President Obama made a controversial ruling on immigration last week when he declared that the Department of Homeland Security will no longer deport illegal immigrants if they meet a certain set of criteria. The New York Times said that over 800,000 immigrants could be affected by this new ruling.
The controversy from this immigration ruling comes for two reasons. First, the President used executive power to make this declaration instead of going through Congress. President Obama has attempted to pass immigration legislation before, but it has always been held up in a bipartisan Congress. Particularly in an election year there is no chance of getting something as ambitious as immigration policy through Congress.
However, using executive power to do something so ambitious drew the ire of Republicans as they claimed Obama was overstepping his bounds and the Constitution itself. The argument is easy for Republicans to make, as most people do not know the complexities of executive power and how they function in determining policy. Conservative news pundits have jumped on this chance to criticize the President.
The second point of controversy is that this ruling is being hailed as a precursor to amnesty by the Obama Administration. While a large portion of Americans support amnesty, it is a very contentious issue, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling against Arizona’s Immigration Law. Amnesty is a hot-button issue and the word alone inspires rage by some groups. Obama is certainly not trying to cater to conservative voters at all with this decision.
Why did Obama make this immigration ruling? The answer is simple: Latino voters. Latinos are a very rapidly growing voting demographic with much sway in elections, particularly in swing states like Florida. After Obama’s press conference where he announced this new policy, Latino groups across the country praised him for allowing more immigrants to stay. And historically, Obama did not do particularly well with Latinos in the 2008 election, especially for a Democrat. He is clearly trying to cater to the Latino vote as his campaign moves forward toward election time.
Will this reform help the Obama campaign? It should help overall, though it gives Romney some fodder for the debates. While moderate voters tend to side against illegal immigration amnesty, the Latino vote is more influential than even last election. Obama made a risky political move by declaring this immigration reform, but in the end it should pay off for him as he looks to serve four more years in office.