Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney declined Friday to address a question of whether he would reverse President Barack Obama's decision to end deportations of some young undocumented immigrants.
"I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country," Romney told reporters. "I think the action of the president today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive order is of course, a short-term matter and can be reversed by subsequent presidents."
His remarks were less vitriolic than many of those made by Republicans, who have decried the policy change as "amnesty" and a magnet for unauthorized immigration. Romney took the same moderate tack as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), expressing sympathy for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, but still disagreeing with the Obama administration's action.
"I'd like to see legislation that deals with this issue, and I happen to agree with Marco Rubio," Romney said. "If I'm president, we'll do our very best to have that kind of solution."
The policy change is not an executive order, but rather a memo from the Department of Homeland Security to its agencies. Still, Romney is correct that it could be overturned by a future president, meaning his failure to address whether he would change the policy leaves a large, open question.
Romney has said he would consider supporting yet-to-be-introduced legislation from Rubio that deals with undocumented immigrants in a somewhat similar way to the president's announced policy. The Rubio "Dream Act" -- essentially a weakened version of the decade-old Dream Act supported largely by Democrats -- would allow some undocumented young people to stay in the United States, but with no path to citizenship. The policy change from DHS would similarly grant reprieve from deportation, but not put those eligible in a special line for citizenship.
The full Dream Act, which held bipartisan support when first introduced, would allow some undocumented young people to become legal permanent residents and then citizens, if they met certain requirements. Romney said in December he would veto such legislation if it came to his desk as president.
Romney has since backed down from hardline statements on immigration, such as urging the undocumented to "self-deport," and recently avoided talking about the Dream Act in a speech on education to a largely-Latino audience.
Latino voters -- a highly important group for the 2012 election -- support the Dream Act by large margins, and most prefer the Democratic plan to the broad outline proposed by Rubio.
Rubio said in a statement earlier in the day that the administration is "once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress."
"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," Rubio said in a statement. "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."
UPDATE: The Obama campaign responded to Romney's remarks on Friday, pointing out that the former Massachusetts governor previously said he would veto the Dream Act and has opposed providing legal status to undocumented immigrants.
"His 'solution' to our immigration challenges was self-deportation," campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement. "Today he continues to refuse to express support for legislation that lets children who were brought to the U.S. and want to contribute by pursuing higher education or serve in the military stay in America."
Below, the political world reacts to Obama's decision:
President Barack Obama
"They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper," Obama said of those young people in a press conference announcing the policy change.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
"We salute President Obama and Secretary Napolitano for their extraordinary action today to honor the American values of equality and opportunity," Pelosi said in a statement. "Today's announcement offers a measure of relief for young people raised and educated here, but left in legal limbo through no fault of their own. This action will strengthen our economy and reflects the best values of our nation. "In the American tradition, these undocumented young people who have pursued education and military service are eager to participate in our nation's future; they seek to help build something better for the next generation. Like previous generations of immigrants who have come to our shores, these young people simply strive to take part in the American dream. "It was with great pride that the Democratic-led House passed the DREAM Act with a bipartisan vote in 2010, and it was great disappointment that we watched Republicans in the Senate obstruct the legislation from becoming law. Democrats will continue to push to pass the DREAM Act and to enact bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, upholds the rule of law, protects our workers, unites families, and provides a pathway to legalization."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
"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," Rubio said in a statement. "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. "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. And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long term one." h/t <a href="http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/rubio-wh-announcement-welcome-news-many-kids-short-term-answer-long-term-problem" target="_hplink">Tampa Bay Times</a>
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
"Americans should be outraged that President Obama is planning to usurp the Constitutional authority of the United States Congress and grant amnesty by edict to 1 million illegal aliens," King said in a statement. "There is no ambiguity in Congress about whether the DREAM Act's amnesty program should be the law of the land. It has been rejected by Congress, and yet President Obama has decided that he will move forward with it anyway. President Obama, an ex constitutional law professor, whose favorite word is audacity, is prepared to violate the principles of Constitutional Law that he taught. "The American people have rejected amnesty because it will erode the Rule of Law. In much the same way, I believe the American people will reject President Obama for his repeated efforts to violate the Constitutional separation of powers."
