DREAM Act: Yes you can, Mr. President

Federal courts have confirmed executive power at least as far back as the mid–1970s. According to the legal scholars, executive authority has been exercised by both Republican and Democratic presidents. It was exercised by President George H.W. Bush for Chinese nationals in the wake of Tiananmen Square events; by President Clinton for certain Haitian nationals; by President George W. Bush in 2007, and extended by President Obama, for certain nationals of Liberia. More recently, the Obama Administration granted deferred action in June 2009 to widows and children of U.S. citizens while legislation to grant them statutory relief was under consideration.

Although President Obama is leading at the polls amongst Latinos, he has been far from perfect on immigration - an emotional issue of importance to Latinos.  At his last State of the Union Address, President Obama stated:

"Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: The fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation...That doesn’t make sense … Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship.  I will sign it right away." 

This is clearly him reaching out to Latino communities through the DREAM Act, a bill which he has come out in favor of several times. According to Univision polls, the DREAM Act has over a 90% approval rating in the Latino community, but is his support for the DREAM Act enough?

While many wait for the this bill to become a reality, there have been a record number of deportations under his watch. So far, President Obama has been to the right of former President Bush: in 2011 alone his administration deported nearly 400,000 immigrants, including DREAM eligible youth, more than any administration before.  

The 2012 election will be a hotly contested race and the Latino vote will play a pivotal role. But the President's excuse-driven politics on immigration does nothing to fire up the Latino base and does more to keep them at home.

Meanwhile, on the GOP front, Senator Marco Rubio from Florida is handling their immigration platform. From Rubio, we’ve heard some quotes which placed him outside of his conservative-leaning Cuban and tea party constituency. For example, he’s called undocumented children “blameless,” and come out defending his own version of the DREAM Act by framing the issue as humanitarian. Under the Rubio proposal, undocumented youth would be granted legal status under a non-immigrant visa with no direct path to citizenship. But while Rubio has said that undocumented children and the children of undocumented immigrants were blameless, his legislative record hasn’t followed his rhetoric.

Rubio recently introduced legislation to restrict the child tax credit to US citizens only. This tax credit is designed to help children, not their parents, and in 2009 was credited with preventing 1.3 million children from sinking into poverty. The fact that undocumented immigrants weren’t excluded wasn’t an accident when they were drafting the law. He has also come out defending SB 1070, saying “Arizona’s going to do what’s in the best interest of the people of Arizona. They have a right to do that, and I respect that.”

Further, Rubio has stated that “People in the United States who are here without documents should not benefit from programs like in-state tuition.” This view has been rejected by high-ranking members of his own party, such as Governor Rick Perry (R-Tex.) who signed in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants into law in Texas. Sen. Rubio must understand that just because he is doing something positive does not mean he can detrimentally target other undocumented immigrants or even U.S. Citizen children of undocumented immigrants.

Nevertheless, it is a step forward that, through the efforts of Sen. Rubio, Republicans are willing, or forced, to discuss immigration and Rubio’s bill in public. But the type of limited status that Sen. Rubio envisions doesn’t have to wait for Congress. The president can immediately grant hardworking undocumented youth temporary relief while legislation is under consideration status. This will enable DREAMers to pay taxes, create jobs, and be our next teachers, job creators, military officers, or executives of equity firms.

A recent nationwide poll shows Hispanic voters overwhelmingly support President Obama over Romney, 68 percent to 23 percent. If Republicans are to be credible White House contenders over the long haul, their rhetoric on immigration must change now. Indeed, executive action by the President should be welcomed, rather than condemned, by Republicans. Needless to say, Republicans must be attentive not to be the party posing an impediment to Rubio’s bill once it comes up.

At the end of the day, Latinos are in Obama’s camp, but they aren’t guaranteed.  It’s up to the parties to see who will craft a better deal for what is shaping up to be the most important voter block this cycle. President Obama is outspoken on Latino issues, but he has not shown earnest effort on behalf of Latino voters, many of whom have undocumented family members and friends. The Obama Administration must stop being fearful of Republicans and stand up for itself because excuses will not get people out to vote; action and leadership will.

Vargas, J.D, is a national activist for the DREAM Act and managing partner of DRM Capitol Group, LLC.

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