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DREAMer policy on illegal immigrants goes live. Can it backfire on Obama?

Obama has a lot riding on effective implementation of his new policy to give some young illegal immigrants a reprieve from deportation. If the government botches it, backlash in the Latino community could hurt him politically.

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Hundreds of illegal immigrants counting on the DREAM Act passing wait in line to get a passport or any other kind of assistance outside the Mexican Consulate, Tuesday, in Houston.

Nick de la Torre/Houston Chronicle/AP

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President Obama’s decision earlier this year to offer work permits and a two-year stay of deportation for some young undocumented immigrants was ripped by Republicans as an election-year giveaway to Mr. Obama’s Latino supporters – but it also carries political risk for the Obama administration itself.

The so-called “DREAMers” can begin applying Wednesday under the new Obama program, formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The risk is that few people will trust the government enough to apply for the program and that it becomes an election-year sop with little impact among DREAMers – leaving the broader Latino community feeling let down by the president, say advocates for immigrants. 

“If they [Obama officials] screw this up, the implications are pretty severe,” says Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center and a DACA program supporter. “Not only will it have a chilling effect [on relations between US immigration authorities and undocumented individuals], but it could have political implications from the community as well.”

Obama’s support in the Hispanic-American community has been strong: Roughly 2 in 3 Latino voters went for the president in 2008. Among Asian-Americans, the second largest group of potential DREAMers, 6 in 10 voted for Obama. 

The DACA program is “something the president was able to give to us which benefitted us,” says Jorge Acuña, an undocumented immigrant from Colombia who lives in Germantown, Md. He says he will be applying for the DACA designation – one of the 1.2 million DREAMers the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates are eligible for the program. 

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