Obama Immigration, Gay Marriage 'Evolution' Shifts Voter Opinion, Galvanizes Base

Critics of the administration's new ban on deporting certain young undocumented immigrants say it is tantamount to the president's announcement on gay marriage

By Cristina Constantini and Janell Ross

Between delivering steaming platters of enchiladas and clearing away the remains, Evelyn Rivera often overhears conversations in the Orlando, Fla.-area restaurant where she waits tables. This year, Rivera, 23, has heard more than one about the choices facing Latino voters in 2012.

"I think there's this sense that the choice is between the guy who has deported millions and this guy who suggests things like self-deportation and maybe wouldn't mind that electrified border fence," said Rivera, an undocumented immigrant and immigration reform activist. "So, why vote?"

Less than six months from the election that will determine whether President Barack Obama returns to office, Obama announced plans to offer some measure of relief to as many as 1.4 million young unauthorized immigrants, often dubbed Dreamers, in reference to the Dream Act, a decade-old immigration reform bill.

Critics of the administration's new ban on deporting certain young undocumented immigrants say it is tantamount to the president's announcement on gay marriage -- more symbolic and politically advantageous than substantive. Others wonder why he waited so long. But advocates insist that the move constitutes something rare: a combination of good policy and genius politics.

In May and again this month, the president managed to give young voters, LGBT individuals and Latinos of all ages and sexual orientations a reason to get animated around the possibility of a second Obama term, said Fred Sainz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. The Human Rights Campaign is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Obama's gay marriage announcement and immigration policy shift amount to "evidence of the president's commitment to groups of Americans that might have otherwise gotten the short shrift," Sainz said.

In at least one major way, Obama's ABC News interview on gay marriage and the administrative change in deportation policy are not alike, said Charles Garcia, a venture capitalist, CNN political commentator and HuffPost blogger. Garcia is an Independent who has supported Republican and Democratic candidates. The president's gay marriage interview left no one with the right to marry who did not already have it, Garcia said.

But, after both announcements on what are arguably some of the most controversial social issues of the day, public opinion seems to be largely in line with that of the president.

Nearly 65 percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama's deportation reform announcement said they agreed with the new approach, according to a Bloomberg poll released this week and conducted after the president's immigration announcement.

And in a Washington Post-ABC news poll conducted within weeks of the president's gay marriage announcement, a record 53 percent of Americans indicated they too support gay marriage. Still, two-thirds of Americans also thought the president was motivated to speak publicly about his changed stance on gay marriage by political gamesmanship, according to a New York Times/CBS poll taken shortly after the ABC interview where Obama spoke of his "evolution."

"This is really the equivalent of Obama saying I am not for clubbing baby seals," said Efren Perez, a Vanderbilt University political scientist who studies immigration, about the change in deportation practices. "That's how widespread support for this group of young undocumented young people is. Now Republicans have to come up with a way to say well, some of us are for clubbing baby seals. Politically, you really don't want to be that person."

Republicans, who have continued to call for stepped-up enforcement of immigration law, have largely been critical of the president's new directive, claiming Obama has overstepped his authority.

The president has created a constitutional crisis, said Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates for limited legal immigration and strict enforcement of related laws. The president does not have the legal authority to make the sort of change that he announced last week, Camarota said.

"It's corny and maybe hackneyed, but the rule of law is the foundation of a democratic republic," Camarota said. "We elected people who are supposed to make the laws and someone to implement the laws. If that all gets short circuited what's the value of the law?"

On Thursday, after evading questions about the president's deportation reform, Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential candidate, laid out his ideas.

Romney renewed a call for increased border security and regulatory pressure on undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The combination will prevent new illegal immigration and push unauthorized immigrants already here to leave, he said. Romney also told the group he would only offer deportation protection and a path to citizenship to young undocumented adults who join the military. He spoke about the need for assistance for families split by deportation, but offered few specifics.

What Obama has done is move immigration squarely into the center of the election, said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a Washington, D.C.-based immigration reform advocacy organization. The move also proves the post-Clinton Democratic Party orthodoxy on controversial social issues such as gay marriage and immigration is dead, he said.

"The old way of thinking was if you lean in on immigration and gay marriage and other controversies," Sharry said, "you lose swing voters and some Democrats, and the Latino voters or young voters you may gain can't make up the difference. The new conventional wisdom says lean in and lead because these also happen to be the right things to do."

While eligible Latino voters will not personally benefit from the president's new approach to deportation, and have in most polls indicated that immigration does not rank among their political priorities, there is good reason to believe that the president's immigration announcement matters. A quarter of Latino adults indicated that they know someone detained in the last year by immigration officials or deported,according to a Pew poll.

