Gaby Pacheco, a vocal immigrant activist, accepted a tantalizing invitation last week from an unlikely source: Republican Sen. Marco Rubio wanted her to help craft a bill that could legalize the children of some illegal immigrants.
Two hours later, Pacheco and other activists got a different pitch from their more familiar White House allies. Be wary of Rubio and his plan, two of President Obama’s top advisers told them in a meeting. It wouldn’t go far enough and wasn’t likely to succeed.
Sen. Marco Rubio has outlined his vision of a more muscular American foreign policy as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney begins the search for a running mate.
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The group was polite but noncommittal. “We’re not married to the Democratic or Republican parties,” said Pacheco, 27. “We’re going to push what’s best for the community.”
The events of that day illustrated how the new effort by Rubio (Fla.) has upended the immigration debate in Washington, exposing tensions in both parties as Obama and the GOP assess how the issue might sway the crucial Hispanic vote in November.
In recent days, Rubio has quietly reached out to a number of immigrant advocates who are usually White House allies but have grown frustrated with some of the president’s policies. Some of the activists say they are open to Rubio’s effort — even though it would stop short of a provision in the Democratic-backed Dream Act to create a path to citizenship — because it would at least provide some relief to people at risk of being deported.
Rubio has not put his plan on paper, but his office describes it as an “alternative” to the Dream Act that would legalize certain young people who came to the United States while they were children. The measure would grant non-immigrant visas so qualified young people could remain in the United States for college or to serve in the military.
The plan puts Obama in a box. Democrats are reluctant to see Rubio’s efforts as anything other than a political gambit to repair his party’s tarnished image with Hispanics and boost his own profile as a potential vice-presidential pick
or future White House contender.
But if Obama does not at least try to work with Rubio, he could risk losing a centerpiece of his appeal to Hispanic voters — that he is their fiercest ally in Washington and that the GOP is to blame for lack of action on fixing the country’s immigration ills.
White House resistance to Rubio threatens to escalate criticism from Obama allies frustrated that he was unable to deliver on a broad immigration overhaul and angry that his administration has deported more than 1 million illegal immigrants.
A White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity called it “ludicrous” to suggest that the president would be an obstacle to helping the young people or their advocates. The official noted that Obama would happily have signed the Dream Act into law in 2010 had Republicans not blocked it and that he remains in favor of a broader plan that would create a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million to 12 million people in the United States illegally.
The official said that the president welcomed any serious effort from Republicans to forge a bipartisan approach but that it was impossible to fully judge Rubio’s plan until it appears in writing as a bill.