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Immigration and a Missed Opportunity

By Artur Davis

There was genuine suspense in Barack Obama’s announcement that he will through executive order legalize about a million young undocumented immigrants. The details are a bit more nuanced—a minimum five years residency, high school graduate status, and a crime free record are preconditions, and the order contemplates applications for guest worker status rather than citizenship—but it is still a sweeping unilateral move that broke the partisan gridlock on immigration. As such, the non-Fox media has pronounced it a masterstroke that will widen the already sizable gap between Obama and Mitt Romney with Hispanics.

To be sure, the politics are considerably more complicated. The white working class voters whom Obama is struggling with, and who swung decisively toward Republicans in 2010, are unlikely to be impressed. The portion of the Latino vote preoccupied with immigration policy, as opposed to jobs or social issue controversies, could already be secured for Obama and this latest move may not move the needle much more. To conservatives, Obama’s by-pass of Congress drives the narrative that a closet, hard-left agenda is lurking in a second term, which may keep them galvanized to defeat him.

But the ambiguity of the politics for Obama shouldn’t conceal the reality of a missed Romney opportunity. Obama’s maneuver is, no doubt deliberately, a close match with Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s own recent proposal on immigration, with the only substantial difference that Rubio’s contains the stiffer requirement of college graduation or the pursuit of a degree. Imagine if Romney had seized the issue and made the Rubio bill his own template for gradual reform that stops short of citizenship. In one swoop, Romney would have validated the conservative argument that citizenship ought to be a prize waiting for immigrant families who played by the letter of the rules, while refuting the Democratic argument that conservatives are nativists who are skeptical of the Hispanic influx. There would have been some level of grumbling on the right, but the well-worth-making tradeoff would have been progress toward describing a Romney term that is not the backward lurch Democrats want to depict.

PIC: There was genuine suspense in Barack Obama’s announcement that he will through executive order legalize about a million young undocumented immigrants. The details are a bit more nuanced—a minimum five years residency, high school graduate status, and a crime free record are preconditions, and the order contemplates applications for guest worker status rather than citizenship—but it is still a sweeping unilateral move that broke the partisan gridlock on immigration. As such, the non-Fox media has pronounced it a masterstroke that will widen the already sizable gap between Obama and Mitt Romney with Hispanics.

To be sure, the politics are considerably more complicated. The white working class voters whom Obama is struggling with, and who swung decisively toward Republicans in 2010, are unlikely to be impressed. The portion of the Latino vote preoccupied with immigration policy, as opposed to jobs or social issue controversies, could already be secured for Obama and this latest move may not move the needle much more. To conservatives, Obama’s by-pass of Congress drives the narrative that a closet, hard-left agenda is lurking in a second term, which may keep them galvanized to defeat him.

But the ambiguity of the politics for Obama shouldn’t conceal the reality of a missed Romney opportunity. Obama’s maneuver is, no doubt deliberately, a close match with Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s own recent proposal on immigration, with the only substantial difference that Rubio’s contains the stiffer requirement of college graduation or the pursuit of a degree. Imagine if Romney had seized the issue and made the Rubio bill his own template for gradual reform that stops short of citizenship. In one swoop, Romney would have validated the conservative argument that citizenship ought to be a prize waiting for immigrant families who played by the letter of the rules, while refuting the Democratic argument that conservatives are nativists who are skeptical of the Hispanic influx. There would have been some level of grumbling on the right, but the well-worth-making tradeoff would have been progress toward describing a Romney term that is not the backward lurch Democrats want to depict.

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Artur Davis
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