Why Obama Is Going to Vegas to Tout His Immigration Order

For political and demographic reasons, Nevada is a fitting stage for the president's big gamble.

President Obama will be all business on his reported trip to Las Vegas on Friday. There's unilateral action on immigration reform to attend to, a matter that's frustrated his Democratic Latino base and had Republican leaders calling for consequences for an act they call "lawless and unconstitutional."

The long-awaited announcement of an executive order to halt many deportations will come Thursday. The president confirmed the timing on Facebook Wednesday afternoon, saying the announcement will come in an 8 p.m. address to the nation. On Friday afternoon, Obama reportedly plans to speak at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas to rally the public behind his plan for administrative action, one he repeatedly promised to make before the end of the year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Of all the states, Nevada just might be the best one for the president to choose as the setting to reveal his plan that could reportedly aid up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, temporarily deferring deportation and providing many with work permits. Here's why:

  1. Senate Majority Leader (soon-to-be Minority Leader) Harry Reid is in peril. He clawed his way to reelection in 2010, and his upcoming 2016 campaign could be just as fraught. His approval rating was at just 41 percent in late July, according to a Nevada statewide poll by Harper Polling, and Reid may be the most endangered Senate Democrat of the cycle. He was endangered back in 2010, as well, but Latino turnout for Reid helped save his Senate seat, said Jose Parra, a former Reid senior communications advisor for Hispanic media. Reid won at least 90 percent of the Latino vote in the state during his last race, according to polling and research firm Latino Decisions. "Prior to Election Day, many pollsters and pundits had declared Harry Reid dead," Parra said, "and not only did he win, but he won convincingly."
  2. More than 27 percent of Nevada's population is Hispanic, or Latino, according to the most recent American Community Survey. This is the 5th-largest percentage of Hispanics in the United States, Pew Research Center reports. And this large demographic is growing in Nevada, according to Parra, now the ProsperoLatino CEO and a Democratic consultant. Thousands of residents in Nevada "will definitely feel the positive impacts of whatever decision the president announces," Parra said, "so it makes total sense to announce it in a place like that."
  3. While it's hard to ensure that data on undocumented immigrants are entirely accurate, Pew Research Center reports that 210,000 such immigrants live in Nevada and comprise 10.2 percent of the state's labor force. And it's the state where the largest share of the population is undocumented.
  4. Nevada is a swing state in national elections, and Latino voter turnout could be of the utmost importance for Democrats in a presidential election year. About 16 percent of Nevada's eligible voters are Hispanic, which, nationally, is the sixth-largest statewide eligible-voter share. (Eligible voters are defined as U.S. citizens ages 18 and older.)
  5. Perhaps most important, on a symbolic level: Del Sol High School in Las Vegas is where Obama, fresh off a reelection win, kick-started an immigration-reform campaign in January 2013, calling on Congress to pass a law reforming the nation's broken immigration system.

No matter where Obama travels this week, Republicans in Congress are not looking forward to the executive order. They warn that passing comprehensive immigration reform would be even more unlikely if Obama takes administrative action, and they're threatening to use the power of the purse to fight back.

"If 'Emperor Obama' ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his constitutional authority," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday morning, "he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue—and many others."