At a Univision candidate forum in Florida Wednesday, Mitt Romney squirmed under a barrage of questions on his immigration policy, mostly sticking to his conservative positions. He even used the hot-button term “illegal aliens” to describe children brought to the the United States illegally by their parents.
Romney has struggled with the Hispanic vote since sewing up his party’s nomination back in April thanks to what Hispanic advocates say are hardline positions on immigration, including his opposition to the DREAM Act.
Peppered with questions about the DREAM Act, Romney again said he favored a “permanent solution” for DREAM-eligible youth. He offered only a plan to let DREAM-eligible youth who serve in the military earn permanent status. That proposal has been a part of Romney’s platform for a while and has been more or less roundly rejected as insufficient by DREAM advocates.
Romney also expressed support for the DREAM compromise plan that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) dropped following President Obama’s executive order granting temporary legal status to some DREAM-eligible youth. Rubio never offered up the specifics of his plan, so it’s not clear exactly what Romney means he would support when he mentions it.
In what could be a shift, however, Romney spoke glowingly about Rubio’s plan, which among its features “said that kids that get higher education could become permanent residents of the United States.” In the past, Romney has vowed to veto existing DREAM Act legislation, which provides a path to citizenship for undocumented children who complete certain education targets.
“This is something that’s going to have to be worked out by Republicans and Democrats together,” Romney said. “I will lead a program that gets us to a permanent solution.”
He again attacked Obama for putting in place what even Obama called a “stopgap measure” when it came to DREAMers. Romney did not specifically answer when asked whether he’d allow the undocumented youth made legal by Obama’s action to stay in the United States, referring only to the “permanent solution” he said he’d achieve.
The audience at the Univision forum was reportedly pre-packed with Romney supporters, so many of Romney’s responses received enthusiastic applause.
The Obama campaign was less impressed.
“On critical issues, he continued to refuse to answer any of the tough questions or provide any specifics on what he’d do as president,” Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith said. “We are just two weeks away from the first presidential debate, where the American people will demand more than vague answers and empty platitudes. It’s time for Mitt Romney to come clean and get specific about his policies.”
Smith accused Romney of “doubling down on asking immigrants to self-deport.”
Romney likely didn’t do himself any favors with the Latino advocates who have repeatedly attacked him for his hard line on immigration. He made clear he’s sticking on the conservative side of the discussion with his mention of the phrase “illegal aliens,” which rankles immigrant rights advocates.
“For those that are already here, that are undocumented, that were brought here by their parents and therefore are illegal aliens in this country, my view is that we should put in place a permanent solution,” Romney said.