Mitt Romney went after chief rival Newt Gingrich hard in last week’s debate over whether illegal immigrants who have lived in the US for decades should be deported, a position the former Massachusetts governor derided as “amnesty.” But it turns out Romney’s own stance on the issue has evolved quite a bit over the years.
In a 2006 interview with Bloomberg resurfaced by Business Week, Romney said that longtime residents “are not going to be rounded up and box-carred out.”
“We need to begin a process of registering those people, some being returned, and some beginning the process of applying for citizenship and establishing legal status,” he said.
Romney aides and advisors from his 2008 campaign told Business Week he flipped in 2007 to win over socially conservative voters. According to top 2008 Iowa aide Doug Gross, he came to his new position after understanding the “political implications” of a moderate immigration policy.
Video of Mitt Romney on NBC’s Meet The Press in 2007 saying that some illegal immigrants “should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship” has surfaced as well, lending a potentially powerful clip to attack ads.
In the interview, Romney said a proposal by John McCain to offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who register with the government and pay their taxes for a set period was “reasonable,” but qualified his response by saying they should not receive “special treatment” in their applications for residency. But he appeared to acknowledge — as Newt did — that not everyone would be deported.
MR. RUSSERT: The Lowell Sun, your home—one of your hometown, state home papers, said this. “Governor Mitt Romney expressed support for an immigration program that places large numbers of illegal residents on the path toward citizenship. “`I don’t believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country. With these 11 million people, let’s have them registered, know who they are. Those who’ve been arrested or convicted of crimes shouldn’t be here; those that are paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process todays application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.’” This is George Bush and John McCain.
GOV. ROMNEY: Now let’s, now let’s look at those very carefully, OK, and you’re, you’re a careful reader. In the interview with The Boston Globe, I described all three programs that were out there, described what they were, acknowledged that they were not technically an amnesty program, but I indicated in that same interview that I had not formulated my own proposal and that I was endorsing none of those three programs. I did not support any of them. I called them reasonable. They are reasonable efforts to, to look at the problem. But I said I did not support—and I said specifically in that interview I have not formulated my own policy and have not determined which I would support. And, of course, the Cornyn proposal required all of the immigrants to go home. The McCain proposal required most of them to go home, but let some stay. And the Bush proposal I, frankly, don’t recall in that much detail. But they had very different proposals. My own view is consistent with what you saw in the Lowell Sun, that those people who had come here illegally and are in this country—the 12 million or so that are here illegally—should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship, but they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to say here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally. And that, I think, is the great flaw in the final bill that came forward from the Senate.
Gingrich said in last week’s debate that he was ready for political hits over his own approach to the issue.
“I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century,” he said. “And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”
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.