The Politics Of Obama's Deportation Shift

The political impact of the Obama administration's decision to commit to discretion in deportation procedures may not be immediately obvious. No, most Latinos in the U.S. are not undocumented. However, most Latinos do have some kind of social connection to someone who is undocumented. According to a June 2011 poll by Latino Decisions, more than half of Latino voters know an undocumented person, and a quarter know someone who has been deported.

A majority of these voters (53%) said they know someone who is undocumented, while one-fourth (25%) said they know a person or family who is facing deportation or has been deported.

The implications of this are obvious--the administration's aggressive, uncompromising approach to deportations must have had quite an impact on the perceptions of Latino voters towards the administration, because most have at least some direct, personal understanding of the dilemmas undocumented immigrants face. By the same token, the decision to forestall the deportations of undocumented immigrants who fit a select criteria is likely to have a similarly cumulative impact. The question hinges on whether the move will change how Latinos talk to each other about what the administration has been doing. 

There's still a political risk here though for the administration, in that given the absence of reform legislation, this is really the biggest immigration oriented policy change they can point to. While it's true that candidates matter less than parties, it's possible that someone like Texas Governor Rick Perry, who pushed through a state-level version of the DREAM Act in Texas back in 2001 when Republicans supported it, could siphon off a decisive number of Latino votes. Though the jury's still out on whether Perry's moderate stances on immigration can survive a divisive Republican Primary, or whether he'll end up repudiating them outright before it's through. He's already said he doesn't support the DREAM Act at the federal level, even though that doesn't really make any sense. 

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