Republicans are hopping mad over President Obama’s recent executive order to hand temporary work permits instead of deportation orders to undocumented aliens brought to this country as children. But the more they hop, the madder they’ll look—exactly Obama’s intention. Instead of allowing partisan zeal to derail their own recent efforts to deal with this issue, they ought to beat the president at his own game—something, it appears, Mitt Romney understands although not his fellow restrictionists in the GOP camp.
There is no question that Obama’s move is an act of executive chutzpah, although no more brazen than the torture and indefinite detentions President George W. Bush unilaterally ordered. It is also a politically brilliant move, one that has pulled the rug out from under an almost identical bill that Sen. Marco Rubio—the Florida Republican rumored to be on Romney’s vice presidential list—was working on. By supporting the Rubio bill, Romney was planning a grand pivot away from his harsh anti-immigrant primary rhetoric, including his promise to implement policies that would cause unauthorized workers to “self deport.”
Such talk has given the president a nearly 40-point lead among Hispanics and detracted from his awful immigration record: He has deported about as many “illegal” aliens in the first three years of his presidency as Bush did in his entire two terms. Romney has himself admitted that Republicans will be “doomed” come November if they don’t close this gap somewhat.
But the Obama move has put them in a tough spot. If they support it, they’ll earn the wrath of strident Rush Limbaugh-style restrictionists, a core constituency. If they don’t, they’ll cement their reputation as anti-Hispanic.
So far most of them, with the notable exception of Romney, are opting for the latter strategy. Romney kept a lid on his vitriol against Obama, calling for a “long-term” legislative solution to the problem rather than stop-gap measures. “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,” said a decidedly kinder, gentler Romney.
But some of his fellow Republicans are hurling their usual accusations of “amnesty”—never mind that the permits involve neither a path to permanent residency nor citizenship. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who last month said he favored an immigration policy that allowed America to choose immigrants like pups in a litter, is planning to sue the Obama administration. Indeed, Republicans are glomming onto every bad economic argument to oppose the initiative, abandoning even the pretense of upholding free-market principles.
The Daily Caller, the news website that is increasingly confusing obnoxious behavior for hard-hitting journalism, is being criticized because its reporter rudely interrupted President Obama as he was announcing his new policy. But, even more obnoxious was the question itself: “Why do you favor foreigners over American workers?”
Conservatives would never sign off on population controls as a cure for unemployment, rightly pointing out that new workers are not mouths that should be regretted because they eat, but hands and brains that should be welcomed because they grow the economic pie. Yet they are now peddling the restrictionist nonsense that immigrant workers diminish economic opportunities for Americans.
The proper course for Republicans is to condemn the president for his unconstitutional overreach—and then pass Rubio’s version of the Obama initiative posthaste, and get to work on even more open policies. Otherwise, not only will they lose Hispanics come November, but also whatever standing they have left to counter his anti-free-market agenda.
Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia is a columnist at The Daily, where a version of this column originally appeared.