As is so often the case when he rolls out a policy postion, Mitt Romney’s speech to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials on Thursday left more questions than answers when it comes to how the GOP’s presumptive nominee will deal with illegal immigration and attract the support of Hispanic voters — who have so far been cold to his campaign.
There was little in the way of new information in the speech at NALEO. Romney again voiced his support for employee-verification programs, enforced border protection, a path to citizenship through military service and green cards for legal immigrants who complete a post-graduate degree.
He also promised the audience of Hispanic electeds he’ll seek out long-term solutions to the nation’s outstanding immigration issues. But beyond saying he would, observers on both sides said he didn’t do much to say just what those solutions will look like. Some unanswered questions from the speech:
What happens to Obama’s immigration order?
Romney wasn’t clear on what will happen when he takes office to the action recently taken by the White House implementing the idea behind the DREAM Act. Romney has ducked questions about what he’d do with the order upon assuming office, and though he acknowledged the order in his speech to NALEO, he did not expressly say whether he would overturn it.
“Some people have asked if I will let stand the president’s executive action,” he said. “The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure.”
To most observers this left wide open the question of whether Romney would roll back Obama’s order when given the chance. Obama has called the plan a “stop-gap” measure that should be replaced with a long-term solution. But as the president learned during the 2010 lame duck session, when a Republican-led filibuster (joined by several Democrats) prevented passage of the DREAM Act, getting immigration legislation through Congress is a long and arduous process. What happens before he gets that done is still anybody’s guess.
What are Romney’s plans for the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country?
In the NALEO speech, Romney promised an open dialogue about large-scale immigration reform — but he declined to give any suggestion of what that might look like and warned the audience that they might not like his positions.
“I will address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner,” Romney said. “We may not always agree, but when I make a promise to you, I will keep it.”
Before the speech, Romney’s campaign sent out a release under the subject line, “MITT ROMNEY’S STRATEGY FOR BIPARTISAN & LONG-TERM IMMIGRATION REFORM.” But the document didn’t offer many specifics either.
“As president, Mitt Romney will implement a national immigration strategy to address our nation’s broken immigration system,” the email reads. “He will reach across the aisle and work with Congress to forge lasting solutions.”
Observers on both sides said the speech didn’t offer much in the way of immigration solutions — or any new insight into where Romney will come down in an immigration debate. The campaign email showed Romney reupping on his call for a “high-tech fence” along the border and “an effective, mandatory employment verification system” Hispanic advocates say sounds like the language of “self-deportation” Romney tried out during the primaries.
“I get what his policy’s going to be when he’s president,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the Hispanic advocacy group America’s Voice, said. “He’s going to try to drive most undocumented immigrants out of the country. He’s going to allow states to pass racial profiling laws like Arizona, and not sue them for doing so, he’s going to fight for a mandatory employment verification system, the centerpiece of the hard-right anti-immigrant agenda.”
“They think if you can have an airtight employee verification system, you will drive the estimated 8 million undocumented workers out of the workforce and many of them will pick up and go home,” Sharry explained.
Daniel Diaz Leyva, a member of the board for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) SunPac — also known as Florida Hispanic Outreach — widely praised Romney’s speech but acknowledged Romney didn’t make it clear what he’ll do about illegal immigrants already in the country.
“He did not specifically address that issue. He said that he would be open to a bipartisan solution. But he did not speak specifically to that issue,” Leyva said. “Would I have liked to see something a little bit more? It’s something that’s going to evolve. I’d like to see more.”
“It will continue to be refined over the course of the next several months,” Leyva said of Romney’s plan for illegal immigrants already in the country. “I’m confident that he’ll do that.
What happens to DREAMers already in school?
By declining to say exactly what he’d do about Obama’s order — or taking a strong stand about how he plans to deal with illegal immigrants already in the country — Romney left the people directly affected by immigration policy looking for more.
CNN’s Jim Acosta caught up with this undocumented college student who confronted Romney after the speech, but says she got no answers from Romney about what would happen to her.