Obama’s Big Gamble on Ethnic Identity Politics: Will it Pay Off?

Published on September 12th, 2012

By Joe Guzzardi
August 30, 2012

Last week ten Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents filed a lawsuit in a Dallas federal court against their superiors, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE director John Morton.

Agents assert that the administration’s 2011 prosecutorial discretion memo which eliminates deportation for all but criminal aliens and President Obama’s June 15th Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, which grants two-year legal residency to most age 16-30, force them to break existing laws. Both programs provide work authorization; at least 2 million new potential workers will be added to the millions looking unsuccessfully for jobs.

Laws already on the books require agents to process apprehended illegal immigrants. The 1996 Immigrant Responsibility Act mandates that aliens be detained. No “prosecutorial discretion” can be exercised until the alien appears at adjudication. Only then can an individual case be reviewed and possibly decided in the adjudicatee’s favor. Nevertheless, in violation of federal law, DHS exercises discretion unilaterally.

Boiled down to its bare bones, the agents’ suit claims that it’s illegal to order federal officers to break laws they swore to uphold.

Pundits interpret the administration’s actions as part of an outreach strategy to garner Hispanic votes. And the mainstream media has repeatedly emphasized that Hispanic votes are crucial to President Obama’s re-election.

The truth is that in a close election all minority demographic voting blocs are important—senior citizens, veterans, Asians, non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics. By a large margin, the most important bloc is non-Hispanic whites. According to a Center for Immigration Studies analysis of Census Bureau and Current Population Survey data taken from previous election years, non-Hispanic whites will total 73 percent of voters. By comparison, Hispanics will comprise about 9 percent. Since many Hispanics live in California, New York and Illinois, states Obama can’t possibly lose, or New Mexico which has a meager five electoral votes, the administration’s game plan is curious. What does Obama gain? Prosecutorial discretion and DACA are Obama’s big gamble. Obama could get Hispanic votes but, because of his new policies, also lose larger voting blocs which in turn would cost him the election.

Factor recent unemployment statistics into the muddled equation and Obama’s questionable strategy turns incomprehensible. DACA allegedly helps young Hispanics by giving them work permits. But converting previously ineligible workers (because of their immigration status) into legal job seekers is a devastating blow to unemployed Hispanic-Americans.

Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics broad measure of unemployment, which includes discouraged workers who have given up the search, during the second quarter of 2012, 19 percent of Hispanic citizens (one in five) were jobless. For Hispanics under 30 with only a high school education—those most likely to compete with illegal immigrants for lower paying, entry level restaurant and hospitality jobs—their U-6 unemployment rate is above 30 percent. Furthermore, the Associated Press reported last year that about 1.5 million (53.6 percent) of American bachelor’s degree holders under the age of 25 are jobless or underemployed.

I’ve consistently argued that the essential votes in this year’s election are disenchanted and anxious middle-class Republicans and Democrats, moderates and independents.

Consider this. The non-partisan Sentier Research parsed the latest Census income data. Sentier found that the Obama administration’s policies have caused middle-class households significant financial harm.

In January 2009, when President Obama entered the Oval Office and shortly before he signed his $800 billion-plus stimulus spending bill, median household income was $54,983. By June 2012, it had tumbled to $50,964, adjusted for inflation. Real income lost: $4,019 or about one month’s wages per year.

Given 2012’s hard economic reality and the agents’ lawsuit which will keep the White House’s prosecutorial discretion programs front and center, President Obama’s craven blue print to secure the Hispanic vote could backfire. Ethnic identity politics is a loser.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]

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