Immigration Decision Puts Senate Candidates on the Spot

Some Senate candidates are walking fine lines on immigration policy after Friday's announcement by the Department of Homeland Security, which has highlighted near-rifts between those candidates and their parties.

In Massachusetts, Republican Sen. Scott Brown criticized Obama and the DREAM Act while expressing openness to the legislation's most basic policy tenet. Brown is engaged in a competitive reelection battle against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.

"I opposed this policy in legislative form, and I oppose it today as an executive order," Brown said, in a statement e-mailed in response to media requests. "While I'd be open to allowing young people who have chosen military service to obtain citizenship in recognition of the extraordinary sacrifice involved, I'm afraid that the administration's policy is too broad and would set off a new wave of illegal immigration, making the problem worse, not better. … Rather than sidestepping Congress on this major policy shift, the president should work with us toward a bipartisan, long-term solution."

Warren, meanwhile, offered unabashed support for the DHS move, which will halt deportations of young illegal immigrants.

In Nevada, Republican Sen. Dean Heller criticized Obama while offering the same critique Florida Sen. Marco Rubio lodged-that the DHS decision is not a long-term solution. "However, the president has had three years to work with Congress to reform the immigration system and help undocumented children. Unilateral action by the administration will not provide a long-term solution to this very serious issue," Heller said. "Democrats and Republicans need to come together to solve this problem."

In Nevada, 15 percent of 2008 voters were Hispanic, according to exit polls. They backed Barack Obama over John McCani 76 percent to 22 percent.

Like Warren, Heller's opponent Shelly Berkley backed the new policy and called for passage of the DREAM Act, which would grant young illegals a pathway to citizenship if they join the military or complete some college education.

New Mexico Republican Heather Wilson, similarly sympathetic toward young illegal immigrants, offered hopeful remarks for Sen. Rubio's DREAM-Act-like proposal, which does not include citizenship provisions. "While I do not support amnesty, and never have, these are real lives at stake - children who were brought to this country through no decision of their own - and we owe it to them to find a long-term solution. Unfortunately, the decision today is temporary and leaves many questions unanswered," Wilson said. "Senator Rubio is working on a bi-partisan, long-term solution, and I hope today's action doesn't stall efforts like his to solve this very important issue."

Wilson's Democratic opponent, Rep. Martin Heinrich, backed the decision and issued a statement praising students who would be eligible for citizenship under the DREAM Act. "DREAM Act students represent much of what's best about our nation: hard work, motivation, and a willingness to serve this country. It's time to make the DREAM Act a reality," Heinrich said.

New Mexico has the highest percent of Hispanic voters in the nation, with 41 percent. They backed Obama over McCain 69 percent to 30 percent.

Others said very little-or nothing.

Asked what Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., thought about DHS's decision, a spokeswoman emailed the following statement of general policy: "Sen. Nelson supports tough, fair, practical immigration laws that require people who want to become citizens to obey our laws, learn English, and get in line for citizenship. He also supports the Dream Act, which says no law should punish children because their parents brought them here. If a child of an immigrant has worked hard and graduated from high school, they should able to go into the military or attend college."

The Senate and campaign offices of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., meanwhile, did not respond to inquiries.

Immigration's political ambiguities did not extend to Virginia's Senate race, where differences were refreshingly partisan. Democrat Tim Kaine, the former governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, offered a full-throated backing of the DHS announcement, while former GOP senator George Allen offered up a scathing critique: "For blatant political purposes President Obama is ignoring the proper Constitutional responsibilities of elected representatives and making it more difficult to enact reasonable long-term immigration reforms. This short-term ploy is disappointing in that it disregards the proper role of case-by-case judgment in these individual matters," Allen said.