Steve Lopez: Easy to be skeptical about Obama immigration motives
So who is the real President Obama?
The dogged enforcer who stepped up deportation of illegal immigrants and split up thousands of families in the process? Or the one who today did a neat election-year flip and announced an end to the deportation of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally before they were 16?
“We know he needs the Latino vote, and if this is a political move, he needs to make more like this one,” said San Fernando Valley attorney Jessica Dominguez, an immigration attorney who has been tracking White House movements on this issue, who spoke to me by phone after leaving a downtown victory rally attended by dozens of students who will be affected by the change.
Obama’s proposal would apply to those younger than 30 who have been in the U.S. for five years, have clean records and are enrolled in school. They could apply for work permits every two years but would not have permanent legal status.
“A lot of them were crying as they were expressing how relieved they were,” Dominguez said of the students at today’s rally. “They’re very happy to know they’re going to be able to work.”
Dominguez said she believed about 800,000 people would qualify for the new program, which she expected to be implemented within 60 to 90 days.
The way I see it, this move is a no-brainer. It makes no sense to punish people who were brought here too young to know they weren’t legal residents. And why spend money educating illegal immigrants from the day they begin kindergarten and then deny them the chance to give back by entering the workforce and becoming full-fledged taxpayers?
But pardon my cynicism about Obama’s sudden softening. He’s doing this now for no reason other than the fact that he feels GOP candidate Mitt Romney at his heels. Although voting Latinos statistically favor Obama over Romney, the Obama camp must have feared that Latinos wouldn’t turn out in November. At least not without a nudge.
But the move could backfire if anti-legalization forces become all the more energized. And it’s not clear that Latinos will now race to the polls.
“Under his administration we’ve seen the highest number of deportations, and he needs to know … this is but a band-aid on a wound,” said Dominguez, who doesn’t buy administration attempts to blame Congress for the deportations.
Obama made a promise four years ago, she said, a promise that he would deliver comprehensive immigration reform. This is a step, she said, but he hasn’t yet fulfilled the promise.
-- Steve Lopez
Photo: President Obama. Credit: Associated Press