Immigration policy moves to centre stage in US election campaign

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An advisor to Mitt Romney has launched a lawsuit attacking President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, thereby making illegal immigration a hot election issue.

Kris Kobach, an advisor to the Romney campaign on immigration, is the lawyer for ten government employees, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention and Removal Unit agents, who have filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration claiming that DACA has made it impossible for them to do their jobs. Mr Kobach is also the Secretary of State for Kansas and a lawyer for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, an organisation opposed to illegal immigration.

The DACA programme, which was eventually introduced last week, enables illegal immigrants who
• have no convictions for serious offences,
• have lived in the US for five years,
• are under 30 and
• have a degree, have served in the military or are in school,
to apply for a determination that grants them an effective immunity from deportation for two years. Successful applicants can then apply for a work permit.

The agents claim in their suit that the DACA programme has made it impossible for them to do their jobs. They claim that they are duty-bound, by federal law, to detain and investigate illegal immigrants but they are being ordered by federal government appointees not to do so.

They also argue that the DACA programme 'unconstitutionally usurps and encroaches upon the legislative powers of Congress.' By this they mean that the policy violates the US doctrine of separation of powers between the legislature and the executive. President Obama introduced the DACA programme by making an executive order. The lawsuit claims that this is unconstitutional and that Congress should make laws in the US, not the President. The Defendants in the suit are Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. President Obama's name does not appear on the suit.

The Republicans have long claimed that President Obama introduced the programme for political reasons. They say he hopes to attract votes from the Hispanic community. Many of the people who will be eligible to apply for a deferral, the Republicans point out, will be of Hispanic ethnicity. Mr Kobach says that he informed the Romney campaign that he would be bringing the lawsuit on behalf of his clients but did not discuss the case with anyone on Mr Romney's staff.

Mr Kobach is well-known for his anti-immigration stance in the US. He is best known in the US as the author of Senate Bill 1070, an Arizona law governing the treatment of suspected illegal immigrants. The law contains provisions that require state law enforcement officers to check the papers of anyone that they have stopped if they have reason to believe he may be an illegal immigrant. Mr Kobach is an advocate of a policy of 'attrition through enforcement'. This means that the state should enforce all laws strictly to make life as hard as possible for illegal immigrants so that they will leave voluntarily. The policy is also sometimes referred to as 'self-deportation'.

On Tuesday 21st August 2012 Mr Kobach persuaded the Romney campaign to adopt a hard-line anti-immigrant stance to put before Republican Party delegates at the party's National Congress which will begin in Tampa, Florida on Monday 27th August. In particular, Mr Kobach has persuaded Romney to support the efforts of state governments to deal with illegal immigrants; that is, to support Senate Bill 1070.

Mr Kobach told Fox News yesterday that 'the Obama administration has ordered federal law enforcement agents to break the law, to ignore the laws that they're supposed to enforce and, in the case of the ICE officers, to actually break federal laws that say you're supposed to deport certain people. And in each case, the Obama administration seems to be doing so for political reasons.'

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Romney campaign said that the Romney camp was hoping to attract 38% of Hispanic votes in the election in November. At present, polling suggests that Romney's Republicans have 28% Hispanic support compared to President Obama's 63%.

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