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Benjy Sarlin: Romney's Return Highlights GOP's Seismic Shifts on Immigration

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mitt romneyThis week, Mitt Romney returned to national attention with an interview on “Fox News Sunday”—his first public appearance since the 2012 election, and instantly made it clear that with him, nothing has changed.

The man who promised to veto the DREAM Act, advocated for self-deportation, brought immigration advisors like Kris Kobach onboard, lost the Latino vote by more than a 3-1 margin and realizes that a primary weakness in his campaign was not being able to reach out to minority voters—maintains a backward, right-wing position on immigration reform.

People who have come here illegally should not be given a special pathway to permanent residency or citizenship in this country merely because they’ve come here illegally,” he said on Fox News Sunday.

But in a Talking Points memo piece yesterday, Benjy Sarlin points out that while Romney has stayed static on immigration, literally the entire universe around him has changed on the issue.  Conservatives from John Boehner to Sean Hannity now support immigration reform, business and labor groups are working together, and coalitions in favor of reform grow stronger every day, while the anti-immigrant base Romney was trying so hard to cater to has barely mobilized.  So while Romney was (and apparently continues to be) against citizenship, against legalization, and for self-deportation, today the GOP is miles away from those positions.  Here’s Sarlin summing up how far Republicans have come:

On a path to citizenship:

The GOP Today: Republican lawmakers, including rising star Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), are working on a bipartisan bill in the Senate that explicitly embraces a path to citizenship. Romney’s own running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has encouraged similar talks in the House and, while they’re still ongoing, he’s made it clear he’s pro-citizenship regardless of what they produce. The guy who ran Romney’s Latino outreach in 2012 is funding a major campaign to get the whole thing passed. Romney’s best friend in the press, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, is attacking Jeb Bush for even considering anything less. Even some anti-immigrant activists say that if a reform bill passes, they’d prefer it include citizenship rather than some muddier alternative.

Legal status for undocumented immigrants:

The GOP Today: The absolute floor for comprehensive immigration reform at this point is legal status for undocumented immigrants who pass a criminal background check, and activists say they’re likely to reject a bill if it comes to that. House Republicans skeptical of a path to citizenship often float legal status as an alternative, but even some of them areleaving wiggle room for a citizenship bill. Same with Bush, who is already hinting he might return to his old pro-citizenship position.


The GOP Today: While there’s still sympathy for states like Arizona who have put Romney’s ideas into practice by making life more difficult for their undocumented population, you’ll be hard pressed to find prominent Republicans advocating mass deportation as a viable solution. Romney got some heat for this during the primaries, too, as Newt Gingrich suggested letting local communities sponsor some illegal immigrants for legal status instead.

Oh, and that DREAM Act Romney promised to veto?  That’s a center-right position now.

The GOP Today: Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who is famously averse to getting out in front of House conservatives on any major issue, recently endorsed citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. Expectations have shifted so hard that activist groups pushing for the DREAM Act say they won’t even endorse it anymore unless it’s part of a larger bill granting eventual citizenship to the broader undocumented population.

Take it from Jeb Bush–if Romney is planning a return to the national stage, he’s going to need to update his stances, and get with the program.

Read Benjy Sarlin’s full piece here.