their ‘keep ‘em out, kick ‘em out’ enforcement-only stance and anti-Latino brand image even further. Yet instead of doing everything they can to powerfully contrast with the Republicans’ run to the right, the DHS continues to undercut the President’s outreach to Latino voters by trumpeting their record deportation figures. For many Latino voters, already frustrated with the economy and the lack of progress on immigration reform, it must be jarring to hear the Obama Administration tout their record deportation numbers, especially for many voters with first-hand experience about the way that deportations have devastated mixed status families and ensnared low-priority immigrants.”
As the Immigration Policy Center wrote of the nearly 400,000 deportations, “While the raw number is not in doubt, its meaning is far from clear. According to DHS, 55% of those removed (approximately 218,000) were ‘criminal aliens,’ but the definition of ‘criminal’ is overly broad. While DHS may tout this numbers as proof that it’s rooting out serious criminals only, it’s important to note that many of these ‘criminal’ aliens have only minor convictions such as traffic offenses or entering the U.S. without a visa.” Point being, many “low priority” immigrants are being caught up in the deportation process, to the detriment of family unity, community cohesion, and possibly, the President’s re-election prospects.
Yet this nuanced take seems lost on DHS leaders. In August, Secretary of DHS Janet Napolitano said, “The numbers are going to be very robust in terms of numbers of removal – we don’t fool around about this.” And yesterday, in regards to the new deportations numbers released and the Administration’s overall approach to enforcement, John Morton, the Commissioner of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said, “You can count on seeing more of the same next year.”
Concluded Sharry, “For those plotting the President’s re-election and banking on high levels of Latino support and turnout, they better hope not.”
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