U.S. Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), seen here speaking at the Council on Foreign… (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images )
When the Obama administration decided last week to temporarily suspend the deportation of some young undocumented immigrants, Republicans in Congress threw a fit, complaining that such decisions should be made by Congress, not by unilateral presidential action. But what else was President Obama to do? Republicans have long had the ability to legislate a lasting fix to the problem but have repeatedly failed to do so.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been crafting a conservative version of the so-called Dream Act, immediately criticized the president for "going around Congress," and he told the Wall Street Journal that he would not proceed with his own bill because of the administration's decision to act first. Worse, Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation to block the administration's decision to defer deportation.
But such actions are disingenuous. If the big problem for Republicans is not what the president did but rather how he went about it, then Rubio and his colleagues should exert control over the issue by enacting a real Dream Act. Surely, those young people are still in need of a permanent solution.
The administration's new policy is to stop deporting undocumented people who came to the United States before they turned 16, who have lived here for at least five years, who lack any serious criminal convictions and who are students, high school graduates, serving in the military or honorably discharged veterans. That's great, as far as it goes, but it doesn't secure them a permanent place in this country because it doesn't offer them legal status, as a Dream Act would. Nor does it protect them from future efforts to expel them; the next administration could easily resume deportations just as quickly as this administration acted to halt them.
No doubt, election-year politics are behind the latest tussle. Obama hopes that his abrupt decision to protect young immigrants will improve his odds with Latino voters. Republicans, who had hoped their version of the Dream Act would win them back some Latino support, have been outmaneuvered for the moment and have chosen to sulk rather than move forward.
Frankly, neither party is in terribly good standing with the powerful voting bloc, which recognizes that both Democrats and Republicans have repeatedly failed to enact any version of the act into law.