Romney, Legislators Debate New Immigration Policy

President Obama's announcement on Friday that the federal government would no longer seek the deportations of certain young people brought to the country illegally as children touched off debate on the nation's political talk shows on Sunday.

In an interview on Face the Nation, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the president's announcement was politically motivated and criticized Obama for not passing comprehensive immigration reform earlier in his presidency.

"He should have taken action on this years ago. If he felt serious about this, he should have taken action when he had a democratic House and Senate. But he didn't," Romney told CBS's Bob Schieffer.

"This is something Congress has been working on, and I thought we were about to see some proposals brought forward by Sen. Marco Rubio and by Democratic senators, but the president jumped in and said, "˜I'm going to take this action.' He called it a stopgap measure."

Romney wouldn't say whether he'd repeal the administrative measure, which will allow certain young people to apply for work authorization good for two years, if elected in November.

"It would be overtaken by events, if you will, by virtue of my putting in place a long-term solution with legislation," he said.

In interviews on ABC's This Week and MSNBC's Meet the Press, White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe denied that the policy change was politically motivated and said that the new policy was within the administration's authority.

"Ultimately the only way to fix this is for congressional action," he said in the interview with This Week. "But in the interim, this is a smart step by the Homeland Security Department."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also weighed in on Meet the Press, voicing the concern that the president was choosing which laws to enforce.

"The president is now dictating that certain laws won't be enforced," he said. "I don't recall a time when any president has said we're not going to enforce a law that's on the books."

Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and David Rivera, R-Fla., appeared on Univision's Spanish-language show Al Punto to debate the policy and its impact.

Rivera said that the president should have showed more leadership on immigration earlier and criticised the policy as a unilateral move and a "temporary cure" that could prevent congress from putting together a permanent solution.

Gutierrez acknowledged that the policy was only a temporary solution, but said it would protect young people from deportation while Congress worked on legislation.

"If we stop the deportations, the children are safe," he said.

Earlier this year, Rivera introduced legislation in the Republican-controlled house that offered legal status to young people who attended college or joined the military. Rivera's bill stopped short of offering those young people a path to citizenship — a key component of the Dream Act, which died in the Senate in 2010.

Rubio, a Republican from Florida, has spoken publicly about a need to address the needs of children brought to the U.S. illegally as children. He planned to introduce legislation similar to Rivera's in the Senate later this year.

In general, the announcement has been met with praise and outrage. Within immigrant communities, the relief has been almost palpable.

But during the roundtable on Al Punto, Univision political analyst Arnoldo Torres suggested that Hispanics approach the announcement with scepticism.

He sighted a memo released last year that encouraged federal immigration agents and prosecutors to use their discretion when determining who to detain and deport. Agents were to focus on deporting criminals and people who were a threat to national security.

Young people who had no criminal history and were attending school were included on the list of those whose immigration cases could be closed, Torres said. But few saw their deportations waved, according to The New York Times.

"The administration said this was going to work," he said. "And it didn't work."