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Pro-Immigrant Measures Also Bear Fruit at Polls

Now that some media outlets are reporting that President Joe Biden is considering extending immigration relief to certain undocumented immigrants, including the spouses of U.S. citizens, it’s important to remember that positive actions on immigration issues in an election year have borne fruit for Democrats, as Barack Obama proved in 2012 after creating DACA amidst enormous political pressure in his reelection.

Biden is under pressure from diverse groupings demanding action at the border, some who want it to be closed, if necessary, and to drastically limit the asylum process. Others argue that there should be a balance and that the border can be managed without undermining asylum laws. At the same time, they say, legal entry pathways for those with family or employment ties should be facilitated, and work permits should be extended to certain undocumented people, especially those who have been in the United States for decades.

With Donald Trump and his Republican Party exploiting the immigration issue to rile up their base in an election year, some argue that it would be political suicide for Biden to announce measures that benefit undocumented people.

But without trying to sound like a broken record, it’s important to review recent history and see how, even in the middle of the political pressure of an election year, there are bold actions on immigration that could benefit the Democrats electorally.

Obama won the presidency in 2008 promising immigration reform and obtained 67% of the Latino vote in his historic election. To win Republican “support” for said reform, Obama took more energetic measures at the border and interior of the country and deported half of humanity, so much so that he earned the nickname of “Deporter in Chief” from the head of UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza, or NCLR), Janet Murguía.

The deportations displeased activists and Democratic legislators, but also many Hispanic voters. Millions live in families of mixed immigration statuses, where there are undocumented people, legal residents, and citizens who are voters.

At the same time and in the face of inaction from Congress, the Dreamers intensified pressure on Obama to create an executive order that would protect them from deportation and offer them work permits. The White House insisted it could not do it.

Obama’s refusal, added to his deportation record, intensified the discontent among Latino voters, particularly in key states needed to win the White House. I’ve often said that in 2012 I visited Florida, Nevada, and Arizona to speak with Latino voters and the groups responsible for first registering them and then mobilizing them, and the common denominator was annoyance over an unfulfilled promise, the deportations, and above all, the refusal to at least protect the Dreamers.

It seems that Obama’s internal polling also confirmed he was running the risk of losing support among Latinos who formed part of the historic coalition of voters that catapulted him to victory in 2008. So it was that on June 15, 2012 Obama signed the executive order that created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects those who were able to benefit before the measure became mired in legal disputes from deportation, and grants them work permits.

After announcing DACA, Obama won re-election in 2012 with increased support among Latino voters, 71% compared to 67% in 2008.

Biden knows all of this first hand as he was Obama’s Vice President. Now, in his own re-election battle, the polls show him in a tight race with Trump and that means that every vote is important in order to prevail, especially in key states to win the presidency and where the Latino vote is important.

Hispanics in general, like all U.S. voters, want balanced solutions that deal with the border in a humane and effective way, while at the same time extending some immigration relief to those undocumented people who have been living in the United States for decades, are essential workers, and contribute to the economy through their taxes and their consumption.

Pro-immigrant measures also pay benefits at the polls.

This column by Maribel Hastings from America’s Voice en Español was translated to English from Spanish. The original Spanish version is here.

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