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Political Pawns for the Democrats

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
The Supreme Court decided this week to take up the Obama administration's unilateral executive actions on immigration, which will keep the issue on the front burner for the presidential election. That's bad news for Republicans, including Donald Trump. It was bound to happen, of course. The administration has been nothing if not Machiavellian when it comes to playing the immigration issue for all it is worth.

In November 2014, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson issued a series of memoranda that, in effect, delayed indefinitely the deportation of illegal immigrants who were parents to American-born children. The move also granted them permission to work in the U.S. Of course the overwhelming majority of these people were not going to be deported anyway -- two thirds have been living here 10 years or more -- and the majority were already working, albeit not with proper authorization. The administration's actions, therefore, did very little to change the status quo for illegal immigrants beyond giving them a false sense of security. Meanwhile, several states sued and the executive actions were put on hold while the case wends its way through the courts.

Without actual changes to U.S. law, illegal immigrants remain political pawns of whoever happens to be in power. The Democrats say they will protect them; but a Democrat president who enjoyed two full years of his presidency with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress chose not to change the law. Most Republicans have simply punted on the issue, except for Donald Trump, who promises he'll deport them all, which is a real crowd-pleaser among the voters he courts but will come back to bite him if he manages to win the GOP nomination.

Hispanic voters are not monolithic -- as I have been writing for three decades. A majority usually supports the Democratic nominee in presidential elections, but GOP candidates have won from a third to more than 40 percent of Hispanic votes in a majority of elections going back to Richard Nixon. A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that naturalizations and the growing number of Hispanic youth attaining voting age has pushed the number of potential Hispanic voters to 27.3 million, roughly 12 percent of the voting-eligible population.

As the Hispanic electorate grows, Republicans increasingly need to win more Hispanic votes to be competitive in states such as Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida (where non-Cuban Hispanics now outnumber the more Republican-leaning Cuban-American population) and even Virginia, which has grown more Democratic in recent years. Pushing a line on illegal immigrants that we should "round 'em up and kick 'em out" will simply shove Hispanics into the Democrats' arms for generations. Democrats will shake their heads in sympathy all the way to Inauguration Day.

The Supreme Court is likely to issue its decision in June or early July, by which time the parties will likely have settled on a nominee even if the conventions will be weeks away. The decision could inject an issue back into the campaign at a time when it may have withered away. I expect the decision to be closely divided, and it could leave a muddled mess. Conservatives, including me, are hoping that the Court will slap down the administration's abuse of executive power. I'd like to see resolution of the status of long-term illegal immigrants, but I believe that Congress must act -- not the president alone -- if we ever hope to solve the problem in the long run. But I think it is quite likely the Court will avoid dealing with the substance and rule narrowly on whether the administration followed proper procedure in taking the executive actions.

No one will be satisfied with such a decision, which will dump it right back into the political maelstrom. The Democrat nominee will use the fear of mass deportations to drive young Hispanics to register and turn out to vote. When you add large numbers of new Hispanic voters to the ranks of Democrats' solid base among blacks, union members and single women, the path to the White House for a Republican nominee becomes much steeper. No matter who the GOP nominee is, if he's smart he'll wish the immigration issue would simply go away.

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