During the 2008 election, President Barack Obama promised Latino voters that, if elected, he would deliver comprehensive immigration reform including a legalization plan for many if not all of the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. However, this reform would require an act of Congress, and Obama failed to deliver during his first term. Yet Obama won an even larger share of the Latino vote in 2012 than he had in 2008. How was this possible? We argue that the Obama administration maintained and expanded its support from Latino voters by exploiting legal possibilities for executive action through four different initiatives, though the first two were unsuccessful and aimed at persuading immigration restrictionists to support comprehensive immigration reform. First, in an effort to build trust with some members of Congress, Obama sought to demonstrate his enforcement of immigration law by increasing deportations over those of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Second, the Obama administration sought to show to restrictionists an increase in the moral worthiness of the undocumented immigrants eligible for legalization by focusing deportations on undocumented persons who had committed crimes. Third, Obama turned his attention to Latino voters, and used executive action to counteract a statutory provision that kept undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens separated for months or years while attempting to adjust to legal status. Last, and most importantly, the administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children (and met other criteria) to receive work permits and be temporarily exempted from deportation. We explain the legal authorization that allowed these actions, their political context, and their ultimate consequences—most notably the continued support Latino voters offered Obama despite his limited progress on statutory immigration reform and reliance on executive action.

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