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Republicans in Disarray After Deferred Action for DREAMers Announcement

If observers thought that the Administration’s announcement on granting deferred action status and work permits for DREAM-eligible undocumented immigrants represented a high risk, the first reactions and impressions do not show it. In fact, it’s the mainstream Republicans who are scrambling for a response to this, somewhat mindful of the impact of demonization on the fastest-growing population in the country.

Mitt Romney’s statement, for example, could only find fault with Obama’s action in being a short-term and not a long-term solution. Given that there is no way for a President to create long-term certainty for undocumented students without Congressional action, that criticism strikes me as a reach. Romney really lined up behind Marco Rubio and his rumored plan for additional certainly for DREAMers:

“It could be reversed by subsequent presidents,” Romney said. “I would like to see legislation that deals with this issue. And I happen to agree with Marco Rubio as he will consider this issue. He said this is an important matter. We have to find a long-term solution. But the president’s action makes reaching a long-term solution more difficult. If I’m president, we’ll do our very best to have that kind of long-term solution that provides certainty and clarity for the people who come into this country through no fault of their own by virtue of an act of their parents. Thank you.”

Romney will have trouble reconciling those remarks with his extreme right views on immigration during the primaries. And his allies on the right who have been freaking out over this issue will drag him down as well. But the schism on the right over this can be seen most clearly with the remarks of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who had nothing but praise for the President’s actions:

“Law enforcement makes decisions based on the resources available to them — until Congress acts, we’ll be left with too many people to deport,” Shurtleff said. “The administration is saying, `Here’s a group we could be spending our resources going after, but why? They’re Americans, they see themselves as Americans, they love this country.’”

Shurtleff added that the decision, by allowing children brought here illegally to go to school and work, could encourage them to stay out of gangs — which he called a “conservative” goal. He dismissed the claim that this would encourage further illegal immigration, noting that the president’s plan has a cutoff — you are only eligible if you came here before you turned 16 and are younger than 30, and have been in the country for at least five continuous years.

Asked to respond to the case made by some that this constitutes “amnesty” because it gives illegal immigrants the legal status they were trying to steal, he rejected it.

“You’re not giving [legal status] to the parents who came here,” Shurtleff said. “You’re giving it to the child who was brought here. That child didn’t get to choose.”

When the framing is made that clear, it’s nearly impossible for critics to avoid being seen as basically bigots for their opposition.

The real problem for Republicans is that the President outflanked them with this announcement. Now Marco Rubio may not introduce his long-rumored DREAM-style bill at all. Meanwhile, Spanish-language media has lauded praise on this announcement, with respected Univision anchor Jorge Ramos calling it “the best news for immigrants in this country since 1986” (when Reagan invoked a general amnesty). Republicans are left scrambling, those who want to get elected nationally with the help of Hispanics are trying to stifle their far right, and Obama is getting a boost from that same community. Sometimes – most of the time, actually – good policy is good politics.

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David Dayen

David Dayen