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GOP at a Loss for Message on DREAM Act

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

What’s the Republican position on deporting 800,000 people eligible for the DREAM Act? The answer, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is: They are waiting for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to figure out his own position first.

“I think we’re going to wait until we hear what Gov. Romney has to say on this issue. ... My view is he is the leader of our party from now until November and, we hope, beyond, and we’re going to wait and see what he has to say about it and be happy to respond to that at that point,” the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday.

But McConnell isn’t alone. Other Republicans are also uncertain about what to do about President Barack Obama’s shift last week to immigration policy. It’s an issue that has vexed Republicans for years, and as Obama no doubt hopes, it has the potential to cost them Hispanic votes and the election in November.

Republicans may be united in their concern about Obama’s unilateral decision Friday to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who might be eligible for the yet-to-be-passed DREAM Act. But that unity does not extend to what the GOP should do next. Immigration ripped Republicans apart when a comprehensive bill reached the Senate floor under President George W. Bush, and the new House Republican majority hasn’t shown an inclination to take on the issue either.

For Romney, the issue is also fraught with the potential for a major flip-flop. He used his opposition to the DREAM Act, which he has said he would veto, to help vanquish Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the primaries. Now facing a general election audience, Romney has been taking a more moderate tone — talking about a long-term solution for children brought here “through no fault of their own.” But he has yet to embrace a particular proposal or say they should not be deported.

The DREAM Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16, have been in the country for five years, are younger than 30 and go to college or join the military. Obama’s order merely defers action for renewable two-year periods, during which eligible people could work. But the policy could be reversed by a future president. Romney hasn’t said whether he would reverse it.

Sidestepping the immigration issue itself, 20 Republican Senators wrote to Obama Tuesday evening questioning his authority to issue the DREAM directive. Led by McConnell, the group asked that the administration make several officials available to Congress, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service Director Alejandro Mayorkas.

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