With the signing of the executive order supporting elements of the DREAM Act Obama changes US Immigration policy and sends Mitt Romney and the Republicans back to the drawingboard as they struggle to connect with hispanic voters. Republican Senator and VP shortlister Marco Rubio had been working to craft a bill of similar effect but has nixed plans to introduce the bill since Obama’s announcement. That left most Republicans criticizing the president's timing and motives while more hardline conservatives, most notably in Texas, chided it as ‘amnesty’.
What are Texas politicians saying? Find out below the jump.
Mitt Romney did not outright oppose the measure but denounced the president’s unilateral action while failing to elaborate on his own plan or whether he would rescind the executive order should be become president. Romney said of the new policy, “It’s unfortunate that this sort of thing comes up four and half months before the election,”. What is really unfortunate for Romney is that so close to the election he has still not developed a comprehensive plan for Immigration. He does support the idea of fast tracking citizenship for graduates with advanced degrees in math and science but as Governor of Massachusetts he vetoed a bill granting in state tuition for undocumented individuals.
Back in Texas Governor Perry supported a similar initiative for in state tuition known as the Texas DREAM Act. Reaction to his defense of that position during a national debate produced one of the highlights of the presidential campaign. He said, “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart.” The boos in response left no doubt that the Republican base did not agree. Keeping inline with rumors of another Presidential bid in 2016 (should Romney fail) the Governor’s position has seemed to evolved. His office released a statement calling the President’s plan an arbitrary granting of “amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants.” But, in 1986, it was Republican President Ronald Reagan who did just that. Upon signing the Immigration Reform and Control Act Reagan gave amnesty to over 3 million undocumented individuals in the US. In support of the initiative the conservative icon said, "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,".
Texas congressman Michael Burgess and Ted Poe were among the House Republican voices echoing dissent. They referred to the Administration’s latest move as showing, “no respect for the people's House,” and “Imperialist” respectively. Despite their rhetoric there is precedent for such action by a US president. It was Republican George H. W. Bush who signed executive order 12711 that gave similar privileges to Chinese students in the US after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Burgess continued with anti-immigrant sentiment saying the new policy would “continue to block opportunities for American citizens trying to find employment,”. This has not only been proven false but conservative states tthat recently implemented tough immigration policies have experienced labor shortages and weakened economies. Not only have unemployed Americans not jumped at the jobs vacated by deported workers but the State of Georgia was forced to send prisoners to pick crops where farms were up to 40% undermanned.
Everything that happens from now until November will have the general election in its calculus, so criticism that the Administration's move is politically motivated simply means the President caught Republicans off guard. The move does help draw a distinct contrast with Mitt Romney’s promotion of “self-deportation”, but its worth noting that election year politicking aside undocumented immigrants will not be casting ballots. As the economy slowly recovers Obama is making a big bet that social issues will expose Republicans as so out of touch that voters give him a second term. The risky move goes against the conventional wisdom that November will be an economic referendum but the latest poll numbers give credence to the strategy. A Gallup poll released over the weekend showed that 2/3s of Americans thought that “immigration is a good thing” and another suggested that Latinos in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and Arizona are very enthusiastic about Obama’s new immigration policy. With congressional approval near single digits opposition to popular changes even by executive decree could make Republicans seem more interested in hurting the president than helping the country. Forgotten it seems, are the compassionate conservative roots of the modern Republican party demonstrating just how far (to the right) the party has shifted.