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Mitt Romney's illegal immigration problem: Would he reverse Obama's order?

Some young illegal immigrants can begin applying for deportation deferrals Wednesday under a politically popular move by President Obama in June. It puts Mitt Romney in a bit of a pickle.

By Staff writer / August 15, 2012

People fill out paperwork inside the Embassy of Honduras Consular Section in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 14. Some young undocumented immigrants begin applying Wednesday for the protections against deportation promised by President Obama in June.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Washington

As some young undocumented immigrants begin applying Wednesday for the protections against deportation promised by President Obama in June, a thorny political problem for a potential President Romney is taking shape. 

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Mitt Romney has suggested that Mr. Obama's directive to defer deportations for illegal immigrants pursuing their education or in military service is little more than an election-year ploy. But as president, would Mr. Romney be willing to undo a politically popular decision that conservatives have derided as an unconstitutional power grab "poisoning the well" of immigration reform? 

“How do you keep from totally angering your base, which is very anti-illegal immigration, and at the same time come up with solutions” for a sympathetic part of the undocumented community, asks Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, a group that urges lower immigration levels.

Congressional Republicans, led by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R) of Texas and his Senate counterpart, Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, have been incensed by the president’s decision – and are looking to Romney to set it right.

“The President’s amnesty for potentially millions of illegal immigrants is a breach of faith with the American people and the rule of law. This Administration’s decision to impose amnesty without going through Congress is contrary to the Constitution. I am confident that a President Romney will follow the law and work with Congress to address immigration issues,” Congressman Smith said in a statement sent by e-mail to the Monitor. 

But Mr. Beck's position shows the problem’s political sensitivity. His group has fought tooth and nail against comprehensive immigration reform in the past, but he is suggesting that there’s a need for some sort of solution for young illegal immigrants. 

Congress has tried to address the issue before, most notably in the DREAM Act, which stalled in the Senate in 2010. Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an attempt to find an executive-branch workaround.

An estimated 1.2 million undocumented immigrants are eligible to apply under DACA, the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates. To qualify, applicants must be under age 31, have lived in the US for five or more years consecutively, served in the military or be pursuing an education, have come to America before age 16, and possess no significant criminal record. 

Successful applicants gain a two-year deferral from deportation proceedings and the ability to apply for work authorization and a Social Security card, all of which are renewable at the end of the two-year period. 

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