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Immigration and Politics

June 17, 2012

Since Friday’s announcement by the President, immigration has taken front stage on the national political scene.

The press release from DHS outlined the criteria for deferred action against young people who were brought to this country as children and who do not have legal status in the U.S.

On the Sunday talk shows, many conservative commentators addressed the political implications of the Administration’s announcement for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. Politico summarized Bill Kristol’s remarks in light of Senator Marco Rubio’s (Republican, FL) announcement several weeks ago that he was working on a new immigration bill.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol said Obama’s moved successfully undercut both Rubio and Romney.

“This was the anti-Marco Rubio initiative by the administration,” Kristol said. “They were scared. Sen. Rubio was about to introduce his version of the Dream Act, which would have been closer to what President Obama announced than the actual Democratic Dream Act. I wish Rubio had introduced it over the last month or two. He got stalled, not every Republican was on board, the Romney campaign’s been cautious about it.”

And Kristol said Romney, who during the GOP primary staked out a more conservative position on immigration than his opponents, in particular Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is now in a tight spot.

“This is a big problem for Romney,” Kristol said. “He needs to take the lead on this, and in my view embrace Marco Rubio’s Dream Act if that’s what he wants and say, ‘Let’s pass this in Congress over the next few months, this is what I’m for.”

Earlier in the week, former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour addressed the issue of immigration at a roundtable breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

But Barbour made it clear that he disagreed with the statement on immigration that Romney delivered at a Republican primary debate in January.  Romney told the Tampa audience, “The answer is self-deportation, which is [where] people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here, because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.” Romney added, “We’re not going to round them up.”

Barbour said he favors “secure borders for lots of reasons [but] then we need to recognize we are not going to deport 12 million people and … we shouldn’t.”

On Wednesday of last week, evangelical groups joined the call for immigration reform.

Tom Minnery, the senior vice president of policy for one evangelical group, Focus on the Family, said many of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants should be free to “come out of the shadows” and “begin the process of restitution” leading to attaining legal residency.

Mr. Minnery spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference called to announce that more than 150 Christian evangelical leaders, including from the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals, were endorsing an overhaul of immigration policy.

The evangelical leaders expressed opposition to such notions as “self-deportation,” which Mr. Romney favored in a Republican debate and which urges strict enforcement of laws to encourage illegal immigrant workers to leave the country.

And, the Wall Street Journal quoted a number of conservatives on the issue of immigration.

The last push for the Dream Act came in late 2010, when it won 55 votes in the Senate, short of the 60 needed overcome a filibuster threat.

The vast majority of opponents were Republicans.

Since then, a growing number of Republicans have voiced concern that the party is pushing away the Latino electorate with rhetoric opposing illegal immigration and the Dream Act.

On Friday morning, ahead of the Obama announcement, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said people in the U.S. illegally should qualify for work permits. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has also suggested a softer approach.

Both House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) were silent Friday, offering no response to the Obama move.

Sen. Rubio has proposed a modified version of the Dream Act that would offer young illegal immigrants a status similar to that put forth by Mr. Obama: a safe haven but not U.S. citizenship.

On Friday, Mr. Rubio issued a statement saying the country has to address the plight of these young people without encouraging future illegal immigration. “Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short-term answer to a long-term problem,” he said.

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