President Barack Obama reversed course on Saturday, preparing an immigration reform bill that was leaked to USA Today and that would allow illegal immigrants to become full permanent residents within eight years. The White House had previously refrained from offering its own immigration plan, after immigration reform advocates asked him not to do so for fear that his proposals could provoke Republican opposition to any reform bill.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a leader of the “Gang of Eight” that released a bipartisan plan for immigration reform last month, pronounced President Obama’s plan “dead on arrival in Congress.”
Rubio objected both to the substance of the president’s legislation, as well as the fact that that the White House appeared to be preempting the bipartisan effort by preparing a bill without consulting Republicans, and while negotiations were ongoing.
“It’s a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress. President Obama’s leaked immigration proposal is disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution,” Rubio said in a statement released Saturday. He added that the president’s proposal “repeats the failures of past legislation” by failing to secure the border, giving illegal immigrants an advantage over legal immigrants, and creating incentives for more illegal immigration.
The left has begun casting Rubio’s rejection of the Obama plan as a sign that he is not serious as a “reformer.” Benjamin Hart of the Huffington Post even charges, incorrectly, that Rubio has not shown interest in immigration reform “until recently”--i.e. until after the 2012 elections and Republicans’ “poor showing with Latinos” at the ballot box.
In fact, Rubio had taken the lead on immigration reform well before the 2012 elections. In May, he proposed the “Startup Act 2.0,” which would make it easier for entrepreneurs, and students with science and math degrees, to immigrate. Rubio had also started his own version of the “Dream Act,” aimed at those brought to the U.S. illegally as children, before the president acted unilaterally last June to stop deportations of “Dreamers.”
At the time, Rubio accused the president of destroying any chance of a bipartisan effort to resolve the issue in Congress by using the issue for his own political ends. “The president's announcement really inflamed the politics on both sides, making it harder for Sen. Rubio to find a consensus,” Rubio’s spokesman said at the time. Rubio reiterated that sentiment Saturday: “Much like the President’s self-described ‘stop gap’ Deferred Action measure last year, this legislation is half-baked and seriously flawed.”
Legislators and activists determined to pass immigration reform had discouraged the president's direct involvement because of the opposition he triggers among Republicans, who do not trust his motives and resent being the targets of his rhetorical attacks. A recent poll suggested that Republican voters favored a "path to citizenship" for illegal immigrants--until they were informed that Obama had proposed it. That is why reform advocates wanted Obama to play a less visible role in driving legislation.
Last month, it appeared that the president had heeded the advice of immigration reform advocates. His much-anticipated speech on immigration in Las Vegas, Nevada seemed to have been toned down, and avoided specific proposals that might have triggered opposition. Skeptics, however, continued to believe Obama would attempt to ensure that immigration reform would not pass, in order to continue using it as a political tool to drive Latino voters to the polls. That skepticism was reinforced by the fact that Obama had previously promised several times to take action on immigration reform without actually doing so.
Now, Obama’s reversal on allowing the bipartisan negotiations to take their course, and his proposal for legislation whose policies are objectionable to the GOP, is a sign that he may prefer defeat to passage, at least until the 2014 midterm elections.