Commentary Magazine


Topic: DREAM Act

What Would a Military DREAM Act Mean?

One of the top ideas floating around the orbit of immigration reform is to allow a faster path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, “undocumented residents,” or whatever the latest politically correct term is, if they join and serve in the U.S. military. In effect, this means opening the U.S. military to illegal aliens.

Now, there is a long history of non-Americans joining the U.S. military. Filipinos joined the U.S. Navy in significant numbers from the first years of the 20th century through World War II and, indeed, even after the Philippines’ 1947 independence. Non-citizens who were legal residents have served honorably in the U.S. military up to and during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Many still do, and they deserve the quicker path to citizenship that their service enables. 

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One of the top ideas floating around the orbit of immigration reform is to allow a faster path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, “undocumented residents,” or whatever the latest politically correct term is, if they join and serve in the U.S. military. In effect, this means opening the U.S. military to illegal aliens.

Now, there is a long history of non-Americans joining the U.S. military. Filipinos joined the U.S. Navy in significant numbers from the first years of the 20th century through World War II and, indeed, even after the Philippines’ 1947 independence. Non-citizens who were legal residents have served honorably in the U.S. military up to and during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Many still do, and they deserve the quicker path to citizenship that their service enables. 

That does not mean that President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and the various Democratic and Republican representatives and senators who are pushing immigration reform should endorse the idea of illegal or undocumented aliens serving in the U.S. military. The reason is simple: It creates a precedent by which the U.S. military welcomes lawbreakers. Illegal aliens may find their plight unfair and unjust, but they do know their actions violate U.S. law. Just as the military has upheld physical standards in its recruitment, it has also weeded out those who knowingly do not abide by the law. Certainly, there are waivers for certain crimes: Some civil offences, non-traffic-related crimes, and misdemeanors might be forgiven. This is done on an individual, case-by-case basis. To open the doors of the U.S. military to illegal aliens, however, not only is a slap in the face of those who have respected U.S. law, but also raises questions as to the motive of service. Regardless, the question both Democrats and Republicans should ask is more basic than whether there should be a military equivalent of the DREAM Act. Instead, the question at hand is whether the U.S. military should any longer use respect for the law as a selection criteria.

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Boehner Won’t Split GOP on Immigration

The mainstream media is still reeling from House Speaker John Boehner’s telling off Heritage Action and other right-wing groups that were attempting to obstruct Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget deal last month. Having pegged Boehner as a Tea Party hostage in the wake of the disastrous government shutdown that he failed to stop, the Speaker’s willingness to talk back to conservative activists has led to expectations that the Ryan budget won’t be the last instance in which the GOP establishment gives the back of its hand to the right.

Thus, Boehner’s hiring of Rebecca Talent, a  longtime immigration adviser to John McCain is fueling expectations that 2014 will be the year when the Republican-controlled House will take up immigration reform after thwarting efforts to change the existing broken system. Yet while those predicting some action on immigration are not wrong, the glee on the left about an impending civil war on the right over this is premature. Though after the shutdown Boehner appears to have learned his lesson about letting the Tea Party caucus run the House asylum, expectations that he will do anything to bring about a major schism even over an issue as vital as immigration are more the product of liberal wishes than conservative strategy.

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The mainstream media is still reeling from House Speaker John Boehner’s telling off Heritage Action and other right-wing groups that were attempting to obstruct Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget deal last month. Having pegged Boehner as a Tea Party hostage in the wake of the disastrous government shutdown that he failed to stop, the Speaker’s willingness to talk back to conservative activists has led to expectations that the Ryan budget won’t be the last instance in which the GOP establishment gives the back of its hand to the right.

Thus, Boehner’s hiring of Rebecca Talent, a  longtime immigration adviser to John McCain is fueling expectations that 2014 will be the year when the Republican-controlled House will take up immigration reform after thwarting efforts to change the existing broken system. Yet while those predicting some action on immigration are not wrong, the glee on the left about an impending civil war on the right over this is premature. Though after the shutdown Boehner appears to have learned his lesson about letting the Tea Party caucus run the House asylum, expectations that he will do anything to bring about a major schism even over an issue as vital as immigration are more the product of liberal wishes than conservative strategy.

Contrary to the spin placed on the hiring of Tallent by the New York Times and other liberal outlets, this is not the first indication of Boehner’s willingness to push forward some kind of immigration legislation. Though he has never had any affection for the comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate, Boehner has been signaling since last spring that what he wanted to do was to break down that omnibus bill and cherry pick parts of it that he thought could pass the House.

Will that be enough to satisfy immigration advocates or the not-inconsiderable number of conservatives who view a more rational approach to the issue as an indispensable element of a rebranding of the GOP in advance of the next presidential election? The answer is almost certainly no. But the speculation about Boehner’s intentions tell us more about the desire of the left for a Republican meltdown than about the actual prospects of a full scale confrontation on the issue on the right.

It is true that Boehner is fed up with Heritage Action and a host of other conservative activist groups that have lost sight of the need for Republicans to find a way to govern rather than engage in guerrilla warfare against the Obama administration and its pet projects. The failure of the shutdown and the juxtaposition of that foolish move with the obvious political benefits of sitting back and letting the Democrats deal with the negative fallout from the president’s ill-conceived health-care law has strengthened the Speaker’s hand against those who would like to maneuver him into a similar strategy on the debt ceiling. But there is a vast difference between the debate on the right about fiscal issues and the one it is having on immigration.

The differences between Tea Partiers and the so-called GOP establishment on the budget, spending, taxes, and even ObamaCare are tactical. If Boehner won’t let Heritage and the Tea Partiers shut down the government again or threaten a default it is not because he secretly likes ObamaCare or wants to enable liberal spending. It’s because he—and the vast majority of conservatives—understand that shutdowns are political mistakes. But on immigration, there is a genuine split among Republicans, especially on providing a path to citizenship for those who are already here illegally.

Count me among those who think the Senate bill was the right approach in many respects. The immigration system is broken and needs a complete overhaul that includes strengthening border security as well as dealing with the reality of approximately 12 million illegals, many of whom have been here for decades and are no threat to anyone.

But given the inability of the government to deal adequately with security issues as well as legitimate concerns about flouting the rule of law, it is an understandable if regrettable fact that what appears to be a majority of Republicans and conservatives oppose the comprehensive bill. A majority of House Republicans also doesn’t exist in support of anything that would provide a path to citizenship for illegals and anyone who thinks Boehner will choose to create a party schism on such an effort in 2014 and sabotage the GOP’s chances in November is almost certainly mistaken.

