Anti-Immigrant Court Victories Could Backfire on the GOP

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Anti-Donald Trump protest in Dallas
Will the backlash to liberalized immigration policies be exceeded by the backlash to the backlash?Photo: Stewart F. House/2016 Getty Images

Last month’s 4–4 Supreme Court deadlock over a district judge’s nationwide injunction against implementation of President Obama’s immigration enforcement orders (DACA, which provides assurance against deportation for DREAMers along with access to work permits, and DAPA, which provides similar safeguards to their parents) was a big, if inherently temporary, victory for those seeking to preserve the option of mass deportation of undocumented people. 

Viewed in isolation, the freezing of Obama’s initiatives might even provide a net boost to Republicans by keeping the president from mitigating his “deporter-in-chief” reputation among immigration-reform activists. 

But it’s impossible to view the status of DACA and DAPA in isolation, thanks to the specter of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee. Arguably any negative development with respect to the legal status of undocumented immigrants will magnify fears of Trump as the greatest potential "deporter-in-chief" in U.S. history. And Trump’s relatively decent showing among Latino voters in some (though hardly all) general-election polls does not reflect a potential surge in explicitly anti-Trump Latino voter registration and turnout drives, especially in possible battleground states like Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and North Carolina. 

In an overview of Latino voting trends for The American Prospect, Eliza Newlin Carney raises another possibility directly associated with the judicial status of DACA and DAPA:

Immigrant and Latino advocacy groups that had sprung into action to implement Obama’s executive orders to give more work permits to young immigrants and their parents … had to suspend those efforts when both DAPA and the DACA expansion were held up by lawsuits, and were rejected in June by the Supreme Court. Instead of sending their volunteers and field organizers home, immigrant advocates redirected their activities toward political mobilization.

In other words, even as a conservative Texas judge tries to put a roadblock in the path to legalization and citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, the pressure for political engagement among citizens who once walked the same path is increasing rapidly. In the balance hangs Donald Trump’s calculation, with which the GOP is now saddled, that the white-working-class backlash against liberalized immigration policies would (in the short term, at least) outweigh the Latino backlash to the backlash.