Mitt Romney has officially staked out the most extreme immigration position possible: the removal of every undocumented immigrant in the nation. His message to Latino immigrants is: “go home.”
In the recent dustup over Newt Gingrich’s limited but sensible recognition of the simple fact that America will not and should not move to expel 11 million undocumented immigrants — many of whom have lived and worked here for well over a decade — Mitt Romney’s current position on immigration reform has become clear: anything short of mass deportation is “amnesty.”
At last week’s Republican presidential debate, Newt Gingrich reiterated his view that some undocumented immigrants who are deeply rooted in America should have a path to legal status – but not citizenship. Gingrich said:
I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century, and I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.
Gingrich’s “red card” proposal calls for legalization but no citizenship, which is applicable only to a small group of undocumented immigrants. This falls well short of the comprehensive immigration reform plan of 2006 that received the backing of 23 Republican Senators and President George W. Bush. Even an earlier incarnation of Mitt Romney expressed support for an earned citizenship policy that goes well beyond what Gingrich is now proposing. In a 2006 interview with Bloomberg News, Romney said, “We need to begin a process of registering those people, some being returned, and some beginning the process of applying for citizenship and establishing legal status” and said in reference to undocumented immigrants, “We’re not going to go through a process of tracking them all down and moving them out.
Despite this past support for comprehensive immigration reform, the shape-shifting Romney is now intent to shore up his anti-immigrant bona fides at any cost, labeling the Gingrich plan “amnesty” and sending out an Iowa mailer that touts Romney’s unparalleled tough record on immigration. In the spin room after last week’s debate, Romney adviser and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom explained the Romney immigration plan:
“You turn off the magnets, no in state tuition, no benefits of any kind, no employment. You put in place an employment verification system with penalties for employers that hire illegals, that will shut off access to the job market, and they will self retreat. They will go to their native countries.”
The bad news for Romney is that by admitting that the goal of his immigration plan is to expel the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently settled in the United States, he positions himself on the wrong side of the issue for three quarters of the American people and the millions of Latino voters who view immigration as a personal and defining issue.
In his painfully obvious attempt to pander to the hard right on immigration to shore up his conservative credentials, Mitt Romney has instead run headlong into a political disaster of his own making. His best argument in the primary is his electability in the general election. And yet by taking such a hard line position on immigration, he is making it impossible to win the 40% of the Latino vote he needs to win swing states such as Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada. His desperation on immigration is literally undermining the rationale for his candidacy.