GOP Sen. Rubio says deportation leniency is 'welcome news'

A GOP senator on the short list to be Mitt Romney's running mate is applauding President Obama's move to forego deportations for some illegal immigrants.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the more lenient policy is "welcome news" for those immigrants who will benefit, though he was quick to knock the administration for acting unilaterally.

“Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short term answer to a long term problem," the Cuban-American Rubio said in a statement. "And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long term one.”

Rubio's comments are a stark contrast to those coming from other Republicans, who are blasting the new rules as a threat to U.S. jobs and – in the words of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) – "possibly illegal."

Rubio's remarks also further complicate the position of GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who took a hard conservative line against illegal immigrants amid the heat of the GOP primary but is now searching for ways to soften that stance to appeal to Hispanic voters, who will be vital in a number of swing states in November.

Neither Romney nor GOP leaders on Capitol Hill – including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) – have weighed in on the new policy.

It's not the first time Rubio has bucked his party on immigration. Earlier in the year, the freshman Republican vowed he'll be introducing a version of the Dream Act – which would offer legal resident status for certain illegal immigrant students and military personnel – and urged GOP leaders, including Romney, to get onboard.

"There is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own, but there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future," Rubio said Friday. "This is a difficult balance to strike, one that this new policy, imposed by executive order, will make harder to achieve in the long run."

Rubio has yet to introduce his Dream Act bill.

Perhaps recognizing the GOP's dilemma, the Obama administration's new rules will allow qualifying illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children to remain in the country. The policy does not go as far as the current version of the Dream Act – there's no pathway to citizenship, for instance – but it would allow beneficiaries to work without fear of deportation.

"Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday in a statement announcing the policy. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case."

The change builds on the DHS's move last August to provide new leniency for young illegal immigrants by eliminating blanket exile for those in the process of being deported.

Instead, DHS officials said they will perform case-by-case reviews, prioritizing violent criminals and other public threats, while closing the books on students and others they deem harmless.

Immigrant rights advocates welcomed the move, but warned at the time that the new policy would be only as good as DHS's adherence to it.

Friday's announcement is indication that the agency has heeded those warnings from the left and won't shy from its vows to spare young illegals deportation.

Still, both the White House and Capitol Hill Democrats were quick to caution that the administration's move is no substitute for congressional action on the Dream Act.

"The president’s actions were necessary due to the gridlock which has sadly become a normal condition for Congress," Rep. Charlie Gonzales (D-Texas), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a statement. "[But] a legislative remedy is still needed."

Obama last September said he's not able to halt deportations unilaterally by executive order.

"With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case," he said during an interview with Univision.

Friday's policy change was made through the DHS, however, not by executive order.

The change takes effect immediately.

Updated at 2 p.m.