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Mitt Romney Goes on Univision Tomorrow: Last Chance to Answer Key Immigration Questions

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It’s Latino Week for Mitt Romney (and Hispanic Heritage Month for the rest of us), and the Republican candidate is already 0 for 2 when it comes to convincing Latino voters he’s on their side on immigration reform.  Romney’s speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce yesterday was a dud, full of substance-free platitudes on immigration just like we predicted.  Then, during an exclusive interview with Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart, Romney ducked and dodged the question of what he would do with President Obama’s deferred action program for DREAMers if elected.  Diaz-Balart repeatedly tried to pin him down, and Romney repeatedly made vague promises about putting in place a “permanent solution” via legislation, refusing to state whether he would keep or rescind the policy before such legislation becomes law.

Even the media frenzy around the leaked video from a Romney fundraiser features evidence that, when it comes to immigration and Latino voters, Romney just doesn’t get it.  In the video, Romney laments that had his father “been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this.”  While this may be a joke, it nonetheless reveals a larger truth that he seems incapable of fully grasping: Romney’s problems with Latino voters are not due to ethnicity or tone; they are instead borne out of his hardline immigration policy prescriptions he refuses to disavow.

Tomorrow, Romney will have one last opportunity to address immigration policy and connect with Latino voters, when he takes questions from Univisión’s hard-hitting duo of Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas.  Below are some questions we’d like to see Romney finally answer:

What role does Kris Kobach serve in your campaign?  Do you still support his vision for immigration policy, which some call “attrition through enforcement” and others call “self-deportation”?  Kris Kobach is the Kansas Secretary of State and architect of the immigration approach contained in Arizona and Alabama’s anti-immigration laws, the Republican Party platform, and Romney’s stump speeches during the Republican primary.  The heart of this strategy is to make life so unbearable for undocumented immigrants in the United States that they pick up and deport themselves.  Although Romney claimed yesterday that he has “not met” with Kris Kobach, Kobach insists he has “advised Romney directly.”  Upon accepting Kobach’s endorsement this past January, Romney’s campaign issued a statement attributed to Romney that read, “I’m so proud to earn Kris’s support…Kris has been a true leader on securing our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration into this country.  We need more conservative leaders like Kris willing to stand up for the rule of law.  With Kris on the team, I look forward to working with him to take forceful steps to curtail illegal immigration and to support states like South Carolina and Arizona that are stepping forward to address this problem.”  Tomorrow, Romney has one last chance to reject Kobach’s support and disavow his immigration policy positions.

Do you agree with the Republican Party platform on immigration?  The RNC’s official 2012 platform, authored primarily by Kobach, is grab-bag of hardline anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. The document is filled with references to “illegal aliens” and takes a particularly strong stand against the DREAMer deferred action program, declaring that President Obama’s immigration approach has “undermined the rule of law at every turn” by creating “a backdoor amnesty program unrecognized in law, granting worker authorization to illegal aliens.”  Reportedly, some of this language was missing from the first draft, but added in by Kobach and his allies who pointed out that they are “consistent” with your stated positions.  Do you agree with the immigration plank of the Republican Party platform in its entirety?  Do you agree that the President’s deferred action program has “undermined the rule of law” and that anti-immigration laws like those passed in Arizona and Alabama should be “encouraged, not attacked”?

You have endorsed Congressman Steve King  and said “I want him as my partner in Washington.”  Steve King has likened immigrants to dogs, cattle, and mass murderers and is most famous for pushing an electrified border fence “with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it.” Do you really think that Steve King has the right ideas about immigration policy?  Any distinction between Romney and Steve King is a matter of tone, not substance. Romney pledged to veto the DREAM Act while campaigning in King’s Iowa district last December.  Both Romney and King share the goal of “self-deportation” for the undocumented population.  Both men are strong supporters of the “show me your papers” provisions of harsh laws in states such as Arizona and Alabama.  Romney has yet to disavow the stances he touted during the GOP primary or create distance between himself and King’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies of the past.  Tomorrow is Romney’s last chance to explain exactly what he and King have in common on immigration policy and what they do not.

Once and for all, can you clarify whether you will keep in place or rescind the Obama deferred action policy if elected?  You’ve talked about enacting a permanent solution, but passing a law will take time.  What will you do about the deferred action policy in the interim?  Despite promising to veto the DREAM Act during the primary season, Romney has refused to state a clear position on what he would do with President Obama’s DREAMer deferred action policy if elected.  In June, he told an audience at the NALEO conference that he would “replace and supersede” President Obama’s deferred action program with something more permanent, but has refused to explain what that would be or declare whether he would cancel the policy on Day 1 or keep it in place until a more permanent solution is enacted by Congress.  As Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) told the Washington Post, this has led to confusion among eligible applicants: “If Obama loses, people aren’t so sure what’s going to happen to their applications and if they can be used against them…And Romney has not offered any assurances.”

Despite the best efforts of Telemundo’s Diaz-Balart yesterday, the answer remains unknown.

And back to that “permanent solution,” what exactly does it look like?  Is it immigration status for DREAMers who join the military, and “self-deportation” for all the rest?  What about the parents of DREAMers, and other aspiring citizens who have been here for decades and just need a chance to fix their papers?  Is it self-deportation for them as well?  During the primary season, Romney strongly supported the radical notion of self-deportation.  This approach, also known as “attrition through enforcement,” forms the intent of the state anti-immigrant laws passed by Arizona and Alabama.  Despite avoiding the issue in the general election, this is a position Romney has not disavowed.  Instead, he’s begun to talk about enacting a “permanent solution,” but failed to state exactly what that would look like.  At the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) conference in June and in front of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce yesterday, Romney promised to provide “a path to legal status” for DREAMers that serve in the military, but he failed to divulge any details.  The question still remains: when it comes to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, is self-deportation Romney’s permanent solution?

Latino voters are looking for leadership, not platitudes about “legal immigration.”  As Romney continues to duck and dodge when it comes to the specifics on his own immigration policies, Latino voters are left with many vague promises but very little clarity.