Hoping to defuse an issue hurting Republicans among Hispanic voters, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is working on a compromise alternative to the DREAM Act, a proposal backed strongly by Democrats and Hispanics to offer a normal life to children of illegal immigrant families.
But Rubio is taking a risk that his compromise will please neither side. It could anger tea party-style Republicans while failing to satisfy many of his own Hispanic constituents. So far, he hasn’t persuaded even leaders of his own party, including presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney and House Speaker John Boehner, to get in line.
“It’s a significant risk,” said retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson, a Republican. “The primary thing any political candidate wants to do is solidify his base, and this could fracture that base.”
Rubio has been accused of using the issue as an election-year ploy, but his spokesman Alex Conant said, “There’s just as much political peril as there is potential benefit in doing anything like this.”
Originally proposed by members of both parties 10 years ago, the original DREAM Act would allow a path to citizenship for young people brought here as children when their families illegally immigrated, if they attend college or serve in the military. The name is an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. Such young people, not having known any other home, often are prevented from going to college because of their undocumented status, even after serving in the military. The DREAM Act would allow student loans and work-study jobs but not federal higher education grants for the students.
One recent case involved the valedictorian of North Miami High School, Daniela Pelaez, an aspiring surgeon. Admitted to the University of Florida and Dartmouth College, she instead faced deportation because her family came here illegally from Colombia when she was 4 years old. Pelaez got a respite from deportation last month after her case made headlines and sparked demonstrations by fellow students.
Rubio recently told The Huffington Post he wants “a bipartisan solution … that does not reward or encourage illegal immigration by granting amnesty, but helps accommodate talented young people like Daniela, who find themselves undocumented through no fault of their own.” Throughout his career, Rubio has had to thread the needle on immigration issues, trying on the one hand to please his conservative base, but also satisfy his Hispanic constituency. That has led him to compromise or to take ambivalent positions on issues, including official English and tough state anti-illegal immigrant laws. The son of a Cuban immigrant family, Rubio has said the original DREAM Act is flawed because allowing a path to citizenship could lead to “chain migration,” in which family members sponsor each other.
His proposal, which he hopes will be considered this summer, will include a temporary student visa rather than citizenship or legal resident status for students. But it likely would allow the students eventually to apply for legal residency without returning to their parents’ home countries. Those honorably discharged from the military, Conant said, also would be able to seek legal residency or citizenship.
Democrats who back the original DREAM Act, a 10-year-old proposal that passed in the House last year but failed in the Senate, decry Rubio’s idea as creating a permanent underclass of “bracero” non-citizen workers.
“It makes a very limited offer to a small segment of the population,” said Rodolfo de la Garza, a Columbia University political scientist who specializes in Hispanic voters. “I think what most Latinos are going to pick up on is what I have to characterize as either a political ploy or profound disingenuousness to the point of deceit on Rubio’s part.” He called the DREAM Act “the one issue on which there is a clear Latino position — they are 75-80 percent in favor of it in numerous polls.”
Conant called the bracero allegation “nonsense.” “Nothing is in this proposal that would prohibit these kids from someday seeking permanent residence or citizenship.”
In a national poll of Hispanic voters in January by Univision, ABC and Latino Decisions, respondents cited “immigration reform/DREAM Act” as tied with the economy and jobs as the top issue in their voting decisions for the November election. In Florida, where large numbers of Hispanics are either Cuban refugees, who automatically receive resident status, or Puerto Ricans who are citizens, immigration and the DREAM Act were still in second place, with 17 percent, to 23 percent for the economy. Despite that, Romney said during the primary campaign that he would veto the DREAM Act, although he favored the idea for illegal immigrants who serve in the military.
Earlier this week, Romney declined to endorse Rubio’s compromise, even though he was standing next to Rubio in a joint news conference in Pennsylvania at the time. “It has many features to commend it,” Romney said, “but it’s something that we’re studying.” He said he expects to lay out immigration proposals before the November election, but added, “Obviously our first priority is to secure the border.”
Also this week, Boehner said it is unlikely Rubio’s proposal could pass the House this year, citing “a very hostile political environment.” “To deal with a very difficult issue like this, I think it would be difficult at best,” he said. Conant called Romney’s reluctance “totally understandable, that he would want to see the plan’s details before endorsing the plan. But the idea isn’t likely to be popular with the tea party Republicans to whom Romney and Boehner must appeal.
Boehner To Rubio: DREAM On, Dude! photo by Jeff Malet
“It’s an amnesty bill — it rewards lawbreaking,” said Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-illegal immigration advocacy group. “Rubio is marching off into McCain-land” — a reference to Ariz. Sen. JohnMcCain’s support for an immigration reform bill that would have allowed a path to citizenship. “Whatever support he’s going to pick up from Hispanics is probably going to be far outweighed by what he loses from his conservative base.” he said. Rubio’s idea may get a better reception, but still not unanimous approval, from tea partiers in his home state, who consider him a hero.
“Some people draw the hard line, absolutely no amnesty, but some tea party groups understand you’re trying to address a difficult issue,” said tea party leader Karin Hoffman, who said she formed her opinion from online forums and message boards. “They acknowledge you’re providing a way for them (young illegal immigrants) to be a contributing member of society, and it’s not blanket amnesty — it’s for the individual alone.”
Read More: Tampa Bay Online
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