President Obama executed a political masterstroke on Friday morning. He announced that undocumented immigrants brought here as children would be allowed to stay indefinitely if they complete high school or serve in the military. This is essentially the promise of the DREAM Act that Obama has urged Congress to pass and Republicans have blocked. The DREAM Act would offer the security of permanent residency, whereas Obama can only offer renewable work visas without legislation. (The executive branch can decide which undocumented immigrants to deport and which not to, but it cannot unilaterally create a path to citizenship.)
The DREAM Act is wildly popular among Latinos. The GOP has alienated most Latino voters by harboring an intensely anti-immigration movement on its right wing. Mitt Romney has been shameless about pandering to that element: he won anti-immigration crusader Tom Tancredo’s endorsement in 2008. In the recent Republican primaries he attacked staunch conservatives such as Newt Gingrich from the right on immigration, complaining that Gingrich admitted he had no intention of deporting grandmothers who have been here for over twenty-five years.
But now Romney is trying to win over Latinos. He recently announced the formation of a Latino outreach team and began sending out press releases in Spanish.
Obama’s move, however, leaves him with an impossible task: satisfying both Latinos and the Republican base on a new issue that divides the two groups. Romney is already on record as opposing the DREAM Act. To appease the right wing, which is expressing outrage over Obama’s supposedly unconstitutional power grab, he must oppose this move as well.
Here’s a typical missive on the conservative Red State blog, cross-posted from the Madison Project, which raises money for conservative candidates: “King Barack Hussein Kardashian Obama thinks that he gets to invent laws where they don’t exists and disregard the ones that are already on the books.… This is not the time for Republicans to reward Obama for violating the law with their own version of amnesty.”
But for Romney to say he would like to deport law-abiding residents brought here as children risks alienating Latinos and moderates. So Romney is taking the same tack as relatively pro-immigration conservative pundits such as The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis: opposing Obama’s move on the grounds that is politically motivated and an inadequate substitute for the immigration reform Obama promised but has not delivered.
This was Romney’s initial statement: “I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis, so they know what their future would be in this country. I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive order is, of course, just a short-term matter—it can be reversed by subsequent presidents.”
This raises an obvious and important question: Would Romney reverse the order? It is bizarre, dishonest and tautological to say that Obama’s move is inadequate because future presidents could reverse it. The next president will either be Obama, who won’t reverse it, or Romney himself, who does not have to if he does not want to.