Opinion

Immigration ruling will hurt Republicans in 2016

This week’s decision by a federal appeals court to continue blocking President Barack Obama’s order to stop deportations of more than 4 million undocumented immigrants was almost universally seen as a major setback for the administration’s immigration policy. But, politically, it will be a godsend for the Democrats in the 2016 elections.

The 2-1 decision by a federal appeals court in New Orleans was heralded as a victory for Texas and 25 other states, including Florida, that have challenged Obama’s 2014 executive order, known by its acronym, DAPA, which called for stopping deportations and effectively allowing millions of undocumented residents to work. The states argued that they couldn’t afford spending millions of dollars to pay for undocumented immigrants’ driver’s licenses and other expenses without federal aid.

Now, both pro- and anti-immigration advocates agree that Obama’s order suspending deportations will not go into effect anytime soon. Instead of going to the Supreme Court, the Obama administration will focus on an appeals-court hearing in July to try to overturn the injunction, officials said.

Most Republican hopefuls for the 2016 elections strongly criticize Obama’s executive order. They are once again shooting themselves in the foot by further antagonizing Hispanic voters. In fact, the latest court ruling against Obama’s immigration policy will give Democrats new ammunition to describe Republicans as an anti-immigration, anti-Hispanic party.

It’s already happening. Only hours after the appeals court issued its ruling on Tuesday, America’s Voice, a pro-immigration think tank that supports Obama’s DAPA executive order, sent a mass email urging supporters to fight back against the “ongoing Republican lawsuit” blocking the president’s suspension of deportations.

“The fact that Republicans at all levels are doing everything possible to stop the long-overdue relief that millions of (immigrant) families are counting on will not soon be forgotten or forgiven,” America’s Voice director Frank Sharry said in the email.

Noting that two Republican presumed presidential hopefuls – Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin – are among the governors who are supporting their states’ legal challenges against DAPA, the email added, “Please join us in demanding that Gov. Christie and Gov. Walker end their attacks on our community.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the most moderate on immigration among the best-known Republican hopefuls, and Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have also criticized Obama’s DAPA executive action. Cruz, who was born in Canada, has said that one of his first actions as president would be to undo Obama’s executive action on immigration.

In Congress, anti-immigration rhetoric by Republicans is reaching new heights. Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., recently compared the so-called “dreamers” – young people brought to this country as young children and who have been raised in America – to Islamic State terrorists. Referring to the argument that many undocumented young men want to enlist in the U.S. military, he said, “(ISIS) is willing to serve in our military as well.”

All of this must be music to the ears of Hillary Clinton and other possible Democratic hopefuls. The longer Obama’s blocked executive order suspending deportations of millions of people remains in the headlines, the easier it will be for the Democrats to win the Hispanic vote in 2016.

My opinion: Republicans don’t get it. They lost the 2012 elections because their candidate, Mitt Romney, scared away Hispanic voters in his effort to win over his party’s anti-immigration zealots in the Republican primaries, and he couldn’t win over Latino voters on Election Day.

Romney’s electoral strategists thought they could win without the Hispanic vote by getting a large turnout from white Anglo males, conservative Christians and other non-Latino groups.

It seems that Republicans are heading to make the same mistake in 2016, with the additional factor that a better economy and lower illegal immigration rates will make it even more difficult to win an election without significant Hispanic support.

Most pollsters agree that Republicans need between 40 percent and 44 percent of the Latino vote to win the 2016 elections. The last time Republicans won the White House, in 2004, former President George W. Bush got 44 percent of the Latino vote. Since then, Republicans have been losing ground among Hispanics as the party shifted increasingly to the right on immigration, and Romney got only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 elections.

No amount of Spanish-speaking, nor donning of Mexican sombreros, will help Bush or Rubio – if one of them gets the Republican nomination – win the Hispanic vote if they continue opposing Obama’s DAPA order. You can relax, Hillary: This latest anti-immigration court ruling will be a big boon to your campaign.

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172; email: aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com.

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