This piece originally appeared on NBCnews.com
Ringing in the new year with mass deportation raids - what the heck are some of the folks in the Obama administration thinking? That is the question Democrats must be pondering as we go into 2016.
In early January Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is set to carry out a nationwide round up of individuals who have been given deportation orders. But these are not gang-banger thugs; the specific targets of these raids are those who entered the United States in the summer of 2014, primarily Central American minors and their mothers.
The 2016 election at the presidential, congressional, and local levels will be hard fought. Democrats need Latinos but they will have to deal with the fallout of the Department of Homeland Security’s planned raids to take place in early January. The news has already drawn swift criticism from immigrant and Latino groups.
How the administration and the Democrat party thinks it will deal with the fallout is a puzzler. But like most things, there is a method to the madness and below the surface you can see the strategic logic to these raids, at least from the administration’s viewpoint. There are five reasons the Obama White House – and by default the Democrats – may be betting that they can have their cake and eat it too.
Everything in life is relative. In the past the GOP has been friendly or simply neutral toward Latinos. That has not been the case since 2010 and this strained relation has been taken to a new level by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. In this climate there is really no danger of a Latino Republican vote surge. At the most some Latinos close to the issue of immigration will stay home.
The middle is up for grabs. Each party has their firm base of support. However it is that squishy middle, those swingy, Independent voters that carry candidates across the finish line. Democrats need to show middle-of-the-road voters that they can also be firm, if not tough, on immigration. The coveted blue-collar voters need to see the Democrats also speaking to them on issues such as immigration.
Timing is everything. If you’re going to execute a controversial policy do it as far out from the election as possible – January not June. If they do occur, the fact that the raids took place will not be erased in the thick of the campaign, but at the very least they can be obscured by all of the things that will have happened throughout 2016.
Latinos have held their nose before. The Obama administration during its first term set the record for the most deportations of any president. National Council of La Raza President, Janet Murgia, went so far as to call President Obama Deporter-in-Chief. Nevertheless in 2012 President Obama received 71 percent of the Latino vote. The 2012 Obama campaign worked hard to remind the Latino electorate that they had been at the forefront of battling Arizona’s restrictive immigration law, SB1070 and that they protected the DREAMERs through executive action.
The other piece to this is that Latinos care about other issues aside from immigration and in the end Latino voters will do a cost-benefit calculation.
The Supreme Court will help Democrats. It is very likely that this summer the Supreme Court will hand down a decision on the legality of President Obama’s immigration executive actions. Any decision the court hands down will be a win for Democrats. If the Supreme Court upholds DACA and DAPA expansion then the bad feelings from the immigration raids will be assuaged. If the Supreme Court does not uphold the order then Democrats can still highlight how they have been fighting the good fight and shift some immigration attention to the courts and away from the January raids.
But for advocates and for the Latino voters who see immigration as a personal issue, policies and optics matter. Even just one cell phone video of mothers and children being separated from family members and sent back to the Central American nations they fled will be tough for some prospective voters. In the 2016 election the majority of Latinos may not vote for Republicans but they sure won’t be enthusiastic about a candidate from the party of commando-style immigration raids either.