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Failure to stay true to stated focus on serious criminals could have implications for 2012 re-election campaign
Washington – A new report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) examining the 287(g) immigration enforcement program – a program that deputizes local law enforcement personnel to act as federal immigration agents – provides fresh evidence of the credibility gap between the rhetoric of DHS leadership in Washington, DC and the reality on the ground. And, in turn, this gap between promises made and promises kept could complicate efforts to produce a huge turnout of Latino voters in 2012.
The leadership of DHS and ICE regularly promises to focus enforcement on the “worst of the worst.” With respect to the 287(g) program, Secretary Napolitano announced in July 2009 that the controversial program would continue but be subject to much tighter federal oversight and focus on the detention and removal of those considered “dangerous.” But, after careful research on the ground, the authoritative MPI report concludes, “the program is not targeted primarily or even mostly toward serious offenders.” It finds that fully half of those swept up into the federal government’s deportation machinery have been accused of traffic offenses or misdemeanors, or level 3 offenses, not the drug, property and violent crimes that are the agency’s level 1 and level 2 priorities.
As a policy issue, this matters to leading law enforcement voices who have expressed concern and opposition to the 287(g) program. Many of America’s top cops believe that encouraging local police to enforce federal immigration law – especially when many of those brought into the deportation system are picked up in routine traffic stops – undermines the community policing strategies that rely on building trust, not fear. When members of minority communities see police as friend and not foe they are more willing to serve as force multipliers – the eyes and ears – in community efforts to combat crime.
As a political issue, this matters because the President’s re-election strategy goes right through the Latino community and the key states they will swing in 2012 (FL, NV, NM and CO for starters). David Plouffe, President Obama’s 2008 Campaign Manager and a key strategist for his re-election effort, recently noted that “In a presidential-election-year electorate, the Latino vote is playing a stronger and stronger role. So from an Electoral College standpoint, right now I’d rather be us than the other side.” While Republicans are doing their eventual presidential nominee no favors by doubling down on their anti-immigrant brand image among Latino voters, there is no question that the Obama Administration’s credibility gap on immigration is a potential fly in the ointment of the President’s re-election.
As America’s Voice has noted and election results bear out, Latino voters view immigration through an incredibly personal lens. In 2009, polling from Bendixen & Amandi showed that 62% of Latino voters know someone who is undocumented. And as Latino Decisions points out, millions of Latino citizens today are former undocumented immigrants who legalized their status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act and other laws. Finally, November 2010 polling by Latino Decisions of Latino voters in eight states with sizeable Latino voting blocs found, 60% of Latino voters said the issue of immigration was either “the most important” issue or “one of the most important” issues in determining their vote in 2010 – numbers that are even higher among Spanish-dominant voters. Together, these findings suggest it will be more difficult to motivate Latino voters to go to the polls in 2012 when they have seen loved ones deported for driving without a taillight and families in their extended network ripped apart by an Administration that promised improvements.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “the President, who promised immigration reform would be a priority as a candidate, and reiterated his call for a bipartisan breakthrough on comprehensive reform in his recent State of the Union address, gets it. He wants a workable, controlled immigration system that reflects our best as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. But DHS and ICE act in ways that undermine community confidence and trust in his Administration. Just as the Administration expects Latino voters to deliver for the President’s re-election, so do Latino voters expect the President and his Administration to deliver their promises – to focus enforcement resources on those committing serious crimes and to spend political capital fighting for immigration reform.”
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