Republicans do need to change their tone on immigration, not so much because they stand a chance of making major inroads in the Hispanic vote but because some on the right have taken positions that smack of hostility to all immigrants and minorities, thus discrediting the party in the view of more than only those personally concerned.

Yet while Boehner won’t go all the way on immigration, he does have the votes to pass some elements of the reform package. One such measure is adoption of a DREAM Act type of law that will enable those who were brought here illegally as children to become citizens. Another is increasing visas for high-tech workers or dealing with the need to provide a way to fast-track the legalization of agricultural laborers. That won’t go as far as some Republicans want the party to go, let alone please Hispanic leaders or President Obama. But it is a start in the right direction that may provide a basis to deal with larger issues after the 2014 midterms.

But what Boehner won’t do is blow his party up on core immigration issues. Doing so won’t advance the cause of immigration reform but it will increase the Democrats’ chances of holding onto the Senate and making gains in the House. It is hardly surprising that liberals are hoping for just such an outcome, but that has more to do with their political agenda than any sober analysis of what the Speaker might do.

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What Romney Calls “Gifts,” Voters Call Solutions

The Obama reelection campaign’s impressive turnout and get-out-the-vote strategy took the president’s Republican opponents by surprise. But it appears to also be teaching Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan an incomplete, if not totally wrong, lesson about their loss to President Obama. Earlier this week, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “urban” turnout was key for the president, and dismissed the notion that the GOP ticket’s vision for the country was rejected by voters.

And then yesterday, on a conference call with donors and supporters, Romney expanded on that argument. He said the president offered “gifts” to minority voters, and named Obamacare and immigration as important parts of that. The New York Times reports:

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The Obama reelection campaign’s impressive turnout and get-out-the-vote strategy took the president’s Republican opponents by surprise. But it appears to also be teaching Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan an incomplete, if not totally wrong, lesson about their loss to President Obama. Earlier this week, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “urban” turnout was key for the president, and dismissed the notion that the GOP ticket’s vision for the country was rejected by voters.

And then yesterday, on a conference call with donors and supporters, Romney expanded on that argument. He said the president offered “gifts” to minority voters, and named Obamacare and immigration as important parts of that. The New York Times reports:

“In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said, contrasting Mr. Obama’s strategy to his own of “talking about big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth.”…

“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge,” Mr. Romney said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”

Romney is not wrong in suggesting that demographic groups preferred what they heard from Obama to what they heard from Romney, but he is wrong in his characterization of it. First of all, there are many reasons Obama won reelection, not least of which is that he apparently had a 52 percent approval rating on Election Day.

Second, the obvious objection to Romney’s comments is that his own version of the health care reform plan served as a model for Obama’s. Did Romney think he was giving away free “gifts” to minorities and young voters when he designed the plan? Or did he think he was serving the people who elected him by solving a quality-of-life issue for the entire state of Massachusetts? In politics, it’s easy to impugn the motives of your opponent, but it’s fair to say that Obama targeted what he and many Americans saw as an economic hardship and a great injustice, especially to the poor. Romney may or may not agree with that, but I doubt he would take well to someone characterizing his signature achievement in office as crude politicking or vote buying.

And that gets to the larger problem with these comments. A very large portion of this country sees our immigration laws and those in favor of even stricter measures as a moral failure on the part of a country of immigrants. Hispanics don’t see “amnesty”–a path to citizenship–as a “gift” in exchange for their vote. It isn’t candy; it’s the difference between opportunities for their children and their families being torn apart.

Republicans don’t have to agree with liberal solutions to the problems facing the country. But they certainly should not ridicule the need for reform at many levels of government–indeed, they should embrace it, for much in our federal government needs reform. And making broad statements about jobs isn’t enough. To wit, the Romney message to Hispanics was that he will create jobs here but he wants them to “self-deport,” thus making those jobs unavailable to them anyway. In such a case, why on earth should they care what his jobs plan is?

Obama offered specifics, and Romney offered principles. But conservative principles should lead to conservative solutions–specifics, in other words. Romney doesn’t seem to have understood this. But he should take a look around his party. Republican governors like Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Snyder, Rick Perry, and others offered voters the combination of conservative principles and conservative policy proposals. It is a winning combination, even in blue New Jersey. And it can be a winning combination nationally as well. That’s the lesson Romney should have learned on Election Day.

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Can the GOP Change on Immigration?

Post-mortems on President Obama’s election victory have harped on his dominant hold on the Hispanic vote. That has, in turn, led to speculation about the Republican Party changing its tune on immigration, an issue which is widely — and probably quite rightly — viewed as a deal breaker for the majority of Hispanic voters when GOP candidates ask for their support. To that end, several prominent Republican leaders, such as House Speaker John Boehner and conservative thinkers like Charles Krauthammer, have suggested a course change for Republicans that would enable them to avoid being characterized as anti-immigrant and, by extension, anti-Hispanic.

While I’m far from sure that at this late date it will be possible for Republicans to make up the ground they’ve lost in the last decade with Hispanics by flipping on the issue, I think those advising a course change are correct. President George W. Bush was right to champion reform legislation on this issue, and his party’s failure to support him was wrong as well as a lost opportunity that may not recur. Most of those who come to this country illegally are merely seeking work, and it is high time that most conservatives stop acting as if illegals are a grave threat to the country. Nevertheless, any expectation that the bulk of party members will change their stance on the issue is probably unrealistic. The reason why most of the GOP presidential candidates pandered to the right on this issue is no mystery. Even though it is political poison for the party’s future, most in the GOP grassroots want no part of any plan to grant amnesty to the approximately 12 million illegals in the country.

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Post-mortems on President Obama’s election victory have harped on his dominant hold on the Hispanic vote. That has, in turn, led to speculation about the Republican Party changing its tune on immigration, an issue which is widely — and probably quite rightly — viewed as a deal breaker for the majority of Hispanic voters when GOP candidates ask for their support. To that end, several prominent Republican leaders, such as House Speaker John Boehner and conservative thinkers like Charles Krauthammer, have suggested a course change for Republicans that would enable them to avoid being characterized as anti-immigrant and, by extension, anti-Hispanic.

