August 13, 2013

One year ago this week, President Obama plan went into effect to use his executive authority to halt the deportation of many undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children and have gone on to lead productive, law-abiding lives as residents of this country. The Post reports that the administration has granted over 400,000 temporary waivers to people in this category.

Now Senator Marco Rubio is seizing on this news to warn that the Obama administration may harbor secret intentions of granting citizenship in a similar manner — by executive authority — to all 11 million undocumented immigrants. Rubio notes that this is why Republicans should pass comprehensive reform. After all, if Obama is going to hand all of them amnesty for nothing, Republicans may as well force the president to hand over major concessions in border security in exchange:

“I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, to issue an executive order as he did for the Dream Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen,” Rubio said in an interview Tuesday on WFLA’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

If that were to happen, Rubio warned, Republicans would not get the provisions they have been fighting for in the immigration debate, such as billions of dollars to strengthen border security and a workplace “e-Verify” system to help ensure that employers do not hire undocumented workers.[...]

“Existing law does not help us solve the problem of having 11 million human beings living among us…Unless we’re going to try to round up and deport 11 million people, something not even the most vociferous opponents of the bill proposed, we’ll have to  address this one way or another,” Rubio said in the interview. “We can’t leave it the way it is because a year from now we could find ourselves with all 11 million people here legally through an executive order from the president.”

What’s particularly interesting here is that Rubio doesn’t think it’s enough to point out that the current situation is untenable. According to GOP pollster Whit Ayres, even Republican primary voters, once they engage on the issue, agree that the current situation amounts to de facto “amnesty” for the 11 million, and want to do something about it. But merely proposing to solve an existing problem won’t do it; Rubio thinks he needs to make inaction appear far more frightening to Republicans by also invoking Obama’s evil intentions, i.e., his secret desire to grant citizenship to them without securing the border.

Here you have the makings of a way out of the GOP predicament. Republicans can embrace comprehensive reform as a way of frustrating Obama’s secret designs.

By the way, this goes beyond just the threat of executive action to legalize the 11 million. You frequently hear it observed on the right that Dems secretly want Republicans to kill immigration reform so they have a cudgel with which to beat the GOP in 2014 and 2016. And so, the secret Dem plot is for Republicans to ice reform so Dems can then give away amnesty to millions — creating millions of new voters — and not only do they get to inflict more lawlessness on the country, but they also get to damage the GOP among Latinos even further. Republicans can scuttle this plot by agreeing to pass comprehensive reform.

What about Obamacare? The same applies here, too. Some Republicans (such as Rubio and RNC chair Reince Priebus) claim that if there is a government shutdown, Obama’s insistence on funding the Affordable Care Act — over GOP objections — will be to blame for it. Others warn that a shutdown will only play into the Dems’ hands and revitalize a president who is already in political trouble. It’s easy for Republicans to avoid these pitfalls, of course. As Ed Kilgore put it: “I’m guessing the next act for ‘adult Republicans’ like Priebus will be to oppose a government shutdown confrontation on grounds that they are saving the country from Obama’s reckless behavior.” Republicans just need to drop the idea of a shutdown, and Obama’s preferred political outcome won’t happen.

Alas, it doesn’t appear that this logic will prove persuasive to conservatives. Opponents of immigration reform are already dismissing Rubio’s suggestion. As Mark Krikorian tweeted mockingly: “Rubio: Surrendering to Obama on immigration will yield Peace in Our Time.” The willingness to believe the worst of Obama collided with hatred of amnesty, and hatred of amnesty won.

Still, it was worth a try.

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UPDATE: Post edited to fix a timing error in the first paragraph.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.