The crowded Republican presidential field has already seen first-hand just how big of a minefield any discussion of immigration issues can be heading into 2016. Now, there are signs that the debate will only get more tangled for a party in desperate need of building Latino support.
The GOP-led lawsuit brought by Texas and 25 other states challenging President Obama's executive actions on immigration began as a quest to bring down the sweeping measures in ways Congress could not. So far, those efforts have been largely successful -- the executive actions benefiting as many as 4 million undocumented immigrants has been put on hold while the legal battle plays out. And just Tuesday, the Obama administration was dealt a significant blow after an appeals court declined to lift the temporary block placed on the program.
But the court decision could carry significant political implications, potentially imperiling the Republican Party and making the outcome of the 2016 election that much more important.
The latest legal setback for the administration likely adds months of additional delays before it could conceivably begin accepting applications for the two executive measures -- known as DAPA and DACA expansion. And while conservative leaders swiftly applauded the court's decision as a victory, those delays could stoke anger throughout immigrant communities as they wait in the wings for the executive actions to roll out, resentment that could be placed squarely on the party responsible for causing the delays in the first place -- the GOP.
“Those who continue to block commonsense relief to settle a score with the president should realize that their political gamesmanship is destroying lives and alienating an increasingly influential voting bloc, who will remember these very personal attacks on our families and our community come Election Day,” Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza, said in a statement Tuesday evening. “We will continue to remind our community that by exercising their power at the ballot box, they can help determine who will be making judicial decisions that, with the stroke of a pen, can snatch potential lawful status away from millions.”
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has seized on the tense dynamic that Republicans face, taking a firm stand on the issue while putting her likely GOP opponents in the spotlight for their intransigence on the issue. On Wednesday, the former secretary of state needled Republicans once again, tweeting that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong in reaching its decision.
The timing is also crucial. The Obama administration is running against the clock in getting the programs out of the gate before the president leaves office. But the drawn out legal battle is likely to kick the issue squarely into 2016 territory -- raising the stakes for the potential GOP nominee's stance on the executive actions. Even if Obama is able to ultimately succeed in the legal battle, his immigration actions could be wiped away with the stroke of a pen once the next president takes control of the Oval Office.
Clinton's stance so far has been clear -- she has said she would take Obama's executive actions a step further. But for a Republican Party running away from Mitt Romney's disastrous "self-deportation" immigration platform of 2012, the immigration debate will be a tight needle to thread in crucial swing states where Latino voters could make all of the difference.