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Republicans on Immigration: The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

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The newest “talking point” we’re hearing from Hispanic Republicans about immigration is that Barack Obama hasn’t fulfilled his promise to push for immigration reform during his first year in office, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. For good measure, they point out that the Obama administration has deported more undocumented immigrants each year than that of Republican predecessor George W. Bush.

I’ve consistently criticized the President for not devoting more effort and zeal to the difficult issue of immigration reform. Over his first two years in office—when he had a legitimate opportunity to get things done before spending the next two years running for re-election–he spent all his political capital on health care reform, which sucked up oxygen that could have been devoted to any number of other issues. I’ve consistently criticized the use of immigration at the last minute as an election-year issue, to give the impression that something is being done while in reality nothing has changed. I’ve consistently said that the Democrats can do more on immigration—not just Obama today, but his predecessors in previous administrations as well. (The difference is that his predecessors, such as Bill Clinton, made no promises to that effect.) I’ve criticized the expansion of federal programs that are contributing to record deportation rates, which purport to target criminals but in reality have mostly affected hardworking fathers and mothers. And I’ve critically pointed out that, even under the new standards for deportation, undocumented young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act have to fight tooth and nail to keep themselves from getting deported.

But for Republicans to criticize Obama for not keeping his promise of reform shows that their cynicism knows no bounds.

These Republican figures are trying to manipulate the understandable discontent among some Latino voters with the lack of reform and the high rate of deportations by wrapping it up neatly into the soundbite “President Barack Obama broke his promise on immigration reform.” It would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so serious, even devastating.

What Republicans don’t mention is that they themselves share an enormous amount of blame for not making the President’s promise a reality. They jump at the mere mention of “reform.” They rush to squelch any signs of movement on the issue. Nor do they mention that they blocked even more limited measures like the DREAM Act—or that, during the debate over the bill in the House of Representatives in December 2010, now-Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith compared undocumented students to criminals. It’s true that when the bill passed the House and arrived on the Senate floor, five Senate Democrats (who would have made the difference in meeting the 60-vote threshold to pass cloture) voted against it. But DREAM also would have passed with the votes of any five of the 36 Republicans who voted against it—many of whom cosponsored, or even wrote, versions of the bill in earlier years.

The questions facing these Republicans are simple: if Obama had, in fact, introduced an immigration reform bill, would Republicans have supported it? Do they support comprehensive immigration reform now? Does presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney support it? The answers are also simple: a resounding no. They wouldn’t have supported it then, and they don’t support it now. Romney, who has dared to use the “broken promise” argument himself once or twice, doesn’t merely oppose comprehensive reform but believes in the concept of “self-deportation”—that immigrants, even those who’ve lived in the United States for decades, should decide to pick up and leave by themselves before ICE gets to them first.

Well, at least he certainly gives off the impression he believes that. But Bettina Inclán, the director of Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee (RNC), said yesterday that Romney is “still deciding what his position on immigration is.” Good lord. Maybe Inclán was referring to the DREAM Act: after all, Romney has shifted from promising to veto it if he is elected president to considering a Republican version now that he wants to appeal to Latino voters.

And let’s not even talk about deportation rates. Every time I hear a Hispanic Republican say that Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants than Bush, it sets my teeth on edge. I keep waiting to hear what should come at the end of the sentence: “and we don’t think that he’s deported enough.”

The gall it takes to criticize someone for not doing something that you wouldn’t have supported anyway is the definition of hypocrisy.

I don’t know if the strategy will reap benefits for Republicans among Hispanics who are legitimately disaffected with Obama over immigration. But what I know for sure is that the Republicans’ cheap argument is nothing more than the pot calling the kettle black.

Maribel Hastings is a senior advisor at America’s Voice.