Rom­ney still rid­ing the fence on His­pan­ics and im­mi­gra­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. | Declar­ing im­mi­gra­tion re­form a “moral im­per­a­tive,” Mitt Rom­ney on June 21 laid out a broad vi­sion for in­creas­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion both for busi­nesses and for fam­ily re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion, but also vowed to step up border en­force­ment and com­plete “a high-tech fence” along the U.S.-Mex­ico border.

Mr. Rom­ney again re­fused to say whether he would al­low Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­cent order halt­ing de­por­ta­tions of young il­le­gal aliens to re­main in place while he and Congress worked on a re­form bill.

In a ma­jor speech to the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Latino Elected and Ap­pointed Of­fi­cials (NALEO), meet­ing at Dis­ney World for their annual con­fer­ence, the Repub­li­cans’ pre­sump­tive pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee tried to high­light ar­eas of gen­eral agree­ment on im­mi­gra­tion — such as ex­pand­ing le­gal av­enues, fix­ing long wait times and try­ing to at­tract highly skilled im­mi­grants.

But he shied away from broad calls for a path to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gal aliens. In­stead, he said, he would try to find ways to dis­cour­age il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

He urged His­panic vot­ers to take a crit­i­cal look at Mr. Obama’s en­tire record on im­mi­gra­tion rather than be swayed by the stop­gap de­por­ta­tion de­ci­sion that the pres­i­dent made two weeks ago. Mr. Rom­ney said the move was timed to win votes, not to be­come se­ri­ous pol­icy.

“He’s tak­ing your vote for granted. I’ve come here today with a very sim­ple mes­sage: You do have an al­ter­na­tive. Your vote should be re­spected,” Mr. Rom­ney said.

Democrats said they were con­fi­dent that His­panic vot­ers would re­ject Mr. Rom­ney’s en­treaty and in­stead re­mem­ber the man who dur­ing the Repub­li­can pri­mary con­tests promised to veto the Dream Act to le­gal­ize il­le­gal alien stu­dents and young adults, and who has staked out the most pro-en­force­ment po­si­tion of any ma­jor-party nom­i­nee in his­tory.

“What I saw was a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date that clearly will not break with the hard­est-core po­si­tions held by some in his anti-im­mi­gra­tion base, which then pre­vents him from mov­ing to­wards the sen­si­ble mid­dle on im­mi­gra­tion,” said Rep. Luis V. Gu­tier­rez of Illi­nois, who has taken over lead­er­ship on im­mi­gra­tion af­ter the death of Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy.

Mr. Obama had a chance to make his own case June 22 when he ad­dressed NALEO. Be­cause of his re­cent an­nounce­ment, his ap­pear­ance was widely per­ceived as a vic­tory lap with a friendly au­di­ence.

Im­mi­gra­tion is among the thorni­est do­mes­tic is­sues in the pres­i­den­tial race.

Mr. Obama in 2008 promised to get Congress to pass a bill le­gal­iz­ing most il­le­gal aliens, but in­stead used his po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on health care re­form and the eco­nomic stim­u­lus bill.

He has made vague over­tures, but has not sub­mit­ted a plan to Congress. Still, he has taken dra­matic ac­tion by step­ping up de­por­ta­tions but try­ing to carve out broad cat­e­gories of rank-and­file il­le­gal aliens who aren’t sub­ject to re­moval.

Mr. Rom­ney on June 21 called for a plan that does far more on the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion side, while propos­ing stricter en­force­ment and a lim­ited win­dow for le­gal sta­tus.

He pro­posed ex­pand­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion for chil­dren and spouses of cur­rent hold­ers of green cards, which he said was crit­i­cal to keep­ing fam­i­lies together. He also called for a stream­lined tem­po­rary-worker pro­gram and ef­forts to keep highly skilled im­mi­grants in the U.S.

In terms of le­gal­iza­tion, Mr. Rom­ney said he would sup­port grant­ing a path to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gal aliens who agree to join the U.S. mil­i­tary — a small part of the Dream Act, which would le­gal­ize most il­le­gal alien young adults.

But Mr. Rom­ney did not of­fer any broad plan for le­gal­iz­ing most il­le­gal aliens. He said only that he would “ad­dress the prob­lem of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in a civil but res­o­lute man­ner.”

“We may not al­ways agree, but when I make a prom­ise to you, I will keep it,” he told NALEO.

On border security, he promised to com­plete what he called “a high-tech fence” and that he would com­plete an exit-ver­i­fica- tion sys­tem to re­duce the large per­cent­age of il­le­gal aliens who ar­rived legally but stayed past their visas.

Mr. Rom­ney made his speech less than a week af­ter Mr. Obama an­nounced that he would stop de­port­ing il­le­gal aliens younger than 30 who were brought here as chil­dren and who have com­pleted high school or earned a GED.

Mr. Rom­ney said it was a stop­gap mea­sure done more for elec­tion-year pol­i­tics than be­cause it was good pol­icy.

“Af­ter 3 1/2 years of putting ev­ery is­sue from loan guar­an­tees for his donors to ‘cash for clunkers’ be­fore im­mi­gra­tion, now the pres­i­dent has been seized by an over­whelm­ing need to do what he could have done on Day One. I think you de­serve bet­ter,” Mr. Rom­ney said.

He has re­fused to say whether he would leave the pol­icy in place while work­ing on a broader so­lu­tion. But he did praise a draft plan men­tioned by Sen. Marco Ru­bio, Florida Repub­li­can, that would have granted those stu­dents some le­gal sta­tus, though not a path to cit­i­zen­ship.

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