Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney's advisers on Sunday slammed President Obama's recent executive order on immigration as a "short-term solution" that "plays with Hispanics" and injects politics into the problem of immigration reform. But the Romney surrogates were vague on offering alternative policies.
Immigration has become a top issue in the 2012 campaigns, since rising Hispanic populations in battleground states will be key to November's outcome. And the immigration fight is set to flare even hotter this week as the Supreme Court issues a ruling on whether to uphold a controversial Arizona immigration law giving police new powers to demand that people show proof of U.S. citizenship.
The issue is especially sensitive for Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who is frequently discussed as a Romney vice presidential pick. Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, Rubio said that while elements of the Arizona law "“ which has been slammed by immigrant activist groups "“ have made him uneasy, he would support a Supreme Court decision to uphold it.
"When it was first introduced it made me very uncomfortable," he said. But later, "I understood about what Arizona faces compared to Florida. I believe Arizona has a right to pass that bill. I understand why they did but it I don't think it's a national model."
However, Rubio criticized Obama's executive order earlier this month requiring the Department of Homeland Security to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who had been brought to the U.S. early in life and are in school, have received a high school diploma or the equivalent, or who have served in the military. That move, aimed in part at galvanizing Latino support for the president, has been hailed by Democrats and immigration activists. But Rubio criticized it as a "short-term solution to a long-term problem."
Rubio, of Florida, said the president's efforts on immigration have injected election-year politics into the issue, and held back efforts to advance comprehensive immigration reform legislation. "This issue is more valuable to them unresolved," Rubio said.
The President has also called on Congress to pass the DREAM act, which would ease the way to legal status for young children of illegal immigrants, but Rubio criticized that legislation as too broad. "It could lead to these kids bringing in multiple relatives," Rubio said. "We need to be compassionate but we need something that doesn't encourage more illegal immigration."
Rubio is also working on legislation that would ease passage to legal status for young children who immigrated to the U.S. with their parents. But Rubio, who has yet to introduce an immigration bill in the Senate, has also come under fire from critics for bringing the issue into the center of the political debate without offering a concrete legislative solution.
Romney's reception with Hispanic voters will be crucial to his fate in November "“ and he is trailing Obama among Hispanic voters in key states. A poll released Friday by Latino Decisions found that Obama had a 63 percent to 27 percent lead over Romney among Latinos in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia.
Also on Sunday, top Mitt Romney adviser said President Obama's immigration moves have "played with Hispanics".
Speaking on CNN's State of the Union, Carlos Gutierrez, commerce secretary under George W. Bush and an adviser to Romney, said that Obama and the Democrats have a tradition of pandering to Latinos with immigration reform efforts.
"Before an election, let's promise something to Hispanics. That bill had things in there that couldn't get bipartisan support. Republicans said don't ram that bill now, we're in the middle of an election year and you did it anyway knowing that it wouldn't pass," he said, referring to the 2010 attempt by Democrats to pass the Dream Act through Congress.
"But it didn't matter, you made the promise, you got the Hispanic vote, and that has been the pattern," he said. "This administration has played with Hispanics."
But Romney advisor Ed Gillespie, also speaking on State of the Union, refused to answer whether Romney would overturn Obama's executive order on immigration, saying only that he would look into the legality of the order if he were elected president.
"Every executive action that president Obama has taken will be subject to review," he said.
Gillespie echoed accusations that the immigration order is political opportunism which will stymie any hopes of a long-term immigration solution. He also warned that much of Obama's work as president should be seen through a political lens for the rest of the election period.
"Between now and November, it is clear that the oval office is an extension of the Chicago campaign headquarters, and they're going to make a lot of political moves and there are a lot of other target demographics that the president will try to appeal to with executive actions," he said.