ANALYSIS

Emotive issue... Barack Obama’s move may sway voters.

Emotive issue ... Barack Obama’s move may sway voters. Photo: Reuters

BY CALLING a halt to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of young people who are in the US illegally, President Barack Obama not only helps himself politically with two groups vital to his re-election, Latinos and young people, but also shows the advantage that comes with the White House.

So long as the economy struggles and joblessness stays persistently high, another four years will remain an iffy proposition for the Democratic incumbent.

But Obama's executive order on immigration speaks to constituencies that could potentially swing some critical states in November.

There are obvious ones - Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Arizona - with sizeable Latino and youth populations the Obama campaign is eager to mobilise. But others, such as Virginia, Iowa and North Carolina, could be close enough that their immigrant populations could make a difference there as well.

Obama announced last week that, effective immediately, immigrants who arrived in the US illegally before the age of 16 and spent at least five continuous years here would be allowed to apply for work permits so long as they had no criminal history and met other criteria.

''Most Americans would think it's cruel and insane to punish innocent children for the mistakes of their parents,'' said Craig Varoga, a party strategist who dared opponents to ''punch back'' at Obama and show ''they have no compassion''.

More significantly, the President's move complicated the task facing Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee.

The former Massachusetts governor alienated many Latinos with the uncompromising immigration stance he took during the primaries, which helped him fend off rivals to his right.

Now, however, he must win back many of those disenchanted Latino voters and assuage others, or his hopes for the White House are likely, to use the candidate's word, doomed.

In a sign of the challenge he faces, Romney offered no comment for several hours, finally delivering a statement that straddled the issue by citing a need to resolve the status of innocent young people facing deportation but without saying how.

Several of the party's most prominent anti-illegal immigration reacted angrily, a contrast with Romney's more measured response. The Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, who signed into law one of the nation's toughest crackdowns on illegal immigrants, called the move unconstitutional. The US representative Steve King, of Iowa, said he would file suit to block the President.

Obama has been campaigning for months against recalcitrant congressional Republicans by taking unilateral actions under the slogan ''We Can't Wait''.

His move on immigration was the biggest one yet and spoke more loudly from a political standpoint than those words.

Los Angeles Times