Obama's Immigration Gamble

On Friday, August 19, when many Americans were on vacation or were in a drowsy summer state of mind, the Obama administration dropped a bombshell: The Department of Homeland Security announced that it had changed its policy and now will individually review 300,000 pending federal deportation cases. It will suspend lower-priority cases — those not involving violence or other danger.

In other words most deportations will be effectively halted.

That the announcement was made on a Friday in August shows that Obama is very nervous about the new policy and considers it a gamble. The administration knew that there would be no politicians in Washington to protest and to make it a national issue on a late summer weekend.

This is very telling and shows Obama’s  weakness entering 2012. Wendy Schiller, a Brown University political scientist, said, “Both the nature and timing of the decision suggest that presidential politics is at play here. Obama has lost ground with his liberal base … and he absolutely needs strong support in states with large hispanic populations to keep the White House for four more years.”

This, of course, was not supposed to happen. Obama was supposed to save America with one hand tied behind his back. And so this back-door announcement can be seen as a good sign for Republicans after the 2010 GOP tidal wave.

Administration officials  are saying that the shift in policy was made to prioritize cases and allocate so-called ‘scare resources’ more efficiently, while critics are calling it a route to amnesty for the 11 million to 20 million illegal immigrants in America.

Indeed Obama’s plan is a double-edged sword. Many white, middle-class and working-class swing voters who put Obama in office in 2008 are highly suggestible on the immigration issue in these troubled economic times. Thus Obama downplayed the announcement so as not to arouse the center of the electorate, while the administration is hopeful that the news will spread rapidly in the hispanic community, bringing up Obama’s popularity among a group that has suffered badly in the recession.

Meanwhile the canard about allocating so-called ‘scarce resources’ is a fraud. Because Obama distributed hundreds of billions of dollars to his cronies in the stimulus plan, and is increasing enforcement actions all across government from EPA to the Internal Revenue Service. 

So the Obama matrix is this: There is not enough money to prosecute all those illegals, but plenty of cash to pursue hard-working Americans over their taxes and productive utilities that are producing our energy.

Obama won several key Western states in 2008 including Colorado and New Mexico. That was credited in some part to the rising power of hispanic voters at whom this new policy is aimed.

But it is important to remember that Obama won the 2008 election largely on media hype, on the fanciful promise of ‘hope and change’, on a lousy campaign by McCain and on ignorance over what he really  intended to do. He will do much less well in 2012. Even New Mexico, for instance, elected a dynamic Republican hispanic governor in 2010, Susana Martinez, who will do all she can to swing the state to the electoral right.

Republican Arizona governor Jan Brewer, who favors tough measures on illegal immigration, said that  the administration “has resorted to implementing its plans via executive fiat. Those of us who truly care about the rule of law will remember the president’s actions.” This statement should send chills down Democrats’ spines.

The Justice Department sued Brewer and was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals over a state law she signed in 2010 requiring more invasive checks into the immigration status of those stopped or arrested by police. Civil rights groups and the federal government contended that the law targeted hispanics and represented de facto racial profiling.

Meanwhile, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, and Utah have passed similar laws which also are being challenged.

For the time being, illegal immigration has slipped down low on the priority list of voters, with most focused on the economy.  But precisely because of the shaky economy, this new immigration policy issue is going to flare up again in 2012, particularly among blue-collar swing voters – so-called Reagan Democrats – who believe that illegal immigration is hurting them. Conservatives, of course, were already agitated about immigration, and the recent decision only will provoke them into 2012. Talk radio and conservative blogs will keep the issue on the front burner. Thus Obama’s political wager indeed could end up with the president losing the whole pot.

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