In a stunning move last week, President Barack Obama announced the implementation of a radical new immigration policy disenabling federal immigration officials from deporting undocumented young immigrants if a set of conditions is met. Effective via executive order, these immigrants, who, according to Obama, “are, for all intents and purposes, Americans,” will no longer face one of the greatest fears of undocumented aliens.
The maneuver heightens the stakes in what is already a contentious legal and judicial battle over immigration, which includes Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, the legality of which is expected to be decided by the Supreme Court this week. The high court’s decision was already predicted to have wide-ranging effects, from Arizona itself to the country at large to even the 2012 presidential election, but with Obama’s announcement the situation is conspicuously more dramatic.
Obama’s adroitly timed decision will only serve to amplify the circumstances surrounding the Supreme Court's decision. Despite other states adopting Arizona’s policies in copycat bills, most of the action is localized in Arizona. Yet the recent development ensure the drama will unfold on a national scale, regardless of the eventual decision. Obama’s alleged power-grab notwithstanding, a constitutional S.B. 1070 will only make the new federal immigration policy all the more significant, considering a 16-year old-and-under Arizona illegal immigrant will in all likelihood circumvent the law. An unconstitutional S.B. 1070, meanwhile, will validate Obama’s decision and necessarily inspire a more fruitful national dialogue on the proper way to handle immigration, from accommodation to deportation to attracting skilled foreigners, an area recently cited by Fareed Zakaria in serious need of improvement.
But the biggest loser in any conceivable outcome is presumptive Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Prior to the Obama announcement, Romney had already inadvertently fashioned himself an intransigent obstacle to immigrants’ concerns, considering his characterization of the Arizona bill as a model, his stated intention to veto the DREAM Act if elected President, and his refusal to support even Senator MarcoRubio's (R - Fla.) DREAM Act alternative. Following the momentous announcement, Romney was slow to respond, choosing instead to punt on the issue whenever it was brought up. Romney finally broke his silence last Thursday. Unfortunately for the presidential hopeful, the substance of the speech was subpar. Though Romney stressed he would introduce a permanent plan in place of Obama’s stopgap measure, he offered no specifics as to what said plan would entail.