Their Electoral Importance Is Pretty Obvious in the Long Term

Interview Obama is looking to grab the Hispanic and Catholic voters, according to Denis Lacorne, a specialist in American political history.

Denis Lacorne is a professor at the Sciences Po in France and a specialist in the political history of the United States.

Immigration reform is an old commitment of Obama’s. Why are we only seeing it become an issue now?

Obama has already made some attempts at immigration reform, like in 2013 when a law aiming to open up citizenship to illegal immigrants was voted through by the Senate but blocked by the House of Representatives. Obama could have tried again before this year’s midterm elections, but he was struggling and did not want to risk alienating himself from the moderate voters. In hindsight, he probably should have taken the risk as he ultimately lost the Hispanic vote, as they were disappointed that this reform had not been brought in.

With two years left, what is the Hispanic community’s electoral importance?

Hispanics make up 16 percent of the population and 10 percent of the electoral register. They largely vote Democrat and a lot of them live in swing states such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida. The Hispanic community is an increasingly important and growing community, with 800,000 Hispanics reaching adulthood each year in the U.S. Their electoral importance is pretty obvious in the long term. Obama is also targeting the Catholics. Family reunification is at stake, with an attempt to legalize parents who have been living for more than five years in the United States and who have an American child or who hold a permanent residency visa. Avoiding the breakup of families is one of the American Catholic church’s oldest aims; it was not by accident that Obama quoted passages from the Bible in his announcement.

Will Republicans block the vote?

They are worried. The immigration question is a big schism in their camp. On one side, you have the Tea Party, who talk of the invasion of criminals and the uneducated at the border. On the other side, there is a smaller minority who, like Jeb Bush, believe that it is electorally counter-productive to attack the Hispanics. There are also lobbyists from the agriculture and textile sectors who employ a large number of illegal immigrants at a low price and are therefore pro-immigration. The Republicans could block the budget vote but it would be bad for their image. It is more likely that they will try to play on the financial issues surrounding the law in order to slow down its implementation.

Is this announcement going to restore Obama’s image in his own camp?

This reform does not resolve everything. It only affects some of the 11 million illegal immigrants, is only temporary and does not provide them with citizenship, but it does offer de facto amnesty to 5 million people living in fear. Obama wants to leave behind the image of a constructor who tackled America’s major problems head-on. He did it with the healthcare system, he is trying to do it with the environment and he is doing it with immigration. It is without doubt a good move for him and the Democratic camp.

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