What do the Republican Party of Texas and the president have in common? Not much of anything, except their support of an immigrant guest worker program. Just over a week before President Obama issued his executive order establishing a work authorization program for undocumented youth, the Texas GOP approved a platform calling on the federal government to implement a guest worker program. While the president did what the Lone Star Republicans asked, I doubt they’ll be sending a “thank you” card anytime soon (they also advocate for the repeal of birthright citizenship for people whose parents are not American citizens).
Republicans now find themselves in a tricky position. Up until last week they could say that they opposed the president on immigration because his reforms came with pathways to citizenship. Amnesty, or a pathway to citizenship, has been the greatest point of contention between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans believe that to give citizenship to those who came to this country illegally as children would reward those who broke the law, even if it was through no fault of their own. And what the president did last week was concede this non-negotiable.
The president’s new immigration policy is actually a weaker version of what was to be the version of the DREAM Act sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio. Under Rubio’s DREAM Act, undocumented Latino youth would not be granted citizenship but they would be granted temporary legal status. Under the president’s policy these same youth can stay here legally, but they have to reapply for worker permits every two years. In effect, the president’s policy is even more conservative than Rubio’s plan.
So how can Republicans oppose the president’s new immigration reform if in theory they agree with it? The answer is, not very well, as was evident this weekend in Mitt Romney’s attempt to explain his response to the new immigration policy. Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer repeatedly asked Mitt Romney whether he would repeal the immigration policy, and the Republican candidate sidestepped it every time. And the more general GOP response has been equally murky, focusing on purported executive overreach or lack of bipartisan initiative. Put simply, the Republicans are at a loss of how to play this one out.
Now the Republicans find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Romney needs some Latino support in swing states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico and cannot come out in opposition to the president’s plan. At the same time, non-Latino Republicans would be turned off if Romney embraced the president’s plan even though the concept of a work authorization program is in line with the GOP. Romney will be able to dodge the issue for a while, but eventually he’ll have to take a stand on immigration.
The president found a solution, albeit a temporary one, for hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth. The Republicans accuse the president of playing politics. But the reality is that the President threw the Republicans a softball pitch. President Obama met the GOP’s demands of not providing amnesty and thus paved the way to depoliticize the issue of immigration. The Republicans could have indicated that this was a sensible short-term solution and then moved on. It is the Republicans who have turned this into a political issue and who are placing themselves between a rock and a hard place.