As of this morning, the Obama administration appears poised to implement part of the DREAM Act without Congressional approval, a move that will almost certainly raise the ire of Republicans who oppose the policy. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the White House will cease to deport some younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Eligible immigrants will receive “deferred action,” which amounts to a two-year reprieve from deportation along with a work permit.
The DREAM ACT, which fell five votes short of passage in the Senate late in 2010, would establish a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children provided they attend college or join the military. Since then, President Obama has faced pressure from Latino activists, who have urged him to use his executive powers to prevent immigrants who would have been helped by the DREAM Act from being deported. In 2011, the Obama administration set a record for deportations. This new policy, while it does not include a path to citizenship, will provide a temporary reprieve for many young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally.
Although this shift in policy is likely to spark political wrangling and posturing, there is strong public support for the basic tenets of the DREAM Act. Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal working status if they join the military or go to college. The move could also net Obama some additional support among Millennials, nearly 7-in-10 (69%) of whom also favor the basic tenets of the DREAM Act. Seniors, however, are more ambivalent about the policy: only 48% favor the policy, while 46% are opposed.
Politically speaking, though, this policy is aimed squarely at Latinos, a group which both Obama and Romney are aggressively courting. Nearly 8-in-10 (78%) Latinos favor the DREAM Act, and a recent poll by Latino Decisions showed that a majority (53%) of Latino voters know someone who is an undocumented immigrant, while one-quarter (25%) report that they know a person or family who is facing deportation or has been deported. Latinos have remained fairly supportive of the president and could end up serving as his “electoral lifeline,” especially in places like Nevada and Colorado. This new White House policy could add considerable weight to Obama’s side of the scale.