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The reviews are in about the first few days of deferred action, with a range of observers praising the program and citing inspiring stories of young people who have a new opportunity to contribute to the only country they know as home. Describing an application workshop held by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune editorial board noted:
What the 13,000 people who showed up at Navy Pier want is what conservatives are fond of promising: not a guarantee of success, but an opportunity to make the most of their abilities. It’s a dream that is American to the core. No one should be surprised that, on Wednesday, they interrupted the proceedings to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Despite this evidence of how smart policy can change people’s lives for the better, leading Republican voices have remained disturbingly silent on deferred action. Mitt Romney has essentially refused to take a position and repeatedly punted on the issue, telling the audience at a NALEO conference only that he would “replace and supersede” the policy–but failing to describe what his replacement would be. During the primary campaign, Romney was quite clear about his opposition to the DREAM Act and other immigration reforms, but since then he’s tried to avoid the issue at all costs.
Last week, neither Romney nor his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) found it fit to comment on the historic change underway. The same is true about Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who remained silent as thousands of his own constituents prepared to request “deferred action” and begin the next chapter of their lives thanks to this new program. While it’s obvious that Rubio is still smarting over the fact that the President stole his thunder, perhaps the Senator should have found a way to take credit instead.
Into this vacuum of Republican “leadership” last week stepped Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R), with her noxious executive order to deny driver’s licenses to newly-documented DREAMers in her state. Brewer has come to define the GOP’s positions on immigration, along with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA). All have endorsed Mitt Romney, who has called Arizona a “model” on immigration reform. Their voices combined with those of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R), are the loudest and most visible response from the GOP on this new policy, and it’s not a pretty picture.
As Frank Sharry, Executive Director at America’s Voice noted:
While it’s not surprising that Romney would try to avoid the immigration, given his support for hardline policies that alienate Latinos, it’s also not very Presidential. The fact is, Mitt Romney has pledged to veto the DREAM Act and called Arizona’s approach to immigration a ‘model’ for the nation. Does he support Brewer’s latest initiative, denying driver’s licenses to young people who finally get an immigration document? He hasn’t said, and the silence is deafening.
Brewer and the other anti-immigrant loudmouths are on the wrong side of history – and the wrong side of common sense when it comes to offering opportunities to DREAMers. As the New York Times editorialized:
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said of the Obama policy: ‘It is a direct threat to the rule of law and to the demonstrated desire of the American people for a lawful system of immigration.’ Actually, it’s the opposite. Wednesday’s lines were more than a display of hope and enthusiasm. They were a full-scale outbreak of law and order, of people wanting to play by the rules, to make their way lawfully in the country that needs them.
According to an April 2012 poll from Merrill/Morrison Institute of Public Policy at Arizona State University, even in Brewer’s home state of Arizona:
nearly three-quarters of Arizona registered voters are in favor of the Dream Act…In the statewide poll, 73 percent supported the Dream Act proposal, while 22 percent were opposed and 5 percent had no opinion. While Democrats were most supportive of the Dream Act, a majority of Republicans, Democrats and political independents were supportive, as well.
Perhaps the only sane voice in the GOP chorus these days is columnist (and former Reagan Administration official) Linda Chavez, who took fellow conservatives to task for their opposition to the DREAMer deferred action. Chavez called on fellow Republicans to join her in supporting DREAMer deferred action and breaking the immigration stalemate that “forces nearly two million young people to choose between continuing living in the shadows, unable to work, or leaving the country they’ve come to know and love.”
Beyond an outsized fear of the small but vocal contingent of Republican voters who oppose any sensible immigration policy proposal, there’s no reason why Republican leaders and strategists should allow Jan Brewer to define the GOP on this issue and to further cement the Party’s brand as standing in the way of DREAMers’ opportunities and futures.