Mitt Romney finally outlined what immigration policy might look like if he is elected president in a speech before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Orlando Thursday.
Romney would “replace” President Obama’s new immigration policy in favor of one that staves off deportation only for those who sign up for military service, though the full details were unclear.
But Romney’s speech — though it was the most specifics he has offered yet about the fate of illegal immigrants in this country — still did not answer key questions about what exactly will happen in the opening days of a Romney presidency.
“Some people have asked if I will let stand the president’s executive action,” Romney said, according to prepared remarks. “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 has said since the primaries, he would back a plan to allow the children of illegal immigrants to earn citizenship through service in the armed forces. Obama’s plan applies to all children of illegal immigrants who are under 30, were brought to the country before age 16, have lived in the U.S. for five years and have earned a high school diploma or GED or serve in the U.S. military. In the past, Romney has said such plans create more illegal immigration.
“As president, I will stand for a path to legal status for anyone who is willing to stand up and defend this great nation through military service,” he said. “Those who have risked their lives in defense of America have earned the right to make their life in America.”
Romney called the Obama plan a pander to Hispanic voters.
“Last week, the President finally offered a temporary measure that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election,” he said. “After three and a half 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.”
Better, Romney said, was a focus on legal immigration — though such a discussion might be one Hispanic advocates do not want to hear.
“I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution. I will prioritize measures that strengthen legal immigration and make it easier,” he said. “And I will 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.”
The Republican promised a “strong employment verification system” to keep companies from hiring illegal immigrants and, Romney said, keep people from crossing the border illegally. Unmentioned were phrases like “self-deportation,” which have dogged Romney among Hispanic voters and contributed to his huge polling gap with Obama among Hispanic voters.
Romney talked of “eliminating bureaucratic red tape” he said makes it harder for legal immigrants to bring their families into the country to join them.
“As president, I will reallocate green cards to those seeking to keep their families under one roof,” he said, to applause. “We will exempt from caps the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents.” He also again promised to give green cards to legal immigrants who complete advanced degrees.
At root, Romney’s speech was aimed at telling Hispanic voters that he’s a better choice not because he’ll do what they want on issues like illegal immigration, but because Obama has not delivered on his promises and doesn’t deserve their votes.
“I would ask each of you to look at the last three and a half years, and ask whether we can do better. Is the America of 11 percent Hispanic unemployment the America of our dreams?” Romney said. “I know we can do better. We can prosper again, with the powerful recovery we have all been waiting for, the good jobs that so many still need, and, above all, the opportunities we owe to our children and grandchildren.”