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March 14, 2014 10:34 AM Obama’s Deportation Conundrum

By Ed Kilgore

The headline (as supplied by the New York Times for a Michael Shear report) is quotidian enough: “Obama, Citing a Concern for Families, Orders a Review of Deportations.” Who could object to a “review?” Well, potentially, just about everybody.

Mr. Obama revealed the effort in an Oval Office meeting with Hispanic lawmakers on Thursday afternoon, telling them that he had “deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” according to a White House statement.
Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois, said afterward that it was “clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president.” He added that he and his two colleagues at the meeting — Representative Rubén Hinojosa, Democrat of Texas, and Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California — “were adamant that the president needed to act.”
Mr. Obama — who told the lawmakers that he had ordered Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, to conduct the evaluation — is under increasing pressure from Latino advocates to all but suspend aggressive efforts to deport illegal immigrants. Activists and Hispanic lawmakers say the government is ripping families apart by deporting people whose only crime was coming to the country illegally. Some groups said Thursday that a review by Mr. Johnson would not go far enough.

But at the same time, of course, any talk of easing deportations will provide more fodder for House Republican claims that the president cannot be trusted to enforce existing—or potential—immigration laws, the latest excuse for congressional inaction on comprehensive immigration reform.

At WaPo Greg Sargent describes the political conundrum efficiently:

Whatever the White House’s internal review turns up, if deportations are not eased, the outside pressure for executive action will only increase. And all of this underscores that Obama is really in a jam on this issue.
The problem is that, with Republicans continually citing Obama’s supposed unwillingness to enforce immigration laws as their excuse for inaction on legislative reform, the White House cannot aggressively rebut these charges without drawing attention to the record deportations on his watch, because that will further anger Latinos, a core Democratic constituency.
At the same time, the longer House Republicans use “distrust of Obama” as their excuse for stalling on reform, the more intense the pressure on Obama to act unilaterally will get. And as immigration advocates and Latino media shift the focus to Obama, that risks reducing political pressure on Republicans. By announcing the internal review, while also stressing no executive action to slow deportations will take place, the White House is seeking to ease pressure on Obama and refocus it on Republicans.

Greg goes on to quote an immigration reform advocate who thinks that if Obama finds some way to reduce deportations, congressional Republicans may well take the bait and make rude gestures, legislative or rhetorical, that will further offend Latinos.

In the background, of course, is the realization that Latinos are a demographic category unusually susceptible to “midterm falloff” in voting participation. If Obama can somehow get out of his current conundrum with a policy and a message that helps mobilize Latinos against a hostile GOP, it could work wonders in a number of close races in November.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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