Illegal Immigration Stakes Out Lower Rung on Campaign Trail
One of President Obama's most controversial directives went into effect today as thousands of young illegal immigrants were able to apply for deferred enforcement status.
Yet even though this policy bypassed Congress' refusal to pass a DREAM Act, the landmark queues outside immigration offices around the country barely made a dent on the campaign trail.
If Mitt Romney had selected Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as his vice presidential pick it would be the political topic of the day, with Rubio highlighting his alternative, as-yet-unveiled plan for DREAMers while taking heat from immigration-enforcement advocates on the right.
Instead, it was the left's day to herald the policy as a civil-rights achievement while it went largely unnoticed by others.
“I hope Republicans, especially those who expressed willingness to help these young people, will support the administration’s efforts to provide them with a reprieve while Congress works out a path forward," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "The president can only do so much administratively."
The closest Republicans got to talking about immigration was in the context of the main topic of this campaign: jobs.
"Legal immigration is the lifeblood of this country but it is not, it is not going to solve the current 8.3 percent unemployment problem Mitt Romney has been talking about," Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said Tuesday. "It is not going to address the lack of incentives for investment in this country."
The Hispanic Caucus welcomed Wednesday's start of the immigration application process for those brought to the country illegally as children, offering FAQs in English and Spanish on the new deferred action program.
“For far too long these young people were unfairly penalized by the inaction and obstructionism of Republicans in Congress," said caucus chairman Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas). "But now, thanks to the steps taken by President Obama and his administration, young people who have been raised in this country, educated in our schools, and who pledge allegiance to our flag will now be shielded from the threat of deportation and qualify for basic protections to allow them to more fully contribute to this country.”
"Those kids are going to line up by the thousands today. By the hundreds of thousands they will receive their work permits," Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), chairman of the caucus' immigration task force, said on CNN this morning. "Here's what we've learned in America. If you live in secrecy and if you live in the shadows, then you are truly at risk of being deported and harmed by the government."
"The young people have gone out there, shown who they are, spoken to you and the press and shown America, two-thirds of Americans agree with the president's decision," he added.
"Let us help these young DREAMers pursue their calling as they begin this process that will forever change their lives and our country,” Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) said. “I welcome this day and support this effort fully.”
With a little hashtag promotional help from the Hispanic Caucus, "deferred" was a trending topic on Twitter and immigration advocacy groups provided hub pages with links to the necessary forms and information. The caucus fielded questions during a Twitter town hall and Democratic lawmakers issued tweets of elation and support or joined constituents at events.
The news section of the Department of Homeland Security website led with a Spanish-language press release about the policy going into effect.
“USCIS has developed a rigorous review process for deferred action requests under guidelines issued by Secretary Napolitano,” said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. “Childhood arrivals who meet the guidelines and whose cases are deferred will now be able to live without fear of removal, and be able to more fully contribute their talents to our great nation.”
The DREAMers didn't just get moral support, either. Two days ago, New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced a $450,000 cash infusion toward helping those eligible take full advantage of the program through three grants to the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road NY, and Legal Services NYC.
For the White House and Obama campaign, as the president rolled through stops in Iowa, the day the enforcement was deferred passed quietly.
While Obama's move was seen widely at the time as a political maneuver to garner favor with coveted Latino voters, his relative silence on the policy now indicates he may see it as more of a potential liability in the greater campaign than a plus. He may be hoping that Romney loses terrain if he makes comments to the effect of wanting to repeal the residency provisions and putting the thousands of jubilant youths who came forward and applied at risk of deportation.
A June 25 Gallup poll found that just 12 percent of Hispanic registered voters put immigration policies at the top of their list of concerns, behind healthcare and unemployment. Among all U.S. registered voters, immigration ranks at just 5 percent.
In a Bloomberg poll of likely voters conducted in mid-June after Obama's announcement, 64 percent agreed with the new deferment policy.
As Romney didn't pick a running mate associated with the issue of immigration, Obama's campaign is likely content to let the DREAM Act linger in the background rather than risk getting hammered on an executive fiat. And if healthcare is a top issue with Latino voters, who already strongly favor Obama, the rollout of new ObamaCare freebies this summer gives enough timing for voters who may be influenced by the lack of co-payments on women's health procedures and birth control to notice before Election Day.
Today, Romney for President and the Republican National Committee released a new Spanish-language TV ad, "No Podemos Mas," telling the community that it can't take more of Obama's economic policies.
The battle over the immigration policy is just beginning with conservatives in the House, as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has promised to take the administration to court on charges that it overstepped its authority.
But today, as long lines of deferment applicants trailed down sidewalks, the executive version of the DREAM Act was less than an afterthought on the campaign trail -- portending where the once-boiling issue of illegal immigration will fall from here to November.