Obama’s Immigration Move Puts Romney Between Hispanics, Conservatives

President Obama’s move Friday to grant immunity and temporary legal status to some young undocumented immigrants is putting his rival Mitt Romney in an irreconcilable predicament between Latinos and his immigration-weary conservative base.

Appearing Sunday on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” Romney three separate times declined to say whether he’d reverse Obama’s decision if elected president.

“What I would do, is I’d make sure that by coming into office, I would work with Congress to put in place a long-term solution for the children of those that have come here illegally,” Romney said. “My anticipation is I’d come into office and say we need to get this done, on a long-term basis, not this kind of stop-gap measure.” He refrained from getting specific.Romney has encouraged Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) work in crafting legislation to achieve similar ends. Rubio has been using his unreleased bill to damage the president’s standing with Hispanic voters. But since Obama’s announcement, Rubio has downplayed expectations for legislative action, and his office is telling reporters that he wasn’t consulted and may not release his scaled back DREAM Act after all.

The backtracking makes it easier for Democrats to clarify the choice facing Hispanic voters. It also suggests that for Rubio and Romney, part of the purpose of sympathizing with DREAMers was to obscure the GOP’s hostility to the DREAM Act and other immigration relief measures, something party stalwarts fear will hurt the party with Latinos on Election Day.

Appearing Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rick Santorum, now a Romney surrogate, said the Republican nominee is “trying to walk the line” with his immigration stance in order to avoid sounding “hostile” to the increasingly important Hispanic voting bloc.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans have been fiercely critical of Obama’s move, complicating Romney’s political balancing act. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) vowed to legally challenge it, while Senate candidate Richard Mourdock called on Romney to reverse the decision if elected. Republicans on Capitol Hill are not hiding their anger.

“President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chairman of the committee with jurisdiction on immigration.

The Latino community’s strong praise for Obama’s order means it could have important implications for the presidential contest as well as close congressional races where analysts say Hispanics — the nation’s fastest-growing demographic — could be decisive.

Any discussion of the emotionally charged matter forces the Republican presidential nominee to either aggravate immigration-weary conservatives (whom he catered to during the primary) or alienate Latinos (whose votes he needs in the general election). The rift between the two factions is too wide to be reconciled.

“The problem is that it’s u-n-c-o-n-s-t-i-t-u-t-i-o-n-a-l,” wrote National Review’s Mark Krikorian, a high-profile advocate for reducing immigration, of Obama’s decision. “And the fact that Romney didn’t answer when asked if he’d reverse the order is an especially bad sign. … I’m appalled because this is a fundamental matter of our political order.”

That forces Romney to either break with the right — or let Obama enjoy all the credit.

“It makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans,” Obama said Friday in the White House Rose Garden. “They’ve been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country — [it makes no sense] to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents.”