Rubio’s Dream Act is dead

And his vice-presidential hopes are on life support

Topics: Immigration, Marco Rubio,

Sen. Marco Rubio tells the Wall Street Journal that he is abandoning his effort to craft a more moderate Republican immigration policy. With President Obama’s announcement that the administration will stop deportations of undocumented students who stay in school and obey the law, Rubio’s policy agenda has been effectively preempted.

“People are going to say to me, ‘Why are we going to need to do anything on this now? It has been dealt with. We can wait until after the election,” he said. “And it is going to be hard to argue against that.”

As Rubio’s efforts to influence the party’s position on immigration come to naught, so have his prospects for being Mitt Romney’s running mate.  ”His chances of staying on the vice presidential short list are shriveling fast,” says Roll Call, “because there’s no percentage in Romney picking a lawmaker whose signature legislation is now officially anathema to the party.”

Not that Rubio wanted the job. From the start Rubio disclaimed any interest in becoming Romney’s running mate. At the same time he took some of the de rigueur steps of any Republican politician interested in the job, giving a foreign policy speech at Brookings and accusing the Washington Post of bias. His intention to sponsor legislation that would help undocumented students only broadened his appeal to party strategists. Now that Obama has implemented what Rubio wanted to do, the senator has lost what he hoped would be his selling point, not just to Latinos but to rank-and-file Republicans who want to broaden the party’s appeal.

For Rubio, it’s a lesson in the old maxim that no good deed goes unpunished. The original Dream Act (referring to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) was defeated in December 2010. If the junior senator from Florida hadn’t floated the idea of a Republican alternative this spring, Obama probably never would have felt the need to act. Last summer, the Obama campaign played up the story (at least in the Spanish-language press) that the Justice Department was adopting a policy of “prosecutorial discretion” toward law-abiding undocumented residents that would protect undocumented students. As the administration continued to boast of the record number of deportations it has overseen, the Dream activists charged the administration had abandoned them.



When Rubio won a respectful hearing from the activists, the White House got worried for the first time.  “The only thing the White House has ever done about our ideas was to try to get some of the Dream Act kids not to work with us,” Rubio complained.

On Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol described Obama’s order as the administration’s “anti-Marco Rubio initiative,” saying, “They were scared. Sen. Rubio was about to introduce his version of a Dream Act that would have been closer to what Obama announced than the actual Democratic Dream Act that came out.”

That was true.  Before Rubio came along White House aides Valerie Jarrett and Celia Munoz had been telling the Dream activists that the president did not have the administration power to provide blanket protection from deportations. When the students met with Rubio and then followed up with a public letter from 96 immigration law professors saying the president did have  the power, the White House reversed itself. The president’s announcement Friday and gave the activists what Rubio was proposing — sweeping protection from deportation but no  guaranteed path to U.S. citizenship — and sent Rubio to the sidelines of 2012 presidential politics.

Jefferson Morley

Jefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday).

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