New Deportation Policy Less than It Appears

In appearing to soften its immigration policy by agreeing to review hundreds of thousands of deportation cases in the pipeline, the Obama administration is either pulling off a big deal -- or a big con.

Owing to experience and my own cynical nature, I’ll put my money on the latter.

Latino voters would be wise to do the same. After all, political observers insist, this is the demographic that this policy change is primarily aimed at. Latinos gave more than 66 percent of their votes to Barack Obama in 2008, but they are not likely to show him much love in 2012.

Three reasons for this: (1) Obama broke his promise to Latino groups to make immigration reform a top priority of his administration; (2) Obama also seems determined to break records in terms of deporting people -- more than 1 million since taking office; and (3) in trying be simultaneously tough and compassionate, Obama has trouble matching his words with actions whenever the immigration issue comes up.

After all, this is the same administration that claimed Secure Communities -- a program that compels local and state police to hand over to U.S. immigration officials the fingerprints of people they suspect of being illegal immigrants  -- was voluntary and aimed at hardened criminals when it wasn't. And this is the same administration that tried to convince Latinos that Republicans killed the Dream Act when they didn't.

In March, during a town hall in Washington, D.C., for the Spanish-language television network Univision, Obama insisted that so-called Dreamers -- or college-age undocumented students who might otherwise be eligible for legal status under that failed piece of legislation called the DREAM Act -- were not being deported because the administration was focused on removing illegal immigrants with criminal records. He also insisted that he didn’t have the executive power to change deportation policy by exempting any particular group from removal because this “would not conform with my appropriate role as president.”

Then, recently, in a move that some on the nativist right wing instinctively (and foolishly) labeled a “silent amnesty,” the Obama administration announced that it would review about 300,000 deportation cases currently in the pipeline to see if any of those people should remain in the United States and be given a work permit. Officials say that the groups most likely to benefit are Dreamers but also military veterans and their spouses. They claim to be exercising “prosecutorial discretion” to focus instead on criminals, i.e., bad actors who -- after committing the civil infraction of violating immigration laws -- graduated to committing criminal acts such as robbery, rape, assault, or other serious offenses.