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Navarrette: Republicans need to stop lying about immigration reform

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks with The Associated Press

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks with The Associated Press in his Capitol Hill office in Washington. (Feb. 7, 2013) Credit: AP

SAN DIEGO - A while back, I suggested that President Obama and many of his fellow Democrats stop talking about immigration since they can't do it in a manner that is even halfway truthful.

Now I'm making that same suggestion to Republicans, many of whom can't seem to talk about the issue in a way that is even slightly helpful.

Consider a trio from the GOP. One is an alarmist. Another is a nativist. And one comes across like a phony populist.

The alarmist is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who warned fellow Republicans recently that if they don't pass the bill he helped write that provides both border security and legal status for the undocumented, Obama might issue an executive order that skips the first part and goes right to the second.

"I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, he will be tempted to issue an executive order as he did for the DREAM Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen," Rubio said in an interview on a Florida radio station.

First, there was no executive order. All Obama did was announce a policy change at the Department of Homeland Security that created a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to give undocumented young people a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit. Next, even if Obama had such power, there is no evidence that he is interested in using it to help illegal immigrants. Obama spent his first three years in office making excuses to supporters about an immigration policy they considered harsh. And finally, the 11 million figure is way off. Even Rubio's own "Gang of Eight" bill, which is supported by the White House, has so many hoops and tripwires that -- according to analysts -- only about half of the 11 million would make it to citizenship.

The nativist is Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has already given us the solution to securing the border in the form of electrified fencing since "we do that with livestock all the time" and revealed that those young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers are 100 times more likely to be drug mules than class valedictorians.

King's latest gaffe involves GOP strategist Ana Navarro, who confronted him on NBC's "Meet the Press." Navarro, a U.S. citizen who was born in Nicaragua, criticized King for his comment about DREAMers and drug smuggling. She blasted him as a "mediocre congressman who's got no legislative record" who only makes national news "when he comes out and says something offensive about the undocumented or Hispanics." King responded: "I spoke only of drug smugglers, and if Ana understands the language she should know that. I didn't insult her."

Actually, you just did. Suggesting that a Latina doesn't "understand" English is insulting. In fact, I'd call it racist. Why not just ask to see her birth certificate on national television?

Navarro got the message. She snapped back, "I'm not undocumented, Congressman."

The phony populist is Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who last month advised fellow Republicans to eschew the elitism of the Senate immigration-reform bill and "flip the immigration debate on its head." Sessions contends that the GOP lost the last presidential election not because it didn't have enough support from Hispanics but because "it hemorrhaged support from middle- and low-income Americans of all backgrounds." What is needed, he said, is a plan to "speak directly to the real and legitimate concerns of millions of hurting Americans whose wages have declined and whose job prospects have grown only bleaker."

It's a gimmick. Sessions blames illegal immigrants for hurting working-class Americans by lowering wages and eliminating jobs. The senator's voting record shows scant concern for workers, and plenty of support for the companies that employ them. Also, Sessions sure assigns a lot of power to people who lack legal status, often don't speak English, tend to have only a grade-school education, and are so vulnerable that they can be exploited, cheated, arrested and expelled from the country at will.

Frankly, If you're an American who doesn't have to worry about all those obstacles, and you were born with advantages that come with U.S. citizenship, and you still find yourself losing out to undocumented workers, you shouldn't be complaining. You should be embarrassed.

This is some of what Republicans are offering when they talk about immigration. Not very impressive. And that's why many of them should just keep quiet and avoid the subject altogether.