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GOP Obscures Its Role In Blocking Immigration Reform

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"Obama promised pathway [to citizenship] and DREAM Act ... and he delivered nothing. He's not to be trusted," Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus told reporters recently, saying Obama "either lied or is so grossly negligent in following through on his promises when it comes to immigration." On the campaign trail, Romney has accused Obama of using the issue of immigration as a "political weapon."

Other than a handful of speeches and supportive statements, Obama has done little to put pressure on Congress to reform immigration. But the GOP's argument lacks important context. When the Senate held a December 2010 vote to proceed on DREAM Act -- which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented children who attend college or join the military -- just 3 Republicans joined 52 Democrats in its favor. The rest of the GOP senators blocked it from getting the 60 votes needed to advance.

Beyond that Democrats, backed by Obama, have offered multiple comprehensive immigration reform bills that include a pathway to citizenship to those in the country illegally. Republicans have repeatedly thwarted those efforts -- some say "amnesty" of any kind is off the table, while others have demanded that Obama secure the border before they consider anything.

On that front, Obama has taken a number of steps. He has beefed up border security and deported record numbers of undocumented immigrants. On his watch, border violence has declined and the rate of illegal immigration has fallen.

These steps haven't placated Republican leaders, who have resisted calls to define specifically what they'd like to see Obama do before they consider comprehensive reform.

As Axelrod put it, "A lot of Republicans in Congress want to cooperate, know better, but they are in the thralls of this reign of terror from the far right."

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer told TPM that Obama could have done more. "For two years President Obama controlled both houses of Congress and never made immigration reform a priority," he wrote in an email. "If they want to blame anyone they should start with themselves for failing to follow through on this campaign promise."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), encouraged by Romney, says he's working on a Republican version of the DREAM Act that offers legal temporary residency to those eligible, but not a pathway to citizenship like the Democrats' version. It remains a work in progress, but the two are already taking fire from their right flank, an indication of how politically difficult it is for Republicans to support even the most popular immigration proposals.

Meanwhile, Hispanic voters are still waiting for results. And none of this helps convince them why Obama will persuade Republicans to bend in his second term when he was unable to in his first. Under a Romney administration, Republicans would lose a partisan incentive to deny the president an accomplishment. But Romney has forcefully come out against a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and even if he's tempted to flip, he'll be reminded that President Bush failed to pass immigration reform under a Republican Congress. All of this suggests that the road to reform remains murky regardless of how the 2012 election turns out.

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.