Mitt Romney articulated an immigration policy largely based on economic prosperity during a highly anticipated speech to Latino officials on Thursday.
In an address to a National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO, conference in Orlando, Fla., Romney called immigration reform a moral imperative and called for measures that would strengthen the economic role of immigrants. But he largely avoided addressing the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Romney has faced deepened scrutiny over his immigration views since the Obama administration announced it would stop deporting, and offer work permits to, thousands of young undocumented immigrants. He has rebuked Obama for pushing a politically motivated measure shortly before an election rather than pursuing a long-term legislative fix but under repeated questioning declined to say whether he would rescind the new policy.
Romney: No Stance On New Obama Immigration Policy
The presumptive Republican nominee reiterated that line of attack on Thursday, saying Obama has done nothing to pursue a permanent fix for our broken immigration system even while enjoying a majority in both houses of Congress. Romney promised to tackle comprehensive immigration reform but once again declined to explicitly say whether he would repeal the Obama administration's newly announced policy.
The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure, Romney said. As president, I won't settle for temporary measures.
Romney said he would work to secure the U.S.-Mexico border by dispatching more border agents and fortifying a security fence. He stressed the need to make legal immigration more attractive than illegal immigration, vowing to strengthen safeguards that require employers to verify the immigration status of their employees.
Calling immigration an economic necessity, Romney said he would update temporary worker visa programs to accommodate industry needs. He emphasized the need to reward skilled immigrants who study in the United States.
I'd staple a green card to the diploma of someone who gets an advanced degree in America, Romney said.
Romney backed a measure to extend legal status to undocumented immigrants who serve in the military, but he did not explicitly mention extending citizenship. He also called for emphasizing those seeking to keep their families under one roof while granting legal permanent residency, although the implications of that were unclear. He proposed lifting caps on green cards for the immigrants spouses and minor children of permanent residents.
Romney Maintains Economic Focus
The speech was also consistent with the Romney campaign's dogged focus on the economy. Romney has centered his pitch to Latino voters on being the better choice to lift their economic fortunes. He noted in his speech that Hispanics have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession, suffering a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the country.
Liberty's torch can burn just as brightly for future generations of immigrants as it has in the past, Romney said after describing his economic policies. Is an America of 11 percent Hispanic unemployment the America of our dreams? he asked later.
Romney and Obama are both vying for the Latino vote, cognizant that sizable Latino electorates in several swing states could be decisive. NALEO president Sylvia Garcia alluded directly to that growing electoral clout, noting that the latest census found that the U.S. Hispanic population has exceeded 50 million people.
With those numbers, campaigns, candidates and political parties know that the way to the White House, the way to the capitol house, the way to city hall is not doable; it will not happen without the Latino vote, Garcia said.
By offering relief to immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children, President Obama accomplished a central goal of the Dream Act, a stymied piece of legislation that is prized by immigration advocates and Democrats. Republicans have lambasted Obama for circumventing Congress and offering an amnesty to law-breakers.
Romney's response has been muted by comparison, a conspicuous contrast to his fiery immigration rhetoric during the Republican presidential primary. Then, he denounced any form of relief for undocumented immigrants as a magnet that would encourage more illegal immigration, backed a controversial Arizona immigration law that has generated a raft of copycat measures and described his immigration policy as encouraging self-deportation.
The new policy puts Romney in a tenuous spot. He does not want to anger the immigration hardliners who are a significant part of the Republican base, but he is also aware of the critical role Latino voters could play in the election. Polls show a jump in Hispanic enthusiasm for Obama after he unveiled the new measure, fortifying what was already a significant lead for the president among Latino voters.
President Obama will get a chance to sharpen the contrast on Friday, when he is slated to offer his own speech to NALEO.