Matt Stoller writes: Recently, Barack Obama announced a laudable new policy position on immigration. His administration will no longer deport undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children by their parents, as long as they don’t get in trouble with the law. These are people who are essentially Americans without citizenship, and the risk of deportation to a country they don’t really know is a terrifying and unfair. Aside from this serving the cause of justice and human decency, this is a long overdue move to reward a constituency group, happening in an election year. It’s worth understanding how this policy change came about, so that one can get a sense of the incentives that animate the White House policy shop.
Here’s White House advisor David Plouffe on CNN describing the change.
Senior White House adviser David Plouffe insisted Sunday that President Obama’s decision to defer deportation of certain illegal immigrants who came to the country as children was “fully within” the president’s authority and not made with the 2012 election in mind.
“This is not a political move. This builds on a lot of steps that we have already taken,” Plouffe said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
So it’s not a political move. Ok. I find that hard to believe, since it’s an election year. And indeed, this was published in the New Yorker a few days ago.
The White House is so convinced of the centrality of Hispanics to the current election and its aftermath that Plouffe told me he has been preparing for months for an onslaught of advertisements from a pro-Romney group attacking Obama from the left on immigration, arguing that Obama’s deportation and border-security policies have been too Draconian.
David Plouffe thinks nothing of outright lying on CNN about why the administration changed its policy, in one forum describing it as a useful policy change and denying any political incentives and in another more insider-friendly publication making it clear that it was a reelection gambit. It doesn’t matter whether the politics or the policy were the driving force, it’s a good change. That Plouffe feels that he can so cavalierly lie shows how dishonestly this administration operates.
There are more political lessons to be drawn, other than the fact that this administration is full of liars and that Obama usually only helps non-wealthy constituency groups when he is scrambling for his own electoral survival. The political lesson is that pressure matters, but so does leverage. The overall atmosphere on this particular problem – undocumented immigrants who arrived as kids – came to a boiling point through the actions of an entire activism eco-system. There were nationwide marches for immigration reform a few years ago, and undocumented college students bravely marched openly to bring this issue to light. These kids embarrassed the administration, and it must have shown in the polls in terms of dampening enthusiasm to vote in 2012 among Latinos. But even this was not enough.
It was only fear of the Republicans outflanking Obama to the left that got the administration to move. When the issue came to a head, and Obama feared that he would pay a political price from the Republicans, all of the excuses – the terrible Republican opposition, a divided country, an intractable Congress with a 60 vote threshold – suddenly evaporated. Faced with losing his own hide, Obama governed. [Continue reading…]