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Gauging The Impact Of Obama's Immigration Policy


This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

President Obama announced a dramatic change in immigration policy this week. Thousands of young people brought to this country illegally as children will no longer face the threat of deportation and will legally be allowed to work.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let's be clear, this is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.

LYDEN: The new rules will affect about 800,000 immigrants who must be law-abiding, under the age of 30 and have gone to school or served in the military.

Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent, and she joins me now. Mara, thanks for being with us.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good to be here, Jacki.

LYDEN: So this is a dramatic shift in immigration policy from the White House. Why is the president doing this now?

LIASSON: Well, it's an election year. He needs Hispanic votes. But this is something that he's been for for a long time. He wanted Congress to pass this and they didn't. Republicans blocked it in the Senate. And he has decided to take action on his own, as he's tried to do in other areas, to move this forward. And he is now saying that we are going to not deport young people who came to this country through no fault of their own - brought here sometimes as infants. This is something that has popular support. But more particularly, it has about 90 percent support among the Hispanic community.

LYDEN: Now, as we saw in the Republican primary contest, Governor Mitt Romney was critical of the DREAM Act, which is, of course, the legislation that would allow young illegal immigrants to remain in the country with a path to eventual citizenship, which the president said this is not. Does the president's move complicate things for Romney with Hispanic voters?

LIASSON: Well, I think it does. You know, Romney took a very hard right turn on immigration during the primaries. He said he would veto the DREAM Act. He said he was OK with people who served in the military getting these kinds of privileges. But, of course, very few illegal immigrants are in the military. But he did say he would veto it. He talked about self-deportation, passing laws that make life so uncomfortable for illegal immigrants that they just get up and leave.

He allied himself with the Arizona immigration act. So since he's gotten the nomination, he's tried to soften his tone on these matters, without doing a complete flip-flop. Yesterday, his comments, I thought, were very interesting. He said that he would like to see legislation that deals with this issue. In other words, he almost agreed with the president, although he said he doesn't believe going about it through an executive action is the right way to do it.

But I do think it complicates matters because the Republican base is split. Unlike the Democratic base, the majority of whom are for this. You have a lot of anti-immigration voices inside the Republican coalition. And Romney can't afford to make them angry.

LYDEN: Hmm. Let's turn to the Hispanic vote. Will the president's efforts help with Hispanics? You talked about that a moment ago.

LIASSON: Well, I think they will. Hispanics are very important in some key states like Colorado, Nevada, Florida. The president can't win unless he gets not just a big share of the Hispanic vote - he beat John McCain among Hispanics 2-to-1 in 2008. He needs to increase turnout among Hispanics. And Hispanics, although they are the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, are the least registered proportionally and their turnout is - even among registered Hispanics - is relatively low.

So he needs to boost enthusiasm among that group, get them registered, get them to the polls if he is going to win in those states. And just based on anecdotal reports, it sounds like this was a move that was received very, very positively. And it should help him in those states.

LYDEN: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thanks as always.

LIASSON: Thank you, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.