Critics, including some who first endorsed the program, say it has led to the deportation of people who have committed minor traffic violations and undermined bonds between law enforcement and immigrant communities as well as torn apart families.
A 2011 study by academic researchers found that Secure Communities disproportionately affected Hispanics and that a third of those deported had spouses or children who were U.S. citizens. Despite changes announced last summer, deportation orders were still being handed out to noncriminals and youths.
Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008 and needs a similar level of support to counter other erosions in his support. Polls show him with a large lead on Romney — who will address Hispanic leaders in Orlando Thursday — but they also mask an enthusiasm gap, which many Hispanics attribute to Obama’s enforcement policies and failed promises.
The growing power of the Hispanic vote has awakened Republicans and the deportation controversy gave an opening to Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to work on a plan that would grant legal status to children of illegal immigrant — a variation of the DREAM Act.
Of course, the people being deported or even the young people that might be saved from deportation under Obama’s new policy cannot vote, but most legal immigrants know someone who has or could be affected.
Rubio, who cited Pelaez’s case as the impetus, never put his proposal to paper but was working to build Republican support and generating lots of media attention.
But Obama beat him to it. His plan is similar, though not exact. It would block deportations and give some youths legal work permits good for two years with renewals.
In one act, Obama managed to stunt Rubio, come across like a savior to frustrated “dreamers” like Pelaez, and excite Hispanic voters. He also has flummoxed Republicans. Some have described the policy as “amnesty” while others, such as Rubio, have criticized it for sidestepping Congress.
For now at least, Obama has forced Romney off his message. On Wednesday Romney’s campaign held a conference call with reporters to talk about the economy but the first three questions were about immigration and aides ended the call.
Romney is under pressure to articulate his position on immigration.
He has been cautious so far about Obama’s directive, which could affect 800,000 people. Romney has implied he likes Rubio’s approach, which is not radically different from Obama’s. But he also has to satisfy a GOP base that has pushed for tougher enforcement and rails against amnesty.
“Romney can’t stand up there and say, ’No, I’m going to reverse this order and deport these 800,000 people,” said Segura, the Stanford expert. “That will really win him some votes.”