Robinson: Immigration: Obama shows leadership, Romney waffles

By Eugene Robinson, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

Published:

 

Sí, se puede. Yes, it can be done. President Obama showed last week that it's possible to find a reasonable, humane solution for at least 800,000 young people who were illegally brought into this country as children. All you need is a moral compass and a heart.

Seems to me that Obama's unilateral decision to let these noncitizens remain here without fear of deportation should have quieted critics who bray and whine about a supposed lack of bold presidential leadership. It didn't, of course. Republicans immediately -- and cynically -- charged that the president's move was purely political, aimed at boosting his chances of re-election. Polls show that Latino voters care passionately about immigration reform. If Obama's initiative energizes and motivates this key segment, which already supports him by about 2-to-1, it becomes much tougher to defeat the president in the fall.

But if taking action on the immigration issue is good politics for Obama and the Democrats, then Republicans have only themselves to blame. The GOP has made a conscious decision to offer nativists and xenophobes a comfortable home where their extremist views go unchallenged. No one should be surprised if voters who think differently about immigration issues -- including some who are recent immigrants themselves -- feel unwelcome.

Where is Mitt Romney on all of this, you ask? Excellent question. Predictably, Romney was critical of Obama's action, saying he should not have resorted to a "stopgap" measure when a long-term solution is needed. Indeed, the new policy will require qualified immigrants to re-apply for permission to live and work here every two years. And since Obama created the policy by executive fiat, a future president could simply rescind it -- which is just what a President Romney would do, right?

Who knows? On Sunday's "Face the Nation," Bob Schieffer asked Romney that question four times. Romney steadfastly refused to give a straight answer. Romney's first nonresponse began: "Well, let's step back and, and look at the issue …" The second: "Well, as, as you know, he was, he was president for the last three and a half years, did nothing on immigration …" The third, my personal favorite: "Well, it would be overtaken by events, if you will, by virtue of my putting in place a long-term solution with, with legislation which creates law that relates to these individuals such that they know what their setting is going to be …" And the fourth and final nonanswer: "We'll, we'll look at that …"

Hemming and hawing

As usual, it is hard to know what truth Romney is trying so hard to avoid telling. Does he really believe the hard-line rhetoric on immigration he used during the primaries to inoculate himself against persistent allegations of moderation? If that's the case, his hemming and hawing was to avoid further alienating Latinos by saying forthrightly that he would rescind Obama's policy.

The young men and women in question were brought here before they were old enough to have any say in the matter. They grew up in American neighborhoods, and attended American schools. Romney, if his rhetoric is to be believed, would offer most of them a choice between deportation and "self-deportation."

It's also possible, however, that Romney was trying to conceal how close his real views on immigration are to Obama's. After all, Romney is nothing if not a reliable mouthpiece for the business community, sectors of which rely heavily on immigrant labor. Romney's meaningless blather may be just to avoid acknowledging that Obama took a brave and eminently reasonable step.

Despite what Romney claims, he knows Congress isn't going to produce comprehensive immigration reform anytime soon. By taking executive action, Obama might or might not have broken the logjam. But at least the president gave hope and a bit of security to hundreds of thousands of young people who are utterly blameless.

It's tiresome having to spend so much time trying to figure out what Romney really believes. If anything, I mean.