While I’m far from sure that at this late date it will be possible for Republicans to make up the ground they’ve lost in the last decade with Hispanics by flipping on the issue, I think those advising a course change are correct. President George W. Bush was right to champion reform legislation on this issue, and his party’s failure to support him was wrong as well as a lost opportunity that may not recur. Most of those who come to this country illegally are merely seeking work, and it is high time that most conservatives stop acting as if illegals are a grave threat to the country. Nevertheless, any expectation that the bulk of party members will change their stance on the issue is probably unrealistic. The reason why most of the GOP presidential candidates pandered to the right on this issue is no mystery. Even though it is political poison for the party’s future, most in the GOP grassroots want no part of any plan to grant amnesty to the approximately 12 million illegals in the country.

There was a reason why, of all issues, the generally moderate Mitt Romney chose immigration as the one on which he would tack hardest to the right. In the one instance where his pose as a “severely conservative” Republican seemed to resonate, Romney attacked Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich for their more liberal stands on the issue. The tactic worked, and even though Romney’s stand shifted a bit to the center as the campaign wore on — by accepting a modified version of the DREAM Act, which would grant a path to citizenship for children brought here illegally but subsequently served in the U.S. military — until November 6, there was little sign that his party was ready to reassess its position.

In part, this reluctance to shift on immigration stems from the fact that a great many Americans believe the starting point to any discussion of the issue ought to be defense of the rule of law. Though some of those who obsess about the issue have blown the dangers that stem from immigration out of proportion and sound like 19th century “Know Nothings,” most Republican primary voters who care about the issue take a less extreme position. They believe the idea that the United States ought not to be able to control its borders is ludicrous. Treating law breaking in the form of illegal immigration as nothing more serious than a traffic ticket is offensive.

That’s why strong majorities of Americans polled on the topic generally support the controversial Arizona law that was both mischaracterized and condemned by President Obama in the second presidential debate. There’s nothing unconstitutional or unreasonable about inquiring about the immigration status of someone who has already been arrested on a different charge.

The plain fact is that the 12 million illegals that are already here are not going to be rounded up and deported. The government has neither the resources nor the will do so, and expectations that this will happen or, as Romney ludicrously put it, they will “self deport,” is detached from reality. Sooner or later the government will have to recognize their status and give them a path to legality, if not citizenship.

But anyone who thinks most Republican voters are prepared to tolerate a shift on the issue in the immediate future is dreaming. While there has always been a faction of leaders and thinkers that supported a strategy based on extending rights to the illegals, the last two elections show that this group is a minority within the GOP.

It should also be acknowledged that such efforts are fated to be largely futile. As Seth wrote, Hispanics are not going to be impressed if they think Republicans are cynically pandering to them. A large portion of the Jewish community continues to think of the GOP the same way their grandparents thought of it: as a vestige of an old country-club elite that harbors anti-Semitic attitudes. This may be an almost deranged and twisted view of reality, since contemporary Republicans tend to be even more sympathetic to Israel and Jewish concerns than Democrats, yet it nevertheless persists. But the bad taste from the harsh rhetoric on immigration from Republicans in recent years will not be washed away any more easily, even though a change of tune from some in the party on the issue won’t hurt. A possible Marco Rubio presidential candidacy in 2016 would also have an effect on the Hispanic vote.

But assuming that it will be easy for Republican leaders to accomplish this without a very strong pushback from their voters is unrealistic. As much as a GOP shift on amnesty would be smart politics and probably good public policy, it’s not likely to happen.

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Welcoming Immigrants Begins With How You Talk About Them

The post-election soul searching from Republicans has made one thing clear: there is a sea change in the conservative attitude toward immigration. Conservatives were always split on this issue (support for immigrants and immigration reform is certainly nothing new here in the pages of COMMENTARY), but there has been vocal and influential grassroots opposition to immigration reform. So it is most welcome that after a historic drubbing by the growing Hispanic vote, Republicans have “evolved,” to use the president’s term.

Immigration reform and taking a more welcoming attitude toward immigrants makes sense on every level–economically, morally, culturally, etc. But at the risk of being accused of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I think something needs to be said about the way this argument is taking shape, with particular emphasis on the newfound expression of support for Hispanic immigration on the right. As I said, there are many logical reasons to welcome immigrants and to support immigration reform. But conservatives who have previously opposed it and are now admitting that cynical electoral considerations are driving their evolution are making an understandable, but still devastating, mistake.

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The post-election soul searching from Republicans has made one thing clear: there is a sea change in the conservative attitude toward immigration. Conservatives were always split on this issue (support for immigrants and immigration reform is certainly nothing new here in the pages of COMMENTARY), but there has been vocal and influential grassroots opposition to immigration reform. So it is most welcome that after a historic drubbing by the growing Hispanic vote, Republicans have “evolved,” to use the president’s term.

Immigration reform and taking a more welcoming attitude toward immigrants makes sense on every level–economically, morally, culturally, etc. But at the risk of being accused of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I think something needs to be said about the way this argument is taking shape, with particular emphasis on the newfound expression of support for Hispanic immigration on the right. As I said, there are many logical reasons to welcome immigrants and to support immigration reform. But conservatives who have previously opposed it and are now admitting that cynical electoral considerations are driving their evolution are making an understandable, but still devastating, mistake.

The way that conservatives talk about immigration reform must be reformed as well. They must understand that there is now a cultural suspicion of the right on the part of a large segment of the immigrant population, especially Latinos, and for good reason. Immigrants are well aware of the debate over immigration here. And they remember–and will for some time–that when they arrived here with nothing but the clothes on their back, desperate for a chance at a better life for themselves and their children, one party said “come on in” and the other said “turn around and go back.”

Simply supporting immigration reform is not going to do away with this, especially if people describe Latino immigrants as some kind of demographic setback they must alleviate in order to win elections. That’s dehumanizing too. Immigration to the United States creates jobs, and many immigrants–more if the DREAM Act were to pass–are willing to first join the army and risk their lives in defense of this country in order to “earn” citizenship.

Additionally, there is of course the moral problem of punishing children whose parents moved here or of breaking up families. But there is another element to this. The United States doesn’t have nearly the problem with black-market goods that other, more highly regulated countries have, because our government meddles less (though still too much) and therefore does less to distort markets than other, nominally market economies. (Think Europe today, or Yeltsin’s Russia.)

