Conflicting statements from Republican senators neatly show the political bind for Republicans following the president’s move to relax deportation policy for young illegal immigrants.
This issue of what to do about the children of undocumented immigrants divides the party between hard-line conservatives who want all those who came here illegally treated as illegal – maybe even deported – and those who take a more compassionate view that may be related to the fact that we’re talking about an issue that impacts the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group.
Rep. Steve King of Iowa said shortly after the president’s announcement that the move to relax deportation rules, “signifies to potential illegal aliens that border agents will turn a blind eye.”
But supporters of something like the DREAM Act like Sen. Macro Rubio say this is “welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer,” while simultaneously a move that is “ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress.”
Among those who are apparently searching for the right balance in responding is Mitt Romney, whom we’ve yet to hear from on this subject today.
The one thing Republicans can agree on today is that President Obama, in their view, was acting outside the law in doing this by fiat, rather than through congressional action.
On Capitol Hill, writers of the Senate’s dueling versions of the DREAM act reacted to the president’s anticipated announcement today.
Sen. Durbin, D-Ill., who has been pushing for the DREAM act for years, calls the administration’s decision to extend temporary legal status to DREAM Act students a “historic humanitarian moment.”
“This action will give these young immigrants their chance to come out of the shadows and be part of the only country they’ve ever called home, ” Durbin said, “These young people did not make the decision to come to this country, and it is not the American way to punish children for their parents’ actions.”
Notably the president’s action today does not go as far as the DREAM Act does, a fact not lost on Durbin who will continue to push for passage of the DREAM act in Congress.
“I’m hopeful that today’s announcement will encourage Congress to meet our responsibility to pass the DREAM Act, and show, through the force of law, that our country continues to be a nation of immigrants,” Durbin says.
The DREAM Act has been introduced this congress and has had a hearing. The bill has not been marked up by the Judiciary Committee yet. A similar version of the bill got 55 votes in December of 2010 (after the bill passed the House) but was blocked by a Republicans in the Senate.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has his own plan, a Republican alternative to the DREAM Act. The bill he is drafting would be different than the DREAM Act because it would not provide a special path to American citizenship. But like the Democratic bill, Rubio’s proposal would allow those who qualify to stay in the United States to work or attend college by giving them a non-immigrant visa.
Today, Rubio said that the president’s executive order is a “short term answer to a long term problem.”
“There is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own, but there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future,” he said. “This is a difficult balance to strike, one that this new policy, imposed by executive order, will make harder to achieve in the long run.”
Also to note: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC., suggested today in a series of tweets that the Obama administration’s announcement is “possibly illegal.”
“President Obama’s attempt to go around Congress and the American people is at best unwise and possibly illegal,” Graham tweeted today, adding in another tweet, “This type of policy proposal, regardless of motivation, will entice people to break our laws.”
**This post originally misidentified Rep. Steve King of Iowa as Rep. Pete King of New York.