GOP Take Note: Latinos Support Obama’s Immigration Action, Poll Finds

Even though many immigration advocates wanted Obama's executive order to do more, a new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Latino voters support the president's decision to take action.

Even though many immigration advocates wanted Obama's executive order to do more, a new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Latino voters support the president's decision to take action. American Spirit / Shutterstock.com

A new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Latino voters support the president’s decision to take action, even though many immigration advocates wanted President Obama’s immigration executive order to go further.

The poll, conducted by Latino Decisions and commissioned by the Latino social justice group Presente, found that 89 percent of registered Latino voters support the president’s executive action to shield about five million unauthorized immigrants from deportation and allow them to get work permits.

That’s the highest level of support Latino Decisions has ever recorded for any public policy, Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice, told reporters on Monday.

The action has support from 76 percent of Latino Republicans. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said immigration was one of the most important factors in deciding who to vote for.

“So as the Republicans gear up to try to challenge and kill this thing, they might want to take note of that,” Sharry said.

The surveyed voters opposed Republican efforts to block the legislation—80 percent said they were against a bill that de-funds the action and keeps the government from issuing work permits.

Pro-immigration lawmakers told reporters during a Monday press call that while they wish the action had gone further, it’s still a victory, and they don’t blame the president for being as cautious as he was.

“He erred on the side of making sure that if there were five million he offered something to, that that would be sustained in any courtroom,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).

Many advocates argued that the order should have protected the parents of “DREAMers” who are now protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The president’s Office of Legal Counsel advised against that option, though, and Gutierrez said the conversation would now be about nothing else if Obama had ignored their advice.

“We’re certainly disappointed that the parents of DREAMers couldn’t make it,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). But that’s why Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform, he said, adding that the president’s order is still “a game-changer for millions.”

Many also pushed to give newly-protected immigrants access to affordable health care, but that was regarded as even more of a political non-starter than protecting the parents of DACA recipients. 

DACA recipients, and those newly protected by the president’s action, are specifically locked out of affordable federal health-care programs like the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.

This is the case even though they pay taxes that support those programs, and even though immigrants with other kinds of deferred deportation status can access them.

“It doesn’t make much sense from a health-care perspective or from a fiscal perspective” to bar these people from accessing affordable health care, “but it was never really something that the Congress or the president would have entertained,” Douglas Rivlin, director of communications for Gutierrez, told Rewire.

Despite Republican talking points about tyranny and monarchy, the action is clearly legal, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) told reporters.

“There are multiple examples going back to 1952 where presidents have used this very same authority granted to them to bring relief to individuals,” Lofgren said.

The closest parallels to what Obama’s executive order are the actions Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush took, Lofgren said. Congress had deliberately excluded family members from its legislative amnesty in 1986, but less than a year after that, Reagan “just decided he didn’t agree with what Congress did.”

Combined, Reagan and Bush’s executive authority legalized about 42 percent of the country’s undocumented population at the time. Obama’s action would protect, but not fully legalize, about 45 percent of today’s undocumented population.

But that protection will only matter if unauthorized immigrants actually sign up for the new program, Gutierrez said.

“The fear campaign is just starting, and they’re trying to keep our immigrants from signing up,” Gutierrez said. “There hasn’t been one person saved from deportation. … The only way we do that is by signing people up.”