Democrats run the risk of hurting their election prospects and discouraging Latino voter turnout in November unless the White House can better implement its policy to deport only illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds, some Democrats and pro-immigration groups believe.
“I think that there are a large number of voters, both immigrant and Latino voters, that when they first think of the president, they don’t think of additional Pell Grants, or expansion of health care, or revamping of Wall Street, or a fairer tax [system]. They think of someone they knew, either personally or related to them, or a neighbor or friend, who has been deported. And that is what first and foremost comes to mind,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said last week.
Frank Sharry, executive director of left-leaning immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, said the failure to properly implement the policy has wreaked havoc on the Latino community and — along with a weak economy and the unmet expectation of immigration reform — could discourage them to turn out to vote for Democrats.
“For low-propensity voters, it doesn’t take much to keep them at home rather than get them turned out,” Sharry said, adding that it is too early to tell whether the issue will affect Latino voter turnout.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who has championed a Latino community priority — the DREAM Act — in the Senate, agreed that the disconnect between the White House and Immigration and Customs Enforcement could hurt Democrats in the fall, but he defended the president.
“It may,” Durbin said. “We can’t let it happen, because there is no question that this president and this administration have worked harder to pass the DREAM Act, to move forward on immigration than any other administration. I know [Latinos] are discouraged, and they should be; the system is disappointing and heartbreaking on many days, but we just have to keep working on it.”
Part of the frustration among Hispanic activists is the fact that some illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and who consider themselves Americans are getting caught up in ICE’s deportations. Those children in some cases would benefit from the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrant children who go to college or join the military.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated in a recent interview on Univision’s Al Punto that he, too, wants the White House to do a better job of implementing the policy.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.