21 June 2012

US immigration pushed front and centre in presidential race

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President Obama's directive to immediately halt the deportation of illegal immigrants under the age of 30 has shaken up the American political landscape and brought US immigration to the very forefront of the race for the Whitehouse.

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President Obama's executive order threatens to derail Mitt Romney's race for the Whitehouse.

President Obama last week issued an executive order to put an immediate stop to the deportation of all illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought to the US before they were 16 and have graduated high school or served in the military. People who meet these requirements will be granted work permits in a move which the president said was 'the right thing to do'.

The move, which is thought to affect as many as 1.5 million people according to some estimates, completely bypassed both Houses of Congress and has added an unexpected twist to the upcoming presidential election.

President Obama will face a stiff challenge from Republican nominee Mitt Romney in November and, with the still-struggling economy and high rate of unemployment previously considered to be the most crucial, deciding topic, Mr Romney has been citing his success as a private businessman, his net worth is estimated to be around $200 million (£127 million), as his chief credential in helping America return to prosperity.

While immigration has been shown to be of considerable importance to many voters, particularly the potentially crucial Hispanic vote, research and surveys have consistently shown that the economy remains the most important to almost every demographic, even Hispanics.

However, the president's announcement last week has brought the issue front and centre.

Reaction

President Obama has repeatedly stated his intention to reform the immigration system throughout his first term as president but has consistently encountered difficulty from opposing politicians. With such a divisive issue, politicians say, a compromise is unlikely.

“There is a significant gridlock and I tell you some of the sincerest members of Congress truly do not know what would be the best approach,” said Republican Representative Trent Franks.

“We truly can’t. The absolute polarization on the issue makes it almost impossible for even the sincerest ones to even reconcile all of it.”

With such a political deadlock concerning the issue, few expected much progress and as a result the president's announcement sent many, particularly Republicans, reeling.

When it comes to immigration, Republicans are faced with a tricky proposition: support the motion and gain momentum with the traditionally Democratic Hispanic vote but lose traction with the conservative base they rely on or condemn the order and alienate more liberal voters.

Meanwhile the directive has been welcomed by both Democrats and voters; a Bloomberg poll showed 64% of likely voters in favour of the executive order.

Faced with such a seemingly fruitless decision by taking a stance either way, some Republicans have simply decided to attack the president's authority to bypass Congress on such an issue.

Republican Representative Steve King plans to sue the Obama administration over the directive, saying it "undermines the rule of law" and if this is allowed "who would respect it again".

Other Republicans have claimed that the president's order, which was announced as merely a temporary solution, makes it harder for a permanent solution to be found.

"It just poisons the well for immigration," said Republican Senator John Cornyn. "It makes fixing our broken immigration system, which I think should be a national priority, that much harder to do."

Romney

Mr Romney, who initially avoided commenting on the directive for five hours and then refused to state whether he would reverse the directive as president, has echoed Senator Cornyn's sentiments, attacking the temporary nature of the order.

"These people deserve to understand what their status will be long term, not just four and a half months," said Mr Romney. "And that's why I think it's important for me and for Congress to come together to put together a plan that secures the border, that insists that we have an employment verification system and that deals with the children of those who have come here illegally on a long-term basis, not a stopgap measure."

The damage to Mr Romney's campaign the directive could have is not yet known. Mr Romney promoted a tough line on immigration during the Republican primary, promising to veto the DREAM Act, which would allow the same people the president's directive has affected a chance to earn their citizenship, and proclaiming the controversial immigration law for Arizona, which is currently being heard before the Supreme Court, as a 'model for the nation'.

Since securing his party's nomination, Mr Romney has attempted to soften his rhetoric on immigration in an effort to appeal to Hispanic voters, even running Spanish language advertisements but has consistently been criticised by opponents for his 'etch-a-sketch' policies.

Senior advisor to the president and one of the chief strategists for his re-election campaign, David Axelrod, said the president's directive had knocked the momentum from the Romney campaign.

"I think he's hopelessly twisted up on this issue," said Mr Axelrod.

"He plainly exploited this issue to try to win the Republican nomination and ran to the right."

Some Republicans agree with Mr Axelrod and say the directive could be a body blow to the former Massachusetts governor's fight for the Whitehouse.

"I think it hurts Romney electorally big time," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist.

"How Romney handles this situation is clearly going to make or break this election."

Showdown

Both Mr Romney and President Obama are due to speak at the same conference of leading Hispanic figures this week.

Mr Romney is due to speak today at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) where was expected to focus almost entirely on the economy.

Mr Romney's campaign has remained steady through the contest; he has slowly gained support and consistently made ground on the president, until last week.

However, he may now be forced to address the immigration issue head on.

Analysts say President Obama, who will address the NALEO conference tomorrow, can expect a much warmer reception.

The president’s failure to secure the immigration reform he promised in his 2008 election win resulted in a cooled reputation in the Hispanic demographic he comfortably secured in 2008 yet his directive looks set to reignite support.

While the thousands of people the executive order will directly affect will not be able to vote, Simon Rosenberg, head of the progressive think-tank NDN, says the directive proved the president is willing to take bold steps.

"They now have a champion," said Mr Rosenberg.

"There will be a resonance beyond the Latino community."


The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.

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