By deporting a million people, according to current estimates, most of whom have no criminal record or have been convicted only of minor crimes, Obama may pick up a handful of votes next year from immigration opponents, at least those who are comfortable with an African-American president and who accept the fact that he is not a Muslim. How many voters are there like that?
Well, I said a handful. I count ten fingers on my hands, and that may be as good an estimate as any of the total number of white "centrist" voters in America who would otherwise have opposed Obama, but might be persuaded to give him another four years to show what more he can do as America's Deporter in Chief. In return for this microscopic trickle of potential "centrist" or "independent" white votes, what is Obama almost certainly giving up? Only a few tens of millions of Latino votes, in all probability, plus maybe another couple of million, or at least a few hundred thousand, Asian and other minority votes.
For the past thre years, Obama's immigration strategy has been based on the assumption that the Republicans have a monopoly on populating America's lunatic asylums with their attempts to criminalize the entire immigration system beginning in late 2005 with House bill H.R. 3447, followed by only slightly less insane measures at the state level such as the ones in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama. (And yes, the House bill was even worse than the draconian state laws, at least as I read it - the valiant fight in court to uphold federal pre-emption over immigration may come back to haunt us one day quite soon.)
As if the above measures were not already conclusive proof of derangement on their part, the Republicans also want to overturn the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright US citizenship for all American-born children, not just those who are white and have parents who speak English as their first language. So the president has America's Latino and Asian communities in his back pocket and can deport as many hundreds of thousands, or millions, of immigrants as he needs in order to gain a couple of hoped-for white votes here and there. At least. so the thinking, if that word can be used at all for White House immigration strategy, has been.
Finally, in the face of strong protests from DREAMers and other immigrant advocates, the president has evidently begun to have a few second thoughts. Hence the flurry of ICE memos about electorial - ooops! I meant prosecutorial, discretion to decide not to go ahead with removal proceedings in certain cases involving people with no criminal records. While this is certainly welcome, and hopefully may help a few people (which is why we also have toes to count on, not just fingers), it may just turn out to be a classic example of too little, too late - at least as far as Oabama's chances of gaining back the trust of Latinos and other minority immigrants are concerned.
So what have the Republicans been up to in the meantime? First, we should remember that George W. Bush was elected - ooops again! - sorry for another typo - I meant selected - as president only with the help of Latinos whom he had taken great care to cultivate as governor of Texas. But now along comes another Texas Republican governor, Rick Perry, who has also won the support of many Latino voters in his state with some surprisingly reasonable stances on immigration, at least compared to anti-immigrant fanatics such as Michele Bachmann, who seems convinced that the road to the White House is paved with hatred of immigrants, gays and religious minorities.
Let us make no mistake about it. A moderate on most issues Perry is not. He thinks that the head of the Federal reserve is a traitor and has threatened to have him lynched if he ever sets foot in Texas. Perry also doubts whether the president loves America (a doubt which white bigots often raised about Martin Luther King as well, for those of us who are old enough to remember). As far as economics and the social safety net are concerned, Perry wants to repeal the entire 20th century, and on science, most of the 19th as well (at least as far as Darwin is concerned).
But on immigration, Perry has been more reasonable. In an August 24 article in TIME, entitled "Rick Perry's Complicated Relationship with Latinos", Steven Gray writes that Perry won his third term with 38 per cent of Laitino votes, has supported making unauthorized immigrants eligible for in-state tuition fees, and has also has spoken out against Arizona's immigration law and the Mexican border fence. While Perry's record on immigration is mixed - he is against sanctuary cites, for example, it at least shows a willingness to respond to practical considerations and a respect for reality, especially compared to most other leading Republican presidential candidates.
Will President Obama finally wake up to the reality that he has no possible chance of winning a second term without the support of American voters in Latino and other immigrant communities Will there be enough time for him to overcome the terrible damage that he has inflicted on himself by three years of cynical pandering to anti-immigrant bigotry to try to gain a very small number of additional white votes?
There will be two ways of telling the answers to these questions. One will be to look at the deportation numbers during the year between now and the 2012 election. The other will be to look at the number of RFE's and denials for immigrant and "non-immigrant" petitions and visas during the same period. If there are not immediate and drastic reductions in these numbers, accompanied by the rolling of at least a respectable number of heads among the officials who have been responsible for keeping them so obscenely high, no matter what happens with the economy or any other issues, Barack Obama will probably wind up as a one-term president.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.