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Stay the Course, Rick Perry

If the political parties spent half as much time dealing with the immigration issue as they do manipulating it for their own benefit, the country would be far better off.

If you follow every spasm of the immigration debate, you’ll get whiplash and become ever more cynical about whether anyone really cares about solving the problem.

First comes the deception. When they discuss immigration, Republicans and Democrats both try to fool constituencies in their base by saying one thing and doing another.

Republicans talk tough (to please nativists who want red meat) and act soft (to please employers who want workers); Democrats talk soft (to please Hispanics who want reform) and act tough (to please unions who want to get rid of the competition of foreign workers).

Then comes the dance. On the immigration issue, Republicans and Democrats have both been known to take one step up and two steps back.

One minute, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is running for the GOP nomination for president, does the right thing by standing his ground amid a barrage of criticism from fellow Republicans who think he’s soft on illegal immigration. The next, Perry does the wrong thing by going to Arizona and paying homage to the buffoonish Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who isn’t really a border patrol agent but he plays one on the streets of Phoenix by rounding up Mexican immigrants.

One minute, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is declaring his support for the DREAM Act, a bill that would give undocumented college students or military enlistees a pathway to legal status. The next, Huntsman is trying to bolster his credentials with immigration restrictionists by attacking Perry at the recent Republican debate for saying (correctly) it’s impossible to secure the U.S.-Mexico border with fencing alone.

It’s no wonder you have this back-and-forth on the Right. Republicans have to strike a delicate balancing act between being tough enough to please those who want to turn back the demographic clock and return America to what it looked like 50 years ago, and yet not so tough that they bite the hand that feeds their campaign coffers at re-election time by stripping big business of its illegal workforce.

Still, through it all, no one has better moves than the Obama administration. In trying to be both tough and lenient, it has made absolute hash of the nation’s immigration policy to the point where officials should just stop talking about the issue.

No sooner had the administration announced that the Department of Homeland Security would, under pressure from the left, review 300,000 deportation cases in the queue to see if any of those people should remain in the United States than Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced at a Washington breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that — even with the changes — the administration would maintain a “very robust” deportation policy.

How did this get so confusing?

Let’s start at the beginning. Obama is sworn in as president but must immediately contend with a segment of the American people who believes he is foreign-born and thus naturally sympathetic to foreigners. Determined to prove them wrong, Obama appoints Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano — an immigration hardliner who once declared a “state of emergency” along the U.S-Mexico border — as Homeland Security secretary. Napolitano proceeds to deport 1 million illegal immigrants by bending the rules, roping local police into the Arizona-style enforcement of immigration law through the Secure Communities program, and — according to a report by the National Immigration Law Center — allegedly violating the due process rights of apprehended immigrants.

Activists on the Left catch wind of this and begin to stage public protests; Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-IL, an outspoken immigration reform advocate, is twice arrested outside the White House. The administration responds by promising to review active deportation cases, while not saying anything about how future cases will be handled. Then, while the activists are still celebrating, Napolitano throws cold water on any hopes that it is some sort of dramatic sea change by promising to maintain a “very robust” deportation policy.

All of this confusion on the Left creates an opportunity on the Right. As damaged as the GOP brand is with Latinos, it can be repaired — but only if Republicans put forward candidates who do something the Obama administration has had trouble doing with the immigration issue: deal with it honestly.

Right now, there is only one Republican running for president who is doing that.

Stay the course, Rick Perry. The future of your party depends on it.