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What We’re Reading: Immigration in the Midterm Elections, History of Executive Action on Immigration

By Theresa Cardinal Brown, Matt Graham,

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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As midterm elections near, several outlets are analyzing the role of immigration in races around the country. With executive action and the summer influx of migrants from Central America still largely in the minds of American voters, immigration and border security have become key issues in many contested races, from Louisiana to New Hampshire to Colorado.

Secondly, as President Obama has stated his intention to take administrative action on immigration later this year, a wide variety of perspectives have emerged about what sort of action, if any, would be most appropriate. Many of these pieces review the history of executive action on immigration by both Democratic and Republican presidents, often highlighting the theme of executive action preceding congressional legislation. Others argue that executive action could hurt the prospects for broader legislative reform. Some researchers have added specificity to this debate by estimating the number of individuals who would be affected by various executive actions.

Immigration and the Midterm Election

Mapping the Latino Electorate by Congressional District
Pew Research Center, October 16

“A record 25.2 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in the 2014 midterm elections. See how the share of Latino voters varies by congressional district in our interactive maps”

In Tight Senate Races, Immigration Could Still be a Priority Issue
Los Angeles Times, September 20

“When the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas heated up this summer, Mark Pryor found himself under attack from his opponent with a nasty — and inaccurate — ad claiming that the Democrat had supported giving Social Security benefits to people who had forged identities to work in the U.S. illegally. In Georgia, Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn has been fending off charges that she is ‘pro-amnesty.’ “And here in New Hampshire, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen saw her reelection race tighten after Republican Scott Brown launched a barrage of ads faulting her 2010 vote for the Dream Act, which would have granted legal status to some young immigrants.”

Neither Party Gets Good Marks from Its Base for Handling Illegal Immigration
Pew Research Center, September 23

“As the current session of Congress comes to a close without significant action to address illegal immigration, neither Republicans nor Democrats are especially happy with the way their respective parties have dealt with the issue. “Just 37 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners think the GOP is doing a good job representing their views on illegal immigration; 56 percent say they are not doing a good job. Democrats are more positive about their party’s handling of the issue. Still, about as many Democrats and Democratic leaners say the party is not doing a good job (44 percent) on immigration as say that it is (47 percent).”

Grimes’s Immigration Ad Attacks McConnell on ‘Amnesty’
The Wall Street Journal, October 14

“In a television ad, [Grimes] accuses her opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, of supporting ‘amnesty’ and the ‘largest legalization program in U.S. history,’ and vows that she ‘never will.’ Her argument? That Mr. McConnell supported a 1986 law, signed by President Ronald Reagan that gave a path to citizenship to some 3 million people who were in the U.S. illegally at the time.”

GOP Turns ‘Amnesty’ Around on Dems
The Hill, September 22

“GOP ads on immigration have hit Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (La.), who all voted for the Senate’s bipartisan reform bill last year. They have also targeted Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn, who also support a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally. The ads are sprinkled with images of President Obama, linking him to the Democratic candidates, and they have the potential to move the needle for the GOP, as they look to capture six seats for Senate control.”

POLITICO Poll: GOP Has Edge on Immigration in Midterms
POLITICO, September 15

“[Only] 35 percent of voters in the most competitive House and Senate races this fall said they approved of how Obama has dealt with immigration, compared with 64 percent who said they disapproved …The politics of immigration have been upended by the surge of unaccompanied migrant children at the Texas border this summer — a crisis that attracted nationwide attention and focused the immigration debate on the issue of border security. Republicans jumped on the border crisis to paint Obama and Democrats as too lenient on immigration.”

Playing Politics with Immigration, September 17

“Competing ads from the leading candidates in the Louisiana Senate race play politics with the immigration issue and leave misleading impressions about the candidates’ positions.

“The opening volley in the immigration ad war came from the Cassidy campaign with an ad attempting to link Landrieu’s position on immigration to Obama’s and labeling her a supporter of ‘amnesty.’ …. Days after Cassidy’s immigration ad began airing, the Landrieu campaign responded with an ad featuring a trifecta of misleading claims, highlighted by an out-of-context quote from Cassidy that leaves the misleading impression that he doesn’t think border security is a problem.”

History of Executive Action on Immigration

Critics Say Executive Action on Immigration Would Be Unprecedented. They Forget Their History
National Journal, October 1

“The record is clear: Presidents of both parties have used discretionary powers on multiple occasions to protect various groups from deportation for an enormously wide variety of reasons. Except for temporary conditions, Congress acted later—often years later—to ratify the president’s decisions.”

Executive Grants of Temporary Immigration Relief, 1956-Present
Immigration Policy Center, October 2

“A chart of these decisions below makes clear that presidents have ample legal authority—and abundant historical precedent—supporting their discretion to take action in immigration matters. Since at least 1956, every U.S. president has granted temporary immigration relief to one or more groups in need of assistance. … Some presidents announced programs while legislation was pending. Other presidents responded to humanitarian crises. Still others made compelling choices to assist individuals in need when the law failed to address their needs or changes in circumstance.”

Executive Action for Unauthorized Immigrants: Estimates of the Populations that Could Receive Relief
STUDY Migration Policy Institute, September

“[The] Obama administration is considering executive action to provide relief from deportation to some of the nation’s estimated 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants. These actions could include an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, extension of deferred action to new populations, or further refinement of enforcement priorities to shrink the pool of those subject to deportation.”

Republicans again jump on Obama and immigration
POLITICO, October 9

“Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) warned Thursday that unilateral moves from Obama will ‘inject serious constitutional questions’ into the broader immigration debate. “‘It’s shocking that the White House now openly admits that President Obama is delaying his unilateral actions on immigration until after the November elections simply because of raw politics,’ Boehner and Goodlatte said. ‘Whether before or after the election in November, it is never acceptable for the president to rewrite our laws by executive decree — the Constitution does not give him the authority to do so.’”

Mario Diaz-Balart: President Obama only thinks of immigration reform in election season
Fox News Latino, October 2

“President Obama has vowed to take executive action on immigration after the elections, citing the failure of Congress to pass a measure. Originally, Obama had said he would make such a move – which would include providing at least temporary relief from deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants – in September, but then postponed it after some Democrats facing re-election in November worried that it would hurt them.

“Diaz-Balart expressed skepticism that the president will take executive action.”