Sen. Marco Rubio sounds ready to scuttle his version of a pro-immigrant DREAM Act this year, and he’s blaming President Obama.
For the past three months, Rubio has been trying to craft a bill that would give legal residency to young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
But on Friday, Obama essentially turned Rubio’s undrafted proposal into an executive rule made by his administration. Rubio and other Republicans say Obama overstepped his bounds.
“When the president ignores the Congress, ignores the Constitution and forces a policy like this down the throat of the American people, it’s going to make it harder to have a conversation like that,” Rubio said. “It’s going to make it harder to elevate the debate.”
Obama’s campaign refused to comment, though Democrats buzzed on Twitter that Rubio was scapegoating the president, whose administration denies that he’s making law with an executive rule. They say the president, urged to act by immigration advocates, had no choice in the face of a do-nothing Congress.
And it’s not like Congress hasn’t acted: The legislation passed the House and has majority support of 55 members in the U.S. Senate — but failed to pass because of a Republican filibuster.
Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said the order to stop deporting these young people was a case of prosecutorial discretion — not legislating by the executive branch of government.
“It is an exercise of discretion,” she said Friday. “Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a strong, accessible manner.”
Rubio’s nascent proposal and the president’s executive decision differ from the Dream Act in that they do not create a special pathway to citizenship — which critics like Rubio view as “amnesty” — for those who are illegally in the country. Obama’s rule expires in two years.
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who’s considering Rubio for a vice-presidential slot, has said he’d veto the DREAM Act. But he hasn’t said what he’d do about Obama’s executive rule, which he called an election-year play for Hispanic votes.
Rubio said the president’s actions will make it tougher to win support from Republicans and critics.
“It’s going to be hard to deliver this in an election year. The president just made it harder,” Rubio said.
“I didn’t want this to be a divisive thing. I didn’t want to intro a bill that immediately led to all of the squabbling that has invariably doomed efforts at reform in the past,” he said. “And to do that, you have to sit down with all of the stakeholders.”
Frank Sharry, an immigrant-rights advocate with the Washington group America’s Voice, said he understood why Rubio would step back.
“Rubio’s brilliant move was to present a Republican alternative to the DREAM Act that would reposition his party on the issue. And that was trumped by an even-more brilliant move by the president,” Sharry said. “It makes sense for Rubio to step back. Now, instead of being a knight in shining armor, he’d look like a rubber stamp for the president.”
Rubio said he wasn’t ready to kill his plan entirely just yet. But he acknowledged struggling to find common ground between liberals and conservatives.
Some on the right have too much of a deport-them-first view when it comes to immigration, while those on the left portray any opponent of their plans as being “anti-immigrant,” Rubio said.
“What troubles me about this debate is there doesn’t seem to be room to reconcile these two positions,” Rubio said. “That’s what I’m trying to arrive at. That’s what I’m trying to find room for.”
Rubio made the comments while discussing his new autobiography, An American Son, in which he laments the difficulties in navigating the “two worlds” he inhabits as a conservative Republican and as the son of immigrants who lives in an immigrant community, Miami.
“Writing a book about your life is one thing, authoring a proposal on a public policy that could impact 800,000 people is a different endeavor,” he said. “It’s not like ordering a Big Mac at McDonalds. There’s a lot of complexity.”