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Obama takes bold action; Republicans put on defensive

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This week, President Barack Obama will arrive at the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in Orlando, Florida, with more in hand than a broken promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He’ll arrive on the heels of his announcement of temporary relief from deportation for certain DREAMers-a decision that will undoubtedly spike enthusiasm among some Latino voters who have been disenchanted with the lack of immigration reform and his administration’s record deportation rates.

In fact, new polling from Latino Decisions and America’s Voice shows that 49% of Latino voters in key states (including Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Virginia) are more enthusiastic about Obama and his administration.

Last year, Obama did not attend the NALEO conference. He did speak before the National Council on La Raza (NCLR), where he was confronted by questions from DREAMers who knew he had the authority to offer some form of administrative relief that would protect them from deportation.

Almost one year later, many DREAMers are celebrating the temporary relief. While it has come five months before the presidential election and is widely being interpreted as a politically-motivated move, it is also-as Obama said when announcing the relief-the right thing to do to ensure that these young people don’t pay for the actions of their parents or the inaction of politicians.

Besides, it’s laughable when politicians accuse each other of being “politically motivated” in their actions, when every action – especially in an election year – is a carefully calculated one. The only question is whether the result of political calculation will affect citizens adversely, or whether it will be a positive change.

Does anyone really think that Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has long promised to introduce a conservative version of the DREAM Act-also months before the elections-isn’t motivated by politics? That he’s not trying to present a friendlier side of the Republican party to Latino voters, and improve its abysmally low approval ratings among them?

That said, it’s now being reported that Rubio may not even introduce his bill, since the conservative wing of his party in the House has already voiced its disapproval.

Obama’s action preempts Rubio’s proposal and puts pressure on Republicans to respond and take a stand. The most radical right-wingers are saying what they always say: this is amnesty and an abuse of presidential power.

Others, like Rubio himself and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, are choosing their words very carefully. They’re trying to thread the needle by attacking the President on the process of his action, without looking like they’re attacking DREAMers or Latinos directly. Might this, perchance, be due to political considerations?

The argument they’re using is that giving relief to DREAMers through a DHS directive is a short-term solution that “makes it harder” to find a long-term, legislative solution like the DREAM Act itself.

How this makes legislation harder is entirely unclear. What is clear is that the Republicans who originally supported and even wrote versions of the DREAM Act in years past have now turned their backs on it; that when the House passed DREAM in 2010, some Republicans compared the DREAMers to criminals; and that in the Senate, the Republican caucus was near unanimous, with 36 Republican senators voting to stop the advance of the long-term solution that Rubio and Romney are talking about now.

Furthermore, Romney himself has said that if he is elected president, he will veto the DREAM Act in its current form if it comes across his desk.

The DHS directive, like the long-term solution that Rubio has talked about so much but still not introduced, doesn’t create a path to permanent legal status, but allows DREAMers a two-year, renewable deferred action along with work permits. Rubio’s plan also offers work permits as well as the opportunity, according to the senator, to become a citizen through existing pathways.

On Friday, Romney said “I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country.”

Before Friday, the only future these DREAMers knew was the possibility that they could be deported by ICE at any moment, or that they could self-deport a la Romney to countries they didn’t remember. To be sure, the DHS memo is no panacea, and won’t resolve all their problems. But if it’s implemented correctly, it will provide needed relief until Congress actually passes the DREAM Act or comprehensive immigration reform.

Compared to that, Romney’s objection to Obama’s announcement on procedural grounds looks like so many empty words: “I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive order of course is just a short-term matter. It can be reversed by subsequent presidents.” Never mind that this was a DHS directive, not an executive order, but was Romney’s response a veiled threat?

We don’t know what Romney will bring to NALEO this week, when, like Obama, he’ll address the conference of Hispanic officials of both parties, except his record of promising to veto the DREAM Act and promoting “self-deportation” during the primaries, and his avoidance of the question, as he did yesterday on Face The Nation, of whether he would uphold or reverse the Obama administration’s directive if elected.

Would he reverse it? If so, we certainly won’t hear about it at NALEO.

And that will, of course, be due to political considerations.