Yet we have one major black market: labor. The free market tells us that we need a certain amount of labor at certain prices. Our current employment and immigration laws preclude this. But you can’t stop the market so easily in a globalized world. So we developed something of a black market in labor, which means a black market in laborers. So in addition to the other challenges faced by new immigrants, there is often a cloud of suspicion and illegality that hangs over their heads. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have laws and enforce them. But it’s important to understand the psychological toll this can take.

It is therefore imperative that a bit of compassion accompanies the cold hard intellectual logic of the right’s transformation on immigration. Cynicism and tokenism will not be much less offensive to immigrants than what came before.

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Immigration Issue Hurts GOP with More Than Just Hispanics

To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.

They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.

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To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.

They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.

It should also be noted that respondents who were neither white nor African-American nor Latino made up 5 percent of the electorate. They, too, went for Obama overwhelmingly by 67 percent to 31 percent. This suggests that Asian-Americans, who like Latinos ought to be a natural Republican constituency, are strongly trending the other way.

Respondents were then asked what should happen to most illegal immigrants working in the U.S.–should they be offered a chance to apply for legal status or deported? Sixty-five percent of respondents said they should be offered a chance to apply for legal status–what Republican politicians normally characterize as an “amnesty for illegal aliens.” Only 28 percent said that they should be deported. This suggests that Republicans’ anti-immigration views hurt them not only with Latinos but with a broader electorate, which is more sympathetic to undocumented migrants than Republican leaders are.

As I noted earlier, it is high time that Republicans adjust their position to show that, while they want to police our borders, they are sympathetic to the plight of millions of immigrants who are already here and who will never be deported. We need to find a way to legalize their status instead of demonizing that as an “amnesty.” Providing an opportunity to young people whose parents came here illegally–the aim of the DREAM Act–is a good place to start.

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Obama Blames GOP, Economy for His ‘Biggest Failure’

At the Univision forum yesterday, President Obama said his “biggest failure” as president was failing to pass immigration reform. Not only was this news to everyone — last we heard, his biggest mistake was focusing too much on policy and not enough on telling stories — but he wouldn’t even take responsibility for the lack of progress. The real culprits? Obstructionist Republicans and distracting economic problems. According to Obama, his only real error — if you could call it that — was being too “naive” about the whole situation:

“My biggest failure so far is we haven’t gotten comprehensive immigration reform done,” Obama said. “But it’s not because for lack of trying or desire, and I’m confident we are going to accomplish that.” …

The president faced tough questions on why he hadn’t accomplished comprehensive immigration reform, an important issue for Hispanic voters. Jorge Ramos, one of the moderators for Univision, put it bluntly: “You promised that and a promise is a promise and with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.”

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At the Univision forum yesterday, President Obama said his “biggest failure” as president was failing to pass immigration reform. Not only was this news to everyone — last we heard, his biggest mistake was focusing too much on policy and not enough on telling stories — but he wouldn’t even take responsibility for the lack of progress. The real culprits? Obstructionist Republicans and distracting economic problems. According to Obama, his only real error — if you could call it that — was being too “naive” about the whole situation:

“My biggest failure so far is we haven’t gotten comprehensive immigration reform done,” Obama said. “But it’s not because for lack of trying or desire, and I’m confident we are going to accomplish that.” …

The president faced tough questions on why he hadn’t accomplished comprehensive immigration reform, an important issue for Hispanic voters. Jorge Ramos, one of the moderators for Univision, put it bluntly: “You promised that and a promise is a promise and with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.”

Obama said on Univision that he accepted responsibility but that he faced an economy “on the verge of collapse” in his first year and blamed Republicans for abandoning support for comprehensive immigration reform.

“What I confess I did not expect, and so I’m happy to take responsibility for being naive here, is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform, my opponent in 2008 who had been a champion of it and who attended these meetings, suddenly would walk away,” he said. “That’s what I did not anticipate.”

This is completely delusional. If Obama was so tied up with economic issues his first year in office, why did he spend the majority of that time focused on his health care reform bill? The idea that Republicans have been blocking his attempts at immigration reform is also absurd. When did Obama do anything during his first three years — outside of giving occasional speeches — that moved the ball forward on immigration, or showed that he had any serious interest in tackling it? When confronted by Hispanic leaders, Obama would blame Republicans and insist that he couldn’t just issue an executive order on immigration. Then, as soon as the GOP started moving forward on its own immigration reform plan, he suddenly flip-flopped and took executive action.

Republicans haven’t refused to work with Obama on immigration. There’s no indication Obama even tried to reach out to them on the issue. In fact, he’s done just the opposite. The White House made every effort to kill Marco Rubio’s DREAM Act proposal, and eventually succeeded once Obama issued his immigration executive order — a temporary bandaid that’s no substitute for real reform.

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Romney Can’t Outbid Obama on Illegals

President Obama is heading to Florida today to address the same group of Hispanic legislators who heard Mitt Romney take a more conciliatory line on illegal immigrants. Romney’s walk back of his previous opposition to the substance of the DREAM Act is a good idea, and he was right to point out that the president’s election year decision to stop the deportation of young illegals is cynical. But it isn’t likely to gain him much traction with Hispanic voters. On this issue, he needs to quit now while he’s behind.

Though many pundits have been hounding Republicans to do more to appeal to Hispanics, at least as far as 2012 is concerned it’s a lost cause. Romney should not be tempted to waste any more time trying to outbid the president on an issue where he has far more to lose than to gain by changing his position. Any further shifts on immigration — an issue on which he staked out a hard right-wing position during the Republican primaries — will only remind voters of his reputation as a flip-flopper. In doing so, Romney also seems to be forgetting that the reason why he did his best to outflank Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on immigration is that his opposition to amnesty programs happens to be popular.

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President Obama is heading to Florida today to address the same group of Hispanic legislators who heard Mitt Romney take a more conciliatory line on illegal immigrants. Romney’s walk back of his previous opposition to the substance of the DREAM Act is a good idea, and he was right to point out that the president’s election year decision to stop the deportation of young illegals is cynical. But it isn’t likely to gain him much traction with Hispanic voters. On this issue, he needs to quit now while he’s behind.

