More than a week has gone by since President Obama announced that he was granting deferred action to DREAM Act-eligible youth. Yet the Republicans remain as perplexed as ever.
Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who declared he would veto the DREAM Act during the primaries, has dodged, ducked and evaded every question that has been thrown his way about the President's directive. Late last week, as he spoke at the National Association for Elected and Appointed Officials conference, Romney's campaign released a plan that called for more visas for high skilled workers. But the candidate himself did not answer the question of whether he would overturn President Obama's order if elected in the fall.
That's because Romney can't support the president's plan without raising the ire of the conservative base that does not yet -- and may never -- trust him. Nor can he oppose relief for undocumented youth if he has any hope of cutting into the president's daunting support among Latino voters.
Not even Romney's Etch-a-Sketch can help him on this one.
And Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who's on Romney's vice presidential shortlist, has suddenly stopped talking about his own DREAM Act proposal -- one which is similar to Obama's deferred action program. Rubio also seems to have lost interest in the bipartisan effort to create visas for foreign entrepreneurs and graduates with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees. Has he lost his footing on immigration or just his interest in finding solutions?
Other prominent Republicans have criticized Obama's plan not because it offers relief to undocumented youth, but because it's only a temporary fix to a problem in need of a permanent one. Where were they in 2010 when their party prevented the DREAM Act from passing the Senate and becoming a reality?
The good news is at least now some in the Republican Party are talking solutions, not deportation.
But the most deafening silence is from the restrictionists -- those who do their bidding in the dark corner of anti-immigrant antipathy and with whom Romney aligned himself during the primaries. An exception is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who appeared on CNN to denounce the president's new policy but did little more than showcase himself as a hate-filled bully with an affinity for arresting Latinos.
Why the silence from the fringe?
Because Obama has suddenly legitimized legitimacy -- there is simply no way the restrictionists can credibly respond to the president's directive without laying bare their ugly mission. The best they can muster is the half-cocked claim that he has exceeded his authority
Maybe the restrictionists should talk to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Back in 1999, Smith, together with a bipartisan group of law makers, sent a letter to then-Attorney General Janet Reno imploring her to use her lawful discretion to stop unjust deportations. They reminded Reno that "the principle of prosecutorial discretion is well established" in American law.
In fact, categorical reprieves from deportation are nothing new -- they have been used by Presidents of both political parties to protect victims of domestic violence and other crimes as well as students who had been affected by Hurricane Katrina.
So the GOP, and its presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, remain back on their heels, groping for a way -- any way -- to oppose the president's immigration initiative without looking mean spirited.
And that is a tall order. After all, does anyone really think that Congress intended the immigration law to be used to punish promising youth who long to give back to the only country they have ever known, and who are, in reality, undocumented Americans?