Some final thoughts on immigration policy just before President Obama officially unveils his executive action at 8 EST tonight:
The wide-ranging deportation protections the President is expected to announce are often described as politically motivated – an audacious gambit aimed at cementing support for Democrats among the nation’s large, rapidly growing Latino population, both by granting a popular request and by highlighting Republican opposition.
I have no doubt that politics explains much about executive amnesty and the Democrats’ broader lurch toward illegal immigrant-friendly policies over the last decade in particular. But I do doubt that unilateral presidential action is the best way for the Democrats to strengthen their image as immigration reform champions.
I’m not thinking here of polls that show general public opposition to Mr. Obama’s intentions. I’m thinking instead of the main message contained in this new post on CNN.com. In it, national political reporter Peter Hamby describes how major Republican White House hopefuls have been reacting to the impending Obama decision. Most of them have emphatically criticized executive amnesty, but their opposition has focused on process questions. In so doing, they’ve made clear that they – and the list includes (outgoing) Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Rick Walker, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – would really rather not talk about the substance of immigration policy.
The reasons for this discomfort – I don’t think that’s too strong a word – should be obvious, too. Any successful Republican presidential candidacy is going to need solid backing (and financing) from American business, which is chomping at the bit for immigration reform that will flood the nation with new workers and thus generate powerful new downward pressure on wages. This support will be crucial both during the primaries and during the fall campaign. Signaling opposition to the idea of loosening immigration restrictions would brand these office-seekers as anti-business on a front-line issue.
As a result, the Machiavellian in me thinks President Obama and the Democrats would be better off depriving Republicans of this procedural dodge, and maintaining and increasing the pressure on their leaders to reveal whether they’re basically for or basically against more Open Borders. What could be likelier to ensure, through election day, 2016, continuation and even intensification of the immigration divide between the Republican establishment and its more populist wing?
Instead, executive amnesty will enable Republicans to paper over these differences. Indeed, the dynamics of Washington gridlock, which practically ensure that some form of executive amnesty will remain in place for the next two years, could well mean that immigration becomes a unifying issue for Republicans.
It’s true that further delaying executive amnesty could further frustrate Latinos and other supporters, and wind up depressing their turnout in 2016. But it’s also true, as I wrote recently, that having won this victory, such voters and their leaders could decide to thank the Democrats and then keep upping the ante and asking what they’ve done for the cause lately. (It’s entirely likely, even probable, that they’ll keep expanding their demands anyway.)
All these possibilities are purely hypothetical, and the politics of immigration could take entirely different courses among both Democrats and Republicans. But I feel more confident in believing that, because the President seems about to squander an opportunity to split his opposition wide open, the payoffs he and other Democrats evidently expect from executive amnesty had better be massive.