And there is still a strong anti-illegal-immigrant vibe in America, especially in areas where natives not only compete for jobs, but are also hurt when immigrant labor pushes wages downward. In these places, resentment builds when illegal immigrants receive government largess and citizens struggle. That anger has translated into fear in immigrant barrios in states like Alabama.
Moreover, aside from his rhetoric, the reality is that President Obama's immigration policy has been particularly tough on illegal immigrants, given record-high deportation numbers in the first few years of his term.
And, lastly, America's stubbornly sluggish economy has taken an outsize toll on low-skill immigrant labor – enough to, as a net effect, essentially halt overall border jumping from Mexico to the United States.
On the political and policy fronts, however, the shifts in rhetoric suggest a new momentum tied to Hispanic voting power, even to a new sense of respect for extended Latino families, which often include members who are in the US illegally.
It's still far from clear whether that higher regard will mean amnesty. But polls suggest Americans are warming to the idea. In Election Day exit polling by Edison Research, 65 percent of Americans said illegal immigrants should be given an opportunity to become citizens, versus 28 percent who said they should be deported. In addition, Americans have largely supported the Obama administration's “DREAM Act-lite,” which offers two-year work permits to young undocumented immigrants who qualify.