Fordham Law

Romney changes style – not substance – on immigration

Jennifer Gordon in Reuters, June 21, 2012

Media Source

Mitt Romney took a dramatically softer tone on immigration in his speech to Latino officials on Thursday than his harsh rhetoric on this issue during the primary campaign, but the likely Republican presidential nominee’s remarks fell flat with immigration advocates, who want him to offer solid policy suggestions and are wary of his past tough line on the issue.

Romney tacked hard to the right on immigration during his nomination fight, as he sought to woo conservative Republican primary voters from rivals who took more moderate positions. During the primary campaign, Romney endorsed an Arizona state law giving the police expanded powers to stop anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, which many Latinos view as racial profiling. He also called for the “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants and promised to repeal the Dream Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants brought into the country as children, if the measure were to pass Congress.

But the audience for the general election on Nov. 6 is more moderate on immigration than Republican primary voters. Romney also came under pressure to offer proposals on immigration when President Barack Obama announced a plan on Friday that will let hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people to avoid being shipped home.

“The political environment now requires that he say something sympathetic to immigrants. The political environment during the primaries required that he say something negative. Where he actually stands is still a mystery,” said Jennifer Gordon, a professor at Fordham University School of Law and expert on immigration law.

“Clearly, after Obama issued his order last week, it was on Romney to step up and say something,” she said.

Romney has not said whether he would overturn Obama’s policy.

On Thursday, Romney promised to help immigrants and their families and offered a half-dozen modest proposals, including streamlining the temporary work visa program, but he offered no significant new policies.

Activists were unimpressed. “It’s just blatant pandering. The only thing we can take him at his word at is that he would veto the Dream Act,” said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the non-partisan League of United Latin American Citizens.

“He shows a change in tone, but he really doesn’t address the actual policy,” said Cesar Vargas, a leader of United We Dream, an advocacy group for undocumented youth.

Hispanic voters’ support for Romney is dismal, with Obama out-drawing him by some 75 percent to 25 percent in many polls. Most analysts said a Republican candidate would need to capture about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote to win the White House.

Romney has time to make up ground, but he did not make a splash with his audience in Florida on Thursday, either.  The crowd at the National Association of Latino and Elected Officials responded to his remarks with tepid applause and a few scattered boos.

Obama is scheduled to address the same group on Friday.