Though many pundits have been hounding Republicans to do more to appeal to Hispanics, at least as far as 2012 is concerned it’s a lost cause. Romney should not be tempted to waste any more time trying to outbid the president on an issue where he has far more to lose than to gain by changing his position. Any further shifts on immigration — an issue on which he staked out a hard right-wing position during the Republican primaries — will only remind voters of his reputation as a flip-flopper. In doing so, Romney also seems to be forgetting that the reason why he did his best to outflank Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on immigration is that his opposition to amnesty programs happens to be popular.

President Obama may have spent most of his presidency ignoring the wishes of his Hispanic supporters who wished him to use his executive power to stop enforcement of immigration laws. But now that he has belatedly done as they asked, Romney is in no position to keep up with the president on the issue. That demonstrates the power of incumbency, but even if the president hadn’t changed his position, the idea that there was a massive opening for Romney with Hispanic voters was probably always something of a myth.

It should also be remembered the assumption that the Hispanic vote is monolithic is also mythical. The community is really several groups whose members identify more strongly with their country of origin than the amorphous Hispanic tag. Cuban-Americans do not generally treat the plight of undocumented aliens from Mexico or Central America as a top issue. Nor do Puerto Ricans who are already American citizens.

Also forgotten in the rush to win the loyalty of Hispanics is the fact that in many key states, there are still far more votes to be won by taking a stand against illegal immigration than for it. It is possible that there is a large enough constituency that regards illegal immigrants with sympathy in swing states like Colorado and Nevada to reward the president for his stand. But the no deportation order could represent the end of his hopes in Arizona, where anger about the government’s failure to protect the border is far greater. The same could be true of other states where Romney’s previous tough stance was not a weakness.

There is good reason for both the president and his challenger to endorse the substance of the DREAM Act. But even if he thought it was in his interest to do so, Romney has to understand this is a losing fight and move on. The less attention he pays to the issue the better off he will be.

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Romney’s DREAM Act Pivot

The biggest news coming out of Mitt Romney’s speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference today is that he appeared to soften his stance on illegal immigration (as expected after the primary) and even endorsed a key portion of the DREAM Act that provides a path to citizenship. The Hill reports:

He also reversed course on a key part of the DREAM Act, pledging to provide permanent residency for illegal immigrants who came to the United States and children and graduate from college. This is a major shift from Romney’s message in the GOP primaries, when he only pledged to provide that path for illegal immigrants who serve in the military.

Will this be enough to convince Hispanic voters, after the tougher tone Romney took during the primaries? Maybe not, but one possible saving grace for Romney is that his opponent has also been far from perfect on these issues. Immigration reform advocates had placed enormous hope in Obama after his repeated promises in 2008, and he never came through. It’s not lost on them that the president waited until mere months before his next election to issue some quick-bandaid deportation guidelines — and only when he was backed into a wall by the possibility that Sen. Marco Rubio could co-opt the issue.

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The biggest news coming out of Mitt Romney’s speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference today is that he appeared to soften his stance on illegal immigration (as expected after the primary) and even endorsed a key portion of the DREAM Act that provides a path to citizenship. The Hill reports:

He also reversed course on a key part of the DREAM Act, pledging to provide permanent residency for illegal immigrants who came to the United States and children and graduate from college. This is a major shift from Romney’s message in the GOP primaries, when he only pledged to provide that path for illegal immigrants who serve in the military.

Will this be enough to convince Hispanic voters, after the tougher tone Romney took during the primaries? Maybe not, but one possible saving grace for Romney is that his opponent has also been far from perfect on these issues. Immigration reform advocates had placed enormous hope in Obama after his repeated promises in 2008, and he never came through. It’s not lost on them that the president waited until mere months before his next election to issue some quick-bandaid deportation guidelines — and only when he was backed into a wall by the possibility that Sen. Marco Rubio could co-opt the issue.

Romney highlighted Obama’s broken promises, playing into a concern that many Hispanic leaders have held for awhile. Namely, that politicians talk a good game to them during election seasons, but don’t follow through and never expect any electoral consequences:

“Tomorrow, President Obama will speak here, for the first time since his last campaign. He may admit that he hasn’t kept every promise. And he’ll probably say that, even though you aren’t better off today than you were four years ago, things could be worse,” Romney said.

“He’ll imply that you really don’t have an alternative. He’s taking your vote for granted,” Romney continued. “I’ve come here today with a simple message: You do have an alternative. Your vote should be respected. And your voice is more important now than ever before.”

This is probably the strongest case Romney can make to Hispanic voters, as long as he couples it with serious proposals on immigration reform and keeps the emphasis on the economy and unemployment. He’s obviously never going to win the Hispanic vote, and he probably won’t even come close. But if he can convince people that he’s not an anti-immigration zealot, and that there should be consequences for Obama’s broken promises, then maybe he can make a dent in the huge wave of Hispanic support the Obama campaign is counting on.

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Rubio: Obama Derailed DREAM Act

No surprise here, as killing Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposed DREAM Act was exactly the point of Obama’s announcement on Friday. But it certainly is interesting that the same guy who took to the pages of Time today to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform is the same guy who has been frantically working behind the scenes to spike Rubio’s legislation. Mission accomplished:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday that President Barack Obama’s move last week to block deportations for some young illegal immigrants in the U.S. has likely derailed his own similar efforts, at least until after the election.

“People are going to say to me, ‘Why are we going to need to do anything on this now. It has been dealt with. We can wait until after the election,’” Sen. Rubio said in an interview. “And it is going to be hard to argue against that.”

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No surprise here, as killing Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposed DREAM Act was exactly the point of Obama’s announcement on Friday. But it certainly is interesting that the same guy who took to the pages of Time today to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform is the same guy who has been frantically working behind the scenes to spike Rubio’s legislation. Mission accomplished:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday that President Barack Obama’s move last week to block deportations for some young illegal immigrants in the U.S. has likely derailed his own similar efforts, at least until after the election.

“People are going to say to me, ‘Why are we going to need to do anything on this now. It has been dealt with. We can wait until after the election,’” Sen. Rubio said in an interview. “And it is going to be hard to argue against that.”

The conventional wisdom is that Obama pulled some brilliant political footwork, knocking the GOP off message and locking up the Hispanic vote for November. In fact, Obama seems to be the one who was played here, though he may not even realize it. One immigration advocate tells the National Journal that pro-DREAM groups bounced Obama and Rubio off each other, knowing it was going to take some significant political pressure to get the White House to cave on the issue:

“The game changer here was Marco Rubio,’’ said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, one of a number of groups that has been pushing the White House on reform. “He was a legitimate conservative trying to find a solution to the broken immigration system … and the administration realized they had to do something.’’

