Mitt Romney may think providing a path to permanent residency for illegal immigrants is “amnesty” and a “magnet” for more border crossings, but the policy’s primary supporters in the GOP seem to be flocking towards his campaign anyway.
On Tuesday, Romney named three prominent Cuban-American Florida pols: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart as foreign policy advisers on his Latin American Working Group. All three are original co-sponsors of the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrants who complete a college degree or serve in the military to achieve legal status, and have pushed for comprehensive immigration reform.
Ros-Lehtinen clarified to the Washington Post on Tuesday that her endorsement of Romney didn’t mean they were on the same page on immigration.
“I’m never going to find a candidate with whom I agree 100 percent of the time on 100 percent of the issues, but I think the election hinges on the economy - which candidate has the most solid plan to create private sector jobs and get our economy back on track,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I don’t agree with governor Romney’s position on immigration, but I agree with him solidly on the economy, and for me that’s the driving force in this election.”
Former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), another key Romney supporter in the state, was a major force behind the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which never became law but would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. Asked about the issue in a conference call with reporters on Monday, he said the debate within the GOP had now shifted to securing the border before any discussion of immigration reform. He said that he “understand[s] Governor Romney to be a fair-minded, decent person” and is not concerned about “nuances” between their positions.
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, immigration reform activist Frank Sharry of America’s Voice said he was “disappointed” to see Florida Republicans backing Romney.
“People who fought for humane and sensible reform are supporting Romney and trying to explain away their differences as ‘nuances,’” he said, adding that the difference between deporting 11 million illegal immigrants or not was “more than a ‘nuance’ I think.”
Adding to the awkwardness, Romney apparently used to count himself among their ranks in backing a path to legal residency for some illegal immigrants, talking up a similar position as late as 2007. He now, however, has taken a much tougher turn, slamming Rick Perry repeatedly for even offering in-state tuition to illegal immigrants let alone a path to residency. Most recently he went after Gingrich for suggesting that the only “humane” course was to allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the country.
“Look, amnesty is a magnet,” Romney said at a CNN debate earlier this month. “When we have had in the past, programs that have said that if people who come here illegally are going to get to stay illegally for the rest of their life, that’s going to only encourage more people to come here illegally.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.