A Latino Decisions poll conducted after the immigration announcement indicates the president's immigration policy shift has also set off a burst of interest in the presidential election among Latino voters, among whom election turnout is typically low. That is particularly meaningful in battleground states where Latinos may determine the election outcome such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida, said Garcia, the CNN commentator.

On Friday, when Obama laid out an at-least temporary reprieve for young undocumented individuals, Rivera wasn't in Orlando. Rivera and other undocumented activists had gathered in D.C. to lobby for the Dream Act.

Minutes after the president spoke, Rivera's older sister — a U.S. citizen who struggles with guilt about the life options she has and Rivera, until recently, has not -- called. Rivera's sister talked about her plans to make sure that Obama is re-elected.

"When we talked, that's when I broke down," Rivera said. "We both cried. I think what happened wasn't just what Dreamers needed. I think a lot of people in our families, our friends this is what they needed, too. Latinos who can vote needed to know that we matter."

This story was originally published by the Huffington Post Latino Voices.

Cole Ray June 24, 2012 at 08:02 AM
What is with this country and protecting criminals...I'll never understand it. They're illegal, they broke the law, period. Those that were brought here as babies and children, yes they need some consideration, the adults? None. Call me racist all you want, but it doesn't change the fact they are NOT undocumented workers, they are ILLEGAL aliens and by all rights should be kicked out. If Obama stays in office, I don't wanna hear one person whine about too many illegals ever again.
Floozy June 24, 2012 at 08:47 AM
Ok Cole Ray, you're a racist. I don't think that's any news to anybody. And yes, they are undocumented workers. They are undocumented and they work. Which is much more than I can say for some LOSERS like you who, even if offered work, wouldn't take it because you're TOO DAMN LAZY and spoiled and used to everything being handed to you as a white man. Lastly, NOBODY can round everybody up and send them home, this is NOT POSSIBLE idiot! And even if we could, ONCE AGAIN, take California for example, the 8th largest economy in THE WORLD. Where do you think that it's money comes from?? Hollywood?? NO, IDIOT! It's agriculture. And who do you think works in those fields?? Lazy white men??? WRONG AGAIN! And do you think BIG BUSINESS (who you probably LOVE) lets them work without an SS#?? Again, NO! So where does the money that they pay in SS and Medicare and payroll taxes and sales taxes go, Mr Rocket Scientist?? And the answer is INTO THE COFFERS so that YOUR roads are paved and you have somebody to fight the fire if your home starts burning up! GET A F*CKING CLUE you idiot. Sorry! RACIST IDIOT! And YOU stop whining, I'm,SICK of you FOOLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Tyler T June 24, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Last time I checked, the United States is a country of immigrants or family thereof. We are the melting pot of the world, and everyone here aside from Native Americans descends from an immigrant not too long ago. To be so insensitive to these people looking for the SAME thing our ancestors looked for, a better life, is so messed up. What we need to focus on is fixing immigration laws to make it easier for people to LEGALLY immigrate and become LEGAL citizens, and stop focusing on throwing everyone out. Seriously, remember the origins of the people in this country.
Cole Ray June 25, 2012 at 04:36 AM
We are a country of immigrants, that no one can deny. The difference is our ancestors, for the most part came here legally and jumped through the hoops to gain citizenship, something which a vast majority of the current illegal population has either been unable to do, and crossed over anyway, or refused to do, and then crossed over anyway. I wholeheartedly agree that we need some type of reform of immigration policy but that can't happen until we stabilize the influx of illegals. Also, thank you for responding with a calm level headed and logical reply, I do like a good debate, and loathe comments like the one posted by Floozy, who I've no doubt lives up to the name. I have many Hispanic friends, most of whom are just as vocal about illegal immigrants as I am. Their reason is more personal. They jumped through the hoops and pain that is immigration and succeed. Even so, anytime someone sees them, they're automatically assumed as being here illegally, simply because of the vast amount of other Hispanics that ARE here illegally. It's not fair to those that put in the work to get shat on because this country isn't willing to hurt a few feelings to uphold its own laws. Some call me a racist, and maybe a little, but no where in my previous statement, did I single out a particular race. I dislike illegals from all countries not just Mexico. And Floozy? I'm a born and bred American, who's worked my fingers to the bone daily. Stop showing off how ignorant you are, and learn grammar.
Cole Ray June 25, 2012 at 04:38 AM
In all reality, it's the Big business and the governments fault for letting things get this bad to begin with. Saddly, there's going to be a lot of people hurt to fix the problem, people on both sides of the issue. I'd just rather see the hammer fall harder on those that broke the law in the first place, rather on those who are just trying to follow the rules and keep getting ignored by everyone, including their own government.


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