White House sources dismissed the idea that the president acted under pressure from Rubio, saying that the fate of the yet-to-be-filed legislation was unclear. Still, the White House clearly seized the chance to gain the upper hand on the DREAM Act while Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney dithered on whether to back Rubio’s proposal and the senator scrambled to file the legislation.

“The big takeaway from this is that it doesn’t pay to be a friend of Democrats, and it doesn’t pay to be a friend of Republicans,’’ Noorani added. “We were able to ping-pong back and forth between Rubio and the White House.’’

That last paragraph is why Obama’s move may not move the dial with the Hispanic community as much as the White House hopes. Hispanic voters are an increasingly influential voting bloc, but they have often failed to wield this power effectively on a national stage once the elections are over. As a candidate, President Obama promised them the extensive reform, but immediately put immigration issues on the back burner once he took office. It was only when Rubio’s DREAM Act became a threat that Obama jumped into action — but, again, during an election season.

That’s the problem with groups whose votes are taken for granted by one party. Their concerns are often seen as less urgent by the favored party, and the disfavored party has little incentive to act because it won’t get the votes anyway. Immigration advocates seem to realize their agenda won’t progress quickly on a national level unless they have influence with both Republicans and Democrats, and that means they can’t have one party taking Hispanic votes for granted.

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A Saner Approach Toward Immigrants

I will grant you that President Obama has brazenly political motives for announcing on Friday that immigration agents would no longer deport roughly 800,000 young, illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria (e.g., no criminal record and either military service or school attendance). This is an obvious play for Latino votes and an attempt to preempt Sen. Marco Rubio’s plan along similar lines. I will also agree with critics who question whether the president has the right to enact this sweeping change by fiat when legislation to accomplish this goal–the DREAM Act–has been stalled in Congress. But all that aside,  I believe Obama’s move is right on the merits.

There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. For all the tough talk on the right about deportations, there is no realistic prospect that any but a tiny minority will ever be deported. That leaves a vast number of people living in a shadow economy where they are not allowed to work legally, subject to exploitation, and are, in effect, exempt from the protections of the law. This is not a tenable, long-term status quo. The sooner those who are here can be moved into a more legal status where they can work legally and pay taxes, the better.

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I will grant you that President Obama has brazenly political motives for announcing on Friday that immigration agents would no longer deport roughly 800,000 young, illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria (e.g., no criminal record and either military service or school attendance). This is an obvious play for Latino votes and an attempt to preempt Sen. Marco Rubio’s plan along similar lines. I will also agree with critics who question whether the president has the right to enact this sweeping change by fiat when legislation to accomplish this goal–the DREAM Act–has been stalled in Congress. But all that aside,  I believe Obama’s move is right on the merits.

There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. For all the tough talk on the right about deportations, there is no realistic prospect that any but a tiny minority will ever be deported. That leaves a vast number of people living in a shadow economy where they are not allowed to work legally, subject to exploitation, and are, in effect, exempt from the protections of the law. This is not a tenable, long-term status quo. The sooner those who are here can be moved into a more legal status where they can work legally and pay taxes, the better.

Fears that this is an “amnesty” that will encourage further illegal immigration seem overblown. The latest figures show a rapid decline in illegal immigration from Mexico–by some estimates, more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than entering it, the Mexican economy has picked up while ours has slowed down. Undoubtedly economic necessity will dictate the extent of migration into the U.S. in the future, as it has in the past.

In any case, there is nothing incompatible between tough border enforcement and steps to legalize immigrants already here: They are simply two sides of the same coin, two complementary approaches designed to address the issue of illegal immigration and its consequences.

I have long thought that the DREAM Act was an excellent starting point for a saner approach to immigration law–one that would allow young people who have lived upright lives to become normal Americans, just like countless generations of immigrants before them, rather than being trapped in a legal netherworld where they must always fear a knock on the door from immigration agents.

Assuming that President Obama’s executive order on Friday passes legal challenges, it is a step forward toward a more realistic approach toward immigrants–one that thoughtful Republicans such as Marco Rubio have also championed and that other Republicans should give serious consideration to rather than engaging in histrionic attacks that will only cost the GOP badly needed Latino votes.

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Obama’s Deportation Deja Vu

It’s a wonder why President Obama’s newest deportation guidelines would even be necessary, as the administration has long insisted it doesn’t focus deportation efforts on young, non-criminal illegal immigrants who would otherwise be covered under the DREAM Act. As the always enlightening Ruben Navarrette points out:

Then there is the inconvenient fact that we’re not supposed to even need this kind of policy change because, according to Obama, his administration isn’t deporting DREAM’ers at all; instead, it’s concentrating its enforcement efforts on criminals. That’s exactly what Obama told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos during a March 2011 trip to El Salvador. A couple of weeks later, Obama had to swallow those words when — during an education town hall meeting in Washington, sponsored by Univision — he was confronted by a DREAM’er holding deportation papers. So now we’re supposed to applaud the administration for not deporting people the president had claimed weren’t being deported in the first place.

Here is what Obama claimed during his Univision interview in March 2011:

President [Obama] said,“we have refocused our efforts on those who have engaged in criminal activity.” Furthermore, he said, “We aren’t going around rounding up students,” the president told Ramos last Wednesday, “that is completely false.”

As Navarrette writes, this was debunked just weeks later when a student confronted Obama with her deportation papers at a Q&A session.

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It’s a wonder why President Obama’s newest deportation guidelines would even be necessary, as the administration has long insisted it doesn’t focus deportation efforts on young, non-criminal illegal immigrants who would otherwise be covered under the DREAM Act. As the always enlightening Ruben Navarrette points out:

Then there is the inconvenient fact that we’re not supposed to even need this kind of policy change because, according to Obama, his administration isn’t deporting DREAM’ers at all; instead, it’s concentrating its enforcement efforts on criminals. That’s exactly what Obama told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos during a March 2011 trip to El Salvador. A couple of weeks later, Obama had to swallow those words when — during an education town hall meeting in Washington, sponsored by Univision — he was confronted by a DREAM’er holding deportation papers. So now we’re supposed to applaud the administration for not deporting people the president had claimed weren’t being deported in the first place.

