One week from today — assuming the election is not so close and contested as it was in 2000 and therefore ends up being refereed by the Supreme Court — we will know who will be in the White House from January 2013 until January 2017. For many DREAMers who are contemplating filing for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) the outcome of this election is a major factor in making that decision.
It feels like this election cycle has been churning along for well over two years as a result of the lengthy Republican primary process as well as a near standstill of bipartisan compromise since the 2010 midterm elections. Yet in all this time the issue of immigration has scarcely come up.
Both presidential candidates promise to address the issue in the 2013-2017 term of office, and neither man has a squeaky-clean record to run on. Governor Mitt Romney positioned himself on the right flank of the Republican party during the primaries, pledging not to permit any kind of “amnesty” that would legalize the estimated 11.2 million undocumented immigrants in the country presently and offering only a watered-down version of the DREAM Act that would be based solely upon military service. When President Barack Obama announced a new Deferred Action policy on June 15 of this year Gov. Romney criticized it and pledged to end the policy of shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation if he wins the election. In the second presidential debate Gov. Romney pledged to address immigration reform but took a stand both against “amnesty” and against a massive “round-up” of the undocumented population, leaving questions as to how he would accomplish this. To the extent that Gov. Romney has articulated an immigration policy it has largely been to encourage “self-deportation” by making life as an undocumented worker increasingly unbearable.
For his part, President Obama is vulnerable to the criticism that he has promised much and delivered little. He poured most of his political capital into passing the Affordable Care Act in March 2009, and the only significant movement of immigration legislation was the passage of the DREAM Act by the House of Representatives…but the legislation failed to secure the 60 votes required to overcome a fillibuster in the Senate, and the dream died. President Obama also makes much political hay about his attempts to target immigration enforcement on high-priority cases — ramped-up use of the Secure Communities program has turned most jail facilities in the United States into immigration screening points. Individuals arrested on criminal charges — irrespective of their guilt or innocence and mostly irrespective of the severity of the crime — are routinely flagged by immigration enforcement, interviewed by ICE officers, and either detained by ICE or pressured into signing stipulated orders for deportation. Averaging about 400,000 removals per year, the Obama Administration now has a legacy of over one million deportations. President Obama argues that Secure Communities has allowed his administration to focus on “dangerous criminal aliens” and thereby show mercy to long-time law-abiding immigrants with family ties to the U.S., but the statistics reveal that 30 percent of those removed through the program had no previous criminal history and 60 percent had only minor convictions or clean criminal records.
Ultimately President Obama commands a strong level of support among Latino voters and he is widely seen as being the better advocate among the two candidates for addressing immigration reform in a way that is favorable to the nation’s current undocumented population. He is likely to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process and ultimately parlay that arrangement into the DREAM Act or even a more sweeping reform of the immigration laws.
Gov. Romney has indicated that he would no longer accept new DACA applications after taking office, but he stated that he would not rescind previous grants of deferred action on the principle that he does not want to “take away something [applicants] purchased.” What is unclear is if this principle applies to pending applications at the time he (theoretically) takes office. Those applicants have also paid for fair consideration of their applications, but to date Gov. Romney has not made it entirely clear what would be fate of these applications.
In light of all this, DREAMers are watching anxiously as the election draws near. Will the current president show himself to be the champion they had hoped for four years ago? If he is unseated will it be by the harsh Gov. Romney from the primaries in early 2012 or will it be the kinder, gentler, consensus-seeking Gov. Romney campaigning in the general election? With so much in the air and so much at stake, DREAMers are watching with open eyes.