By Perry Diaz
Making a bold and big step forward, President Barack Obama signed an executive order last June 15, 2012 that would defer the deportation of the children of illegal immigrants. It was a dream come true to an estimated 800,000 young people – known as the DREAMers — who are in danger of deportation to their country of birth only because they don’t have documents to show that they are legal immigrants. But they would have preferred the DREAM Act had it passed into law; thus, providing them with a path to citizenship if they go to college or join the military. Obama’s executive order is only a temporary relief for two years. However, it allows the DREAMers to get a work permit and avail of government services.
The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 with Republican co-authors in the Senate and House of Representatives. But over the years, the DREAM Act failed to garner enough votes to become law. In 2010, a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act. In the Senate, it passed it with 55 votes; however, it fell short of the supermajority vote of 60 to prevent a filibuster, which the Republicans did. It has been in limbo since then.
In a press conference in the Rose Garden following the issuance of what is now referred to as “DREAM Act Lite,” President Obama said, “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
In the midst of Obama’s speech, Neil Munro, a reporter from the right-wing Daily Caller website, interrupted him and shouted, “Mr. President, why do you favor foreign workers over Americans?” Obama responded, “We are a better nation than one that expels innocent young kids. And the answer to your question sir, the next time I’d prefer that you let me finish my statement before you ask that question, is this is the right thing for the American people.”
Apparently, the Republicans – particularly Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee – were caught flat-footed. They were in total disarray and didn’t know how to react. Immigration was never a topic that they were comfortable talking about because of their hard-line stand on immigration issues, which they try to soft-pedal with terms like “self-deportation” and long-term solutions.
During the primaries, Romney was asked what he would do if the DREAM Act was passed by Congress? Quickly, he responded, “I’d veto it!” But since then he tried very hard not to discuss immigration. However, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – son of Cuban immigrants — became Romney’s top advisor and surrogate on immigration issues.
Because of the importance of the Latino vote, Rubio had positioned himself to become a viable vice presidential running mate of Romney. He became a shooting star in a party that had paid lip service to Hispanic Americans and shoved them around like second-class citizens. And he became the “golden boy” of the Republicans who would deliver the huge Latino vote in the battleground states. Thus, he started looking into the DREAM Act and to revise it in a way that would be palatable to right-wing Republicans. He promised that he’d fashion a better DREAM Act… pretty soon.
But as it turned out that his dream of a better DREAM Act was neither pretty nor soon enough. When Obama signed his “DREAM Act Lite” executive order, Rubio accused Obama of ignoring Congress and the Constitution. He said that Obama should have called him and worked with him. But why would Obama call someone who repeatedly voted against his jobs bill, infrastructure bill, and other bills in the Senate?
But paisan Marco, the DREAM Act had been debated since 2001. So how much more time do your Republican padrinos need to debate the DREAM Act? At the rate young people without papers are being deported; nobody is going to be around to celebrate when your version of the DREAM Act would become a reality. But Obama knows that if nothing were done now, then the DREAM Act would just be another piece of legislation that failed due to Republican inaction and obstruction.
Rubio had a chance to become the first Latino vice president in U.S. history and just a heartbeat away from the presidency. He had an opportunity to change the culture of politics in a nation that is still reeling from brutal partisan warfare. And he had an opportunity to convince the Hispanic-American community that their time was coming. But he blew it.
Earlier today, Romney spoke before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) in Orlando, Florida. It would have been his chance to convince the nation’s Latino leaders that he can do better than Obama in addressing immigration issues. But instead, he told the audience that if elected he would replace Obama’s executive order. However, he would not say what he would replace it with. Instead, he criticized Obama in front of the mostly Democratic Latino elected officials, saying: “Some people have asked if I will let stand the President’s executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President’s temporary measure.”
But Romney knows that forging a long-term solution in a Republican-controlled Congress is next to impossible especially with the Tea Party members who do not make compromises. To them, it’s all or nothing. So, in two years, when Obama’s executive order expires, what would a President Romney do? More than likely, he would start deporting the 800,000 young DREAMers. That was the impression he conveyed to assembled power brokers.
Romney had a golden opportunity. But he blew it.
Romney seems like he is totally clueless about the three things that are important to Latinos – jobs, education, and immigration. On jobs, the Republicans in Congress are being blamed for obstructing Obama’s job creation initiatives. That’s strike one! On education, since Romney’s position on the DREAM Act is negative, it would prevent the 800,000 young DREAMers to integrate in the school system without risking deportation. That’s strike two! And on immigration, rejecting the DREAM Act is a double whammy for Romney. That’s strike three! And like they say, “Strike three you’re out!”
For Obama, it couldn’t have been better. A June 15-18 Bloomberg News poll shows that 64% of likely voters surveyed agreed with the policy, while only 30% said they disagreed. Americans are supporting Obama’s executive order compared to 30% against. Interestingly, a May survey among Latinos conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo shows 61% supporting Obama and only 27% supporting Romney.
The polls show that Obama’s “DREAM Act Lite” is not only good policy; it is also good politics.
At the end of the day, it can be said that Obama made it happen, the Republicans in Congress watched it happen, and Romney didn’t know what the hell happened!
I’m sorry, Mitt, but you missed a rare opportunity to outDREAM Obama. You blew it.