Here is what Obama claimed during his Univision interview in March 2011:

President [Obama] said,“we have refocused our efforts on those who have engaged in criminal activity.” Furthermore, he said, “We aren’t going around rounding up students,” the president told Ramos last Wednesday, “that is completely false.”

As Navarrette writes, this was debunked just weeks later when a student confronted Obama with her deportation papers at a Q&A session.

That’s not all. Remember less than a year ago, when the left was heralding (and conservatives were decrying) President Obama’s decision to supposedly “enforce the Dream Act” by “executive fiat”?

In August of 2011, President Obama was under pressure from Democratic lawmakers to do something about the spike in deportations. So the Department of Homeland Security issued new illegal immigration enforcement guidelines, saying that it would curb deportations of non-criminals, people who had been in the U.S. for an extended time, veterans, young people, and other groups.

“If fully implemented, the new process should stop virtually all DREAM Act deportations,” read a press release from DREAM advocate Sen. Dick Durbin’s office.

At the time, Obama himself likened the rules to the DREAM Act in a speech to Hispanic political leaders. “[T]he Department of Homeland Security is applying common-sense standards for immigration enforcement,” he said. “And we’ve made progress so that our enforcement policies prioritize criminals who endanger our communities, not students trying to achieve the American Dream.”

If these students were already supposed to be protected, per Obama’s “common-sense” policy, why would this latest move even be necessary?

Sure, there are some provisions that seem to expand the August 2011 memo. The previous guidelines only impacted illegal immigrants who were presently involved in deportation proceedings, but, under the new guidelines, it appears that any illegal immigrant who meets the qualifications can apply for a work permit and two-year reprieve from deportation.

However — that also means they’ll have to intentionally make themselves known to the deportation authorities, with no guarantee that they’ll be approved.

And the newer guidelines do not exempt whole groups from deportation. The DHS says it will still consider illegal immigrants on a case-by-case basis, even if they meet all of the requirements.

In many ways, the new guidelines actually appear to be narrower than the guidelines issued in 2011. The new ones focus on specific ages (i.e. prioritizing those who came to the U.S. under the age of 15, and those who are currently under the age of 30). The specifics hew closely to the details in Sen. Marco Rubio’s version of the DREAM Act — which Obama has set back with this announcement — but they actually ignore many of the people who were already supposed to be protected under DHS’s 2011 guidelines.

The substance of Obama’s policy is laudable. Young, noncriminal illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. through not fault of their own should not be a deportation priority — not just because we don’t have the resources to round them up, but because it’s the right thing to do. These illegal immigrants are blameless, and many of them know no other home than America. The question is whether Obama’s new guidelines will have much of an effect. Despite DHS’s decision to focus mainly on criminal deportations last summer, the proportion of criminal to noncriminal illegal immigrants undergoing deportation proceedings has actually declined, according to Syracuse University. At the end of the day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement still has the discretion to decide each case on an individual basis, as there has been no law passed by Congress.

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Politics Dictates Deportations Policy

For three and a half years, Hispanic activists have complained the Obama administration was all talk and no action when it came to satisfying their demands for more lenient immigration guidelines. But with the president’s re-election campaign looking increasingly shaky, the need to solidify the Democratic base has led to a not terribly surprising policy about face. The announcement today of an executive order that the United States will cease any efforts to deport young illegal immigrants is just another instance of how politics rules all in the Obama administration.

The change, which resembles to some extent the Dream Act that would have granted a path to citizenship for youngsters who came to the country illegally, will mean that up to 800,000 undocumented people will be able to get a two-year deferral on steps to make them leave the country and then allow them to apply for work permits. Though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claims the measure is not a form of amnesty and does not grant immunity, that is exactly what it is. While there is a strong argument to be made that such deportations are a waste of government resources and that the country will be better off if such persons have their status normalized, there is no question the motivation here is purely political. But whether the president’s fiat will help more with Hispanics than it hurts with the clear majority of Americans who take a dim view of policies that seek to legalize the presence of undocumented aliens is yet to be determined.

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For three and a half years, Hispanic activists have complained the Obama administration was all talk and no action when it came to satisfying their demands for more lenient immigration guidelines. But with the president’s re-election campaign looking increasingly shaky, the need to solidify the Democratic base has led to a not terribly surprising policy about face. The announcement today of an executive order that the United States will cease any efforts to deport young illegal immigrants is just another instance of how politics rules all in the Obama administration.

The change, which resembles to some extent the Dream Act that would have granted a path to citizenship for youngsters who came to the country illegally, will mean that up to 800,000 undocumented people will be able to get a two-year deferral on steps to make them leave the country and then allow them to apply for work permits. Though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claims the measure is not a form of amnesty and does not grant immunity, that is exactly what it is. While there is a strong argument to be made that such deportations are a waste of government resources and that the country will be better off if such persons have their status normalized, there is no question the motivation here is purely political. But whether the president’s fiat will help more with Hispanics than it hurts with the clear majority of Americans who take a dim view of policies that seek to legalize the presence of undocumented aliens is yet to be determined.

Even Mitt Romney, who swung hard to the right on immigration, has said he was willing to accept some form of the Dream Act, as long as it solely covered those illegals who were willing to serve in the armed services. But public resistance to what might otherwise be considered a humanitarian and prudent course of action has been considerable. Support for stringent enforcement of immigration laws has never waned principally because most Americans see the porous border as a sign the rule of law is breaking down. Amnesty provisions such as this executive order make sense in that deporting all 800,000 illegal youngsters is no more feasible than deporting all of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. But doing so effectively makes a mockery of the concept that laws on the books must be enforced.

However, the timing of the announcement at the start of a long general election campaign strips away any pretense that the decision has been dictated by anything but politics, especially because the president could have issued this executive order at any time in the last three years. As to the impact on the November election, it may help bring out the Hispanic vote for the president in some states, but it is also likely to create a backlash among the majority who believes illegal immigration is a serious problem. That makes it doubtful the move will have much effect on battleground states such as Arizona and New Mexico, where the large number of Hispanics who may be happy about the decision will be offset by other voters who see it as an example of how the administration has disregarded their concerns about the impact of illegal immigration on their communities.