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)
"This is yet another example of executive branch overreach. We have a legislative process that ensures representative governance by the consent of the American people. This action should be crafted into legislation, debated in committee and brought before the House and Senate for vote, with accordance of our Constitutional Republic way. Secretary Napolitano is an unelected administrative bureaucrat who does not have the right to make governing decisions for this country. It is apparent that the goal of the Obama administration is not to govern, but rule by edict. This again is a reflection of the desperation of President Obama and his liberal progressive disciples as November draws nearer. I find it ironic that Secretary Napolitano would not assist our State of Florida with ensuring the integrity of the voting process but she can make a unilateral decision about who can reside in America. "Furthermore, where are the details about how the American economy is going to handle this influx of people, who will without a doubt now be guaranteed services and be competing with Americans for jobs? These are the kind of details that are to be hammered out during the legislative process, and appear to be completely overlooked by this administration as usual."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
"I congratulate President Obama and Secretary Napolitano for this thoughtful decision that benefits not just the DREAMers and the young people seeking a future in the only country they've ever known, but our entire nation as well," Reid said in a statement. "These young people were brought here through no fault of their own, and many do not even remember the countries where they were born. When they pledge allegiance, it is to the United States. They belong to this country culturally and linguistically and are American in all but paperwork. These talented individuals want to defend our nation in our military, and contribute to our country through their hard work. "President Obama's courageous decision removes the specter of deportation that hovered over these deserving individuals and frees up law enforcement resources to focus on people who are a threat to our public safety and national security. I hope Republicans, especially those who have voiced a willingness to help these young people, will support the Administration's directive. "The President can only do so much administratively and this measure is temporary and limited by current law. The onus is now on Congress to permanently fix our broken immigration system, and I call on my Republican colleagues to help us pass the DREAM Act along with comprehensive immigration reform that is tough, fair and practical. We need to secure our borders; hold unscrupulous employers accountable; reform our nation's legal immigration system; and require the 11 million who are undocumented to register with the government, pay taxes, pay fines, learn English and then go back to the end of the line."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)
"Today's decision to defer deportation action against young people who were brought here by undocumented parents but have been raised here in our country is an important step in the right direction," Hoyer said in a statement. "This will help ensure that hard-working, eager, and talented individuals who came here not of their own choice, and who are contributing to our economy and our defense, can remain here and continue to be part of building a strong future for America. "As Majority Leader, I worked very hard to help the House pass the DREAM Act in 2010, and I continue to believe that we need comprehensive immigration reform based on the values that have sustained us as a nation of immigrants. I applaud President Obama's Administration for this historic announcement and for taking appropriate action in the face of a do-nothing Republican Congress that continues to avoid making progress on our most serious challenges. I call on Republicans in Congress to start working with Democrats on this issue so we can achieve the comprehensive immigration reform this country needs."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
"Immigration reform is an important and complex issue that deserves a debate among the American people and in Congress," McCain said in a statement. "Today's announcement by President Obama is a politically-motivated power grab that does nothing to further the debate but instead adds additional confusion and uncertainty to our broken immigration system. Further, I find it interesting that after promising to enact comprehensive reform in the first year of his Presidency, the President chose to make this announcement in the middle of his heated re-election campaign. Rather than unilaterally deciding for the American people what they want and how they believe this problem should be addressed, I encourage the President and his Administration to finally reach out to Congress and propose legislation on this important issue."
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (R-Ariz.)
"This is a sensible solution that allows us, as a national community, to help hundreds of thousands of young adolescents trapped in legal limbo," Grijalva said in a statement. "This is a wonderful day for them, their families, and the many millions of us who believe in fairness and opportunity. I applaud President Obama's decision to extend the American dream to a new generation of deserving individuals. "Those with deep roots in the United States who have contributed immensely to our country's well-being will -- at long last -- be taken out of the deportation pool so we can concentrate our resources on real threats and serious criminals. This makes our nation safer and upholds our nation's commitment to fairness and justice. "While this change is not a permanent solution, it is a major step in the right direction. The rhetoric of division and marginalizing of people by Mitt Romney and the Republican party needs to end. We are past the point of obstruction. We need to solve the problem. This action by President Obama will move us forward together as a country and as a single American people."
Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security
"I continue to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act and re-examine our immigration system as a whole."
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)
"Just as they have since the dawn of our country, immigrants have the potential to enrich our culture, our economy, and our security. President Obama's decision gives new hope to a generation of young people who have so much to offer our country, and want nothing more than to be given the chance to contribute. "This new strategy aspires to the ideals of the DREAM Act by embracing those for whom the United States is the only home they know and who want to continue to contribute to our nation. This is another significant step on an important road, and I hope Congress takes the final one by passing the DREAM Act and creating a path to citizenship for these young people. "This is a bold move for President Obama and Secretary Napolitano, who are rightly saying that the Department of Homeland Security's resources are better invested by protecting our borders and deporting those undocumented immigrants who may actually pose a threat to this country. I share their conviction and strongly support this decision."
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
"For all the young people who call this country their home but have been unable to fulfill their dreams, I am profoundly grateful to the President and the Administration for suspending the deportation of Dreamers," Menendez said in a statement. "For these young men and women who want to become doctors, teachers, police officers and soldiers, this announcement will change their lives forever."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas)
In a <a href="http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entries/smith-obama-immigration-policy-blatantly-ignores-rule-of" target="_hplink">statement</a>, Smith said: <blockquote>"President Obama's decision to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the American people. It also blatantly ignores the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy. This huge policy shift has horrible consequences for unemployed Americans looking for jobs and violates President Obama's oath to uphold the laws of this land. "President Obama's amnesty only benefits illegal immigrants, not Americans, and is a magnet for fraud. Many illegal immigrants will falsely claim they came here as children and the federal government has no way to check whether their claims are true. And once these illegal immigrants are granted deferred action, they can then apply for a work permit, which the Administration routinely grants 90% of the time. "How can the Administration justify allowing illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. when millions of Americans are unemployed? President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people. With this track record, it's looking more likely that even President Obama may lose his job in this economy when Americans go to the polls this November."</blockquote> h/t TPM
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
"The Obama Administration's decision to extend temporary legal status to DREAM Act students is an 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. 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. I commend President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano for their courage and leadership. I also want to thank Senator Dick Lugar for having the courage to confront Tea Party orthodoxy and join me on a bipartisan basis to request this change in policy" "I first made this request of the Administration two years ago and renewed it with the support of 21 Senators last year. Because the House has refused to consider the DREAM Act and a filibuster blocked it in the Senate, this Presidential action was absolutely necessary to serve the cause of justice." "For over a decade, I've been working to pass the DREAM Act - a bill that would give these immigrant students the chance to earn citizenship. 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."
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
"I applaud President Obama for helping these talented young people continue to contribute to the country they call home. It was the right thing to do, and now Congress must take the next step by passing comprehensive reforms that will fix our nation's broken immigration system."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.)
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)
"The President's new policy takes an important and brave step to help promising youth achieve their full potential in the United States," Lautenberg said in a statement. "Many of the hard-working, law-abiding young adults affected by today's announcement have only known the United States as their home. These young people can help to strengthen our country and its workforce, and I am pleased they will have that opportunity now without fearing deportation. The next step is for the Senate to pass the DREAM Act, and I will continue working toward that goal."
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
"In one fell swoop the President has accomplished what far too few Republicans were brave enough to even discuss. The President has done all he can and it is now up to our colleagues across the aisle to join us in finishing the job and passing the full and undiluted DREAM Act," Schumer said in a statement.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka
"We are thrilled by the Obama Administration's announcement to provide relief from deportation to immigrant youth brought to this country by their parents at a young age," Trumka said in a statement. "The President's actions bring much-needed security and encouragement to our nation's youth who can finally live without fear of separation from their families and deportation to a country they barely remember. This talented group of young Americans was educated here and should be permitted to pursue their dreams where they call home. Beginning today, America's best and brightest can finally contribute to our nation's economy and help our communities prosper. The AFL-CIO commends the Administration for its courage and leadership in taking an important step towards a more just America. "President Obama's announcement is a critical step that begins to address our nation's dire need for comprehensive immigration reform. We call on both parties to work with the President towards a legislative solution that will address the parents and families of these immigrant youth, and the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows."
