I sure didn’t see this coming: even as Sen. Marco Rubio supposedly continued “work” on a “Lite” version of the DREAM Act that was eagerly awaited by many Republicans as an essential step towards avoiding disaster with Hispanic voters in November and beyond, and even as Mitt Romney supposedly “considered” supporting it, his “thining” slowed by the need to avoid accusations of yet another “flip-flop,” the Obama administration moved by executive action to get there first. Here’s Amanda Peterson Beadle’s summary of the initiative (just now officially announced by the president in the Rose Garden):

Under the “deferred action” policy, a Department of Homeland Security directive, students in the U.S. who are already in deportation proceedings or those who qualify for the DREAM Act and have yet to come forward to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, will not be deported and will be allowed to work in the United States.

An estimated 1 million young people could benefit from the deferral. To be eligible, applicants have to be between 15 and 30 years old, live in the U.S. for five years, and maintain continuous U.S. residency. People who have one felony, one serious misdemeanor, or three minor misdemeanors will be ineligible to apply. “Deferred action” will last for two years and can be renewed.

As AP reports, the initiative is very similar to what Rubio was considering in his “Republican alternative” to the DREAM Act:

The policy will not lead toward citizenship but will remove the threat of deportation and grant the ability to work legally, leaving eligible immigrants able to remain in the United States for extended periods. It tracks closely to a proposal being drafted by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential vice presidential running mate for Romney, as an alternative to the DREAM Act.

Rubio did not criticize the administration’s initiative Friday but said it would make it harder to achieve a permanent solution.

“Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short-term answer to a long-term problem,” Rubio said in a statement. “And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one.”

Yeah, sure: Congress has been unwilling to consider anything like significant immigration legislation ever since the Bush administration-backed “comprehensive” proposal crashed and burned in the Senate in 2007, which triggered a rush towards neo-nativism in the GOP (most notably by a guy named Mitt Romney, who used the scourge of Rick Perry’s support for a Texas variation on the DREAM Act to very effectively lash his campaign to a bloody pulp during the nomination contest).

In any event, as Rubio stews, the unrepetent Right is shrieking with anger, led, as is often the case, by Rep. Allen West:

Congressman Allen West (R-FL) told Fox News that he sees this as a possible “backdoor” opportunity for the White House to eventually allow undocumented immigrants to vote.

The congressman told Martha MacCallum that the president’s executive order “shows that we are getting away from government that is based upon the consent of the American people, and we’re starting to live under a rule by edict or executive order.”

Gee, I seem to recall that the previous Republican administration had a pretty expansive notion of executive powers as well, but I suppose bringing that up is part of the “blame game.”

Whatever the Obama action means constitutionally or even legally, it acts as a complete preemption of Rubio’s ploy, and just as importantly, will force Romney’s hand much earlier than he had wanted, at the very time his “base” is in a renewed full hate frenzy about “amnesty.” And needless to say, it will help Obama’s reputaton with the Hispanic voters whose support and enthusiasm he desperately needs in November. DREAM Lite is not ultimately what Hispanic voters prefer, but since Obama supports the real deal as well, this action will go along way towards answering complaints that he’s afraid to take action on this front:

News of the change raced across the country, buoying the spirits of immigrants and immigrant advocates who have campaigned for such a change for more than 10 years.

“I’m definitely speechless,” said Pedro Ramirez, a recent graduate of Fresno State University who was student body president when he admitted that he was in the country illegally.

“It gives us a chance to show the American people that we’re not here to use your tax dollars; we’re not here to take your jobs; we’re here to contribute,” he said.

All in all, a pretty good morning’s work for Obama. Perhaps it will even quiet some of the MSM talk of his campaign being in “disarray” and Romney being on the steady rise to the presidency.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.