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Rubio’s Risky Immigration Plan

Sen. Marco Rubio is rolling out an immigration reform plan to compete with the DREAM Act, though his proposal won’t offer children of illegal immigrants full citizenship. Instead, there will be a path to permanent status, starting with non-immigrant visas. This adds an interesting dynamic to the veepstakes, since Romney staked out such a tough anti-illegal immigration position during the primary. And anti-illegal immigration activists are already denouncing the proposal:

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Rubio’s plan amounts to a “two-step process of amnesty.”

Much of the plan’s details are still in concept form — such as which children could apply for the non-immigrant visas — and it stops well short of the Democratic DREAM Act’s call for full citizenship rights for undocumented children who seek higher education or military service.

The move could bolster Rubio’s appeal to be Romney’s running mate at a time when the presumptive nominee is struggling mightily with Hispanic voters. Or it could lead to a divisive internal debate within the GOP and wound the rising star’s standing on the right.

Romney has a difficult needle to thread here. First, he’s leading Obama in the polls on immigration policy based on his positions during the primary, and he could end up losing support if he backs Rubio’s plan. But Romney also needs to increase his support among Hispanic voters, a crucial demographic next November.

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Sen. Marco Rubio is rolling out an immigration reform plan to compete with the DREAM Act, though his proposal won’t offer children of illegal immigrants full citizenship. Instead, there will be a path to permanent status, starting with non-immigrant visas. This adds an interesting dynamic to the veepstakes, since Romney staked out such a tough anti-illegal immigration position during the primary. And anti-illegal immigration activists are already denouncing the proposal:

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Rubio’s plan amounts to a “two-step process of amnesty.”

Much of the plan’s details are still in concept form — such as which children could apply for the non-immigrant visas — and it stops well short of the Democratic DREAM Act’s call for full citizenship rights for undocumented children who seek higher education or military service.

The move could bolster Rubio’s appeal to be Romney’s running mate at a time when the presumptive nominee is struggling mightily with Hispanic voters. Or it could lead to a divisive internal debate within the GOP and wound the rising star’s standing on the right.

Romney has a difficult needle to thread here. First, he’s leading Obama in the polls on immigration policy based on his positions during the primary, and he could end up losing support if he backs Rubio’s plan. But Romney also needs to increase his support among Hispanic voters, a crucial demographic next November.

The idea that the Hispanic community votes mainly on the basis of immigration issues is nonsense, but Romney does carry the risk of alienating these voters if he’s seen as too extreme on the issue. Democrats will certainly use the opportunity to play identity politics and try to paint Romney as a xenophobe, and networks like Ultravision will help push the narrative along. So Romney needs to somehow smooth out his hard-line illegal immigration stance, while dodging the inevitable etch-a-sketch allegations that would greet even the slightest shift. A plan like Rubio’s, which focuses on the less controversial issue of illegal immigrant children and doesn’t go as far as the DREAM Act, may be a potential compromise.

Then again, it’s hard to predict how Rubio’s plan will be received. This sort of compromise is intended to satisfy moderates on both sides, but there’s always the risk that it will do just the opposite. The worst case is that Romney supports the plan, and it ends up being attacked vigorously and losing him support on both sides.

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Can the GOP Gain Ground With Hispanics?

Political observers have been warning Republicans for the last several years that the willingness of many of its leaders to indulge in immigrant bashing was a mistake. While Americans have every right to ask that their laws be enforced, the hyping of illegal immigration as a major campaign issue is a decision that may affect the GOP’s ability to appeal to Hispanic voters for years to come. The question is, are there enough Republicans willing to take the flack from the party’s grass roots to work on legislation that is not only fair-minded but might actually give Republicans a fighting chance to win Hispanic support?

The answer from Senator Marco Rubio is yes. Politico reports the rising Republican star is hoping to gather enough GOP votes to enable the Senate to pass some version of the DREAM act which would create a path to citizenship for children of illegals who seek higher education or military service. But though Rubio’s plan makes sense, Senate Democrats are not wrong to point out that this bill has zero chance of being passed by the Republican House this year.

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Political observers have been warning Republicans for the last several years that the willingness of many of its leaders to indulge in immigrant bashing was a mistake. While Americans have every right to ask that their laws be enforced, the hyping of illegal immigration as a major campaign issue is a decision that may affect the GOP’s ability to appeal to Hispanic voters for years to come. The question is, are there enough Republicans willing to take the flack from the party’s grass roots to work on legislation that is not only fair-minded but might actually give Republicans a fighting chance to win Hispanic support?

The answer from Senator Marco Rubio is yes. Politico reports the rising Republican star is hoping to gather enough GOP votes to enable the Senate to pass some version of the DREAM act which would create a path to citizenship for children of illegals who seek higher education or military service. But though Rubio’s plan makes sense, Senate Democrats are not wrong to point out that this bill has zero chance of being passed by the Republican House this year.

That’s hardly surprising given the way most of the Republican presidential candidates pandered to anti-illegal immigrant sentiment during the primaries. Though accused by conservatives of being a Massachusetts moderate, immigration was one issue on which Mitt Romney was able to get to the right of most of the field. The one outlier on immigration was Newt Gingrich. Gingrich was correct to point out that it was both heartless and impractical to think that 12 million illegals were going to be deported. But his scheme that envisioned the creation of local immigration boards — after the pattern of the draft-era Selective Service boards — was a non-starter.

Romney, who was endorsed this week by Rubio, is opposed to the DREAM act in its current form but has said he would be open to a version that was restricted to those children of undocumented immigrants who wished to join the military. Other Republicans have been willing to go along provided that the act stops short of granting such persons full citizenship.

Given the popularity of a harsh response to illegals within Republican ranks, it’s doubtful that Rubio’s initiative has much chance. Denouncing measures, such as Texas’ decision to grant in-state tuition discounts to such children, as Romney did during the presidential debates, is an easy applause line among conservatives. But, as Rubio points out, penalizing the children of illegals, who broke no laws on their own, doesn’t make much sense or help the country. America needs more productive and educated citizens. Stigmatizing the illegals merely keeps them working in a shadow economy and does no one any good.

As for the GOP, it would do well to follow Rubio’s advice. While Romney won’t lose the 2012 election because of his stance on immigration, in the long run, Republicans need to find a way to reach Hispanic voters. Given the social conservatism of much of that demographic, they ought to be fertile ground for the Republicans. But until the party stops using illegals as a punching bag, Hispanics will remain firmly in the Democrats’ pockets.

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