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
"The Obama administration's announcement today is an obvious political move five months before Americans decide if the president deserves a second term," Coats said in a statement. "This new immigration policy effectively grants amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants. The administration is overstepping its authority and bypassing Congress to implement the goals of the proposed DREAM Act. Unfortunately, this move - ignoring the Constitution and legislating through federal bureaucrats - has become standard operation under this president. "As the son of a legal immigrant, I know that America is a land of opportunity that many people around the world want to experience so they can provide a better life for their families. The administration's unilateral decision today to give amnesty to certain illegal immigrants is not the answer. Fixing our broken immigration system is something Congress should address once we're beyond the politically-charged election season."
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.)
"For a year and a half after the DREAM Act was filibustered, I have been standing with others and saying to the President 'yes you can' prevent the deportation of DREAMers and now he and the Secretary clearly agree and are taking proper action," Gutierrez said in a statement. "This could protect 800,000 or more young immigrants with roots here right now, and will be seen in the immigrant and Latino community as a very significant down payment on broader reform. It is the right thing to do and I am overjoyed and proud that the President has acted. "DREAMers who came here at a young age have grown up believing that our country would eventually embrace them as much as they have embraced this country and now that is coming true, at least on a provisional basis. No group of young immigrants has fought harder or more bravely for their place in our country than the DREAMers and we have all taken a lesson from their tenacity and leadership. "The details of this program are still being finalized, so immigrants across the country should be patient and very skeptical of anyone who claims to have all the answers immediately. I was told the government needs at least 60 days to put things in place and I will work with the President and Secretary Napolitano to get clear and accurate information out about who does and does not qualify for the relief in the Secretary's memo as soon as possible. "This will be a process to evaluate each individual case to see if they qualify for the two-year relief, but it is a tremendous first step towards addressing the problems caused by our outdated and inflexible immigration system. "But this is a time to celebrate. The DREAMers are not the sum total of the immigration issue and even with today's announcement, the DREAM Act legislation is still needed to give people permanent relief beyond the two-year reprieve. And many other immigrants with no criminal history and deep roots here deserve the same consideration and we will keep fighting for them. "This sets the ball in motion to break the gridlock and fix our laws so that people who live here can do so legally and on-the-books and people can come with visas instead of smugglers in the first place. Today the students are being protected, but we have to fix the system for their families and for the country once and for all."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas)
"I commend President Obama for taking action to avoid further injustices against young people who have so much to contribute to our country. The president's actions were necessary due to the grid lock which has sadly become a normal condition for Congress," Gonzalez said in a statement. "A legislative remedy is still needed. President Obama's decision should serve as a call to action for the Congress to meet its responsibilities."
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.)
"Today's announcement represents a long overdue step forward for our nation and for the thousands of undocumented children who have called America home for most of their lives," Roybal-Allard said in a statement. "Ending the deportation of DREAM Act-eligible youth makes both moral and fiscal sense, freeing up our immigration authorities to focus on dangerous offenders. This new policy reflects what I've always believed: Kids who grow up in our communities, work hard in the classroom, know no other country and love America like we all do, deserve the chance to stay here. "With this decision, President Obama has once again demonstrated his unswerving commitment to giving every child a fair shot at the American dream. Of course, the struggle for immigrant rights is far from over. Now the challenge for all of us in Congress is to duplicate the President's courage and compassion. We owe it to these patriotic kids to finally pass the DREAM Act and give them a chance to become citizens of the only country they have ever known."
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous
"President Obama is taking an affirmative step toward addressing our nation's immigration concerns while protecting our supply of intellectual capital," Jealous said in a statement. "This decision ensures that America retains a future generation of well-educated workers and thinkers who can offer diverse perspectives on the challenges of the twenty-first century.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
"I couldn't be prouder of the president in making this decision."
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.)
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.)
"I am thrilled that President Obama has taken this responsible approach to enforcing our nation's immigration laws," Baca said in a statement. "It is important that our immigration laws take into consideration the individual circumstances of each person. These productive young people want to contribute to our society. They are hard working individuals who have lived in the United States for many years and want to achieve the American Dream just like everyone else. "We must continue to focus our enforcement priorities on high-risk criminal immigrants, not law-abiding individuals. I urge my colleagues to pass comprehensive immigration as the solution to fixing our broken immigration system. In addition, I have introduced H.R. 2681, the People Resolved to Obtain an Understanding of Democracy (PROUD) Act, which provides a streamlined path to citizenship for exemplary young students who were brought to the U.S. at an early age."
Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)
"Once again, President Obama has ignored Congress, the will of the American people and our legal system in an effort to win political points. Serious immigration reform is long overdue, but this is not reform. Instead it is a huge step backwards. I intend to fight this misguided, partisan move by the President," Boozman said in a statement.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
Rep. Danny Rehberg (R-Mont.)
Senate Candidate Richard Carmona, (D-Ariz.)
"The administration's decision today to stop deporting DREAM Act-eligible students is long overdue. This isn't amnesty. These kids are in our country through no fault of their own, many of which are accomplished students and have volunteered to serve our country in the military or within local communities," Carmona said in a statement. "I hope today's announcement serves as a building block toward the day when we finally put the politics aside, solve the problem and reform a broken immigration system."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)
"I strongly commend President Obama and Secretary Napolitano for their decision to exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis for certain young people who were brought to this country as children and know only America as their home," Lofgren said in a statement. "This announcement builds on prior Administration efforts to prioritize the removal of dangerous criminals over DREAM Act students and others who pose no threat to our country. "The President understands these are innocent young people who are American in every sense of the word, but who live in constant fear of deportation. The President's actions will provide temporary deferred action and give these young people the opportunity to live freely and contribute to the country they love. "The action taken today is a sensible progression of the Administration's prosecutorial discretion initiative, which has sought to inject rationality into an otherwise dysfunctional immigration system. This announcement will further help law enforcement focus its limited resources on immigration priorities, such as those with criminal backgrounds who pose real threats to our communities. Prosecutorial discretion has been used by law enforcement and immigration agents to set enforcement priorities since the country's founding. "By using its legal authority to provide temporary deferred action and enable young people to actively contribute to our society and economy, the Administration is addressing an issue that has broad bipartisan support and is giving Congress the breathing room it needs to fix our country's immigration laws. While the Administration's action is an important step forward, it does not replace the need for Congressional action. Today's announcement, for example, does not provide these young people with a path to citizenship, which would allow them to fully participate in the American Dream. The DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform are still national imperatives. "I will work with the administration to ensure that today's announcement is implemented quickly and thoroughly across the country. I will also continue to work with my colleagues across the aisle to finally pass the DREAM Act, which has enjoyed bipartisan support since its introduction in 2001. Today is a giant step forward, but we still have a long way to go."
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.)
"The President's action today is a direct slap at the American worker," Gallegly said in a statement. "By giving 800,000 illegal immigrants work permits with no time limit or expiration date, he is telling American workers - millions of whom are unemployed through no fault of their own - that he does not care about their plight. Instead of working with Congress to help the private sector create jobs, the President continues to promote policies that rob Americans of their livelihoods. "Under the Constitution it is Congress' job to create immigration policy and it is the President's job to enforce it. The House and Senate have repeatedly rejected the DREAM Act. Mr. President, enforce the law and stop making it harder for American workers to take care of their families."
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.)
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.)
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.)
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Mich.)
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.)
"As a proud co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, I am thrilled by this announcement," Rangel said in a statement. "I applaud the President for taking initiative on a critical issue that Congress has not been able to resolve," said Rangel who was one of the earliest co-sponsors of the DREAM Act since it was first introduced in 2001. "Ultimately, what we must recognize," Rangel continued, "is that our immigrant communities are just as American as the rest of us. They came here to pursue the American Dream; they believed that education and hard work could lead to a better life. The shift in policy by the Department of Homeland Security is a shift toward justice. It recognizes that people brought here as children by their parents deserve a fair shot at success in this country, not deportation."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)
"This nation benefits from the creativity and hard work of those who come to our shores seeking a brighter tomorrow," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "I have been a staunch supporter of the Dream Act since its introduction in 2006. I have met with countless dreamers like Gaby Pacheco and Daniela Pelaez who simply want to give back to this great country. Many bright, talented and patriotic young men and women will now have the opportunity to stay in this country - a country that they love - and to continue their education or service in our proud military."
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas)