By Mike Lillis - 08/24/12 09:13 PM EDT
A series of hard-line moves by Republicans aimed at their “anti-immigrant base” will backfire on Mitt Romney and the GOP in this year's elections, Rep. Luis Gutierrez charged Friday.
The Illinois Democrat said tough immigration provisions adopted in the Republicans' 2012 platform, combined with a GOP-backed lawsuit against President Obama's deferred deportment program, will prove "damaging" to Republicans at the polls in November.
"The Republicans don't want to solve our immigration problems and they don't want to eliminate illegal immigration," he said. "Rather, Romney and [Kansas Secretary of State Kris] Kobach want to use it as a campaign issue and stoke fear, anger, and division."
Gathered in Tampa, Fla., the Republican platform committee this week adopted an immigration position that tilts heavily toward enforcement, including language calling for the completion of the Mexican border fence, making E-verify mandatory and opposing "any forms of amnesty." Several of the provisions were pushed by Kobach, who authored the tough immigration laws on the books in Arizona and Alabama.
After the GOP panel adopted the plank, Kobach — on behalf of 10 federal immigration officers — sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the agency's recently launched program allowing some young illegal immigrants to stay in the country for two years and work without fear of deportation.
The DHS program is designed to benefit roughly the same population targeted by the DREAM Act, a stalled bill that would provide permanent legal status for high-achieving illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and either graduate from high school or join the military.
Kobach said the new DHS rules put the law enforcement officers in the "untenable" position of breaking the law to obey the president.
“They have sworn an oath to uphold the law and if they follow federal law, they end up disobeying the orders of their superiors," Kobach said. "If they disobey the orders of their supervisor they’re disciplined."
Supporters of the new DHS program disagree, saying it will allow law enforcers to focus their limited resources on deporting illegal immigrants who pose a threat to national security and public safety.
Gutierrez said the new leniency toward high-achievers would be "a major boost to law enforcement who do not have to waste time on honor students so they can do the harder work of actually tracking down and deporting criminals."
Voters of all backgrounds largely support the DREAM Act, Gutierrez said, and they "think lawsuits and other stunts are pretty far outside the mainstream."
"Kobach's influence over Romney's immigration agenda is damaging to the GOP as they head into their convention in Tampa," he added.
He called on DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to "review the actions" of any officer who refuses to "obey lawful orders."
As November approaches, both parties are fighting for greater support from Latino voters who could tip the scales in a number of battleground states, including Florida, Colorado and Virginia.
Obama won a resounding 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008, and polls show him on track to retain that advantage this year. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll released Wednesday found that the president leads Romney 63 to 28 percent among Latino voters.
Romney has said that, if elected president, he would push for comprehensive immigration reforms that would make the new DHS rules unnecessary, but he's stopped short of saying he'd repeal the program if more sweeping changes don't come swiftly.