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Presidential Debate Tonight: Immigration Questions We Want Asked and Answered

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While immigration has not yet been raised as a topic in this year’s general election debates, Mitt Romney and President Obama are taking the stage again tonight, and we hope that immigration reform is on the agenda.  It’s an issue where the two candidates have very different view, and an issue where both of them need to answer some serious questions.

Today, America’s Voice is publishing a cheat sheet summarizing both President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s immigration records, along with the key questions we want asked and answered at the debate.

Mitt Romney:

  • With regard to the President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation, you have said that DREAMers who get their work permits before inauguration will get to keep them, but all others will be denied.  In essence, you will end the program and try to put in place a “permanent solution.”  But passing a law will take time.  What is your plan for the estimated one million DREAMers who you would make ineligible for relief early in your presidency?

In early October, Romney told the Denver Post that DREAMers “should expect that the visa would continue to be valid” (referring to the DREAMer deferred action program).  However, later that day, the Romney campaign clarified to the Boston Globe that a President Romney “would honor deportation exemptions issued by the Obama administration before his inauguration but would not grant new ones after taking office,” a sentiment also expressed to Julia Preston of the New York Times.  Only 4,500 DREAMers have had their applications approved so far, while nearly 200,000 have applied.  Our best guess is that by the time Inauguration Day arrives, only approximately 100,000 DREAMers will have work permits in hand.  This means that over one million DREAMers eligible for work permits under DACA would see their dreams dashed by a President Romney.

  • Do you still support the immigration positions you voiced during the primary season, when you pledged to veto the DREAM Act and called for undocumented immigrants to self-deport?  You have mentioned a “permanent solution” on immigration but have offered no details.  Does this “permanent solution” that you are now touting amount to a path to legalization for DREAMers who join the military, and “self-deportation” for all the rest? What is your specific plan for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.? 

During the primary season, Romney promised to veto the DREAM Act and voiced support for the notion of self-deportation – the theory underpinning the anti-immigrant state laws passed by Arizona and Alabama.  During the general election, Romney promised to provide “a path to legal status” for DREAMers that serve in the military, but he failed to divulge any details.  He also pledged to end the DACA program as soon as he was inaugurated (see previous question).  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?

Ahead of the debate tonight, New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D) is calling out Romney for his far-right immigration stances and his attempts to flip-flop away from them.  As Espaillat said in a statement:

Mitt Romney has committed to the most extreme, xenophobic positions on immigration, including the promise that he will veto the Dream Act. When he comes to New York…Mitt Romney should explain his hypocrisy on immigration and why he’s used immigrants as a piñata to appeal to extremists in his party.

President Obama:

  • What’s your roadmap to victory on comprehensive immigration reform?  You have blamed Republicans for blocking progress on immigration reform during your first term, so what would be different if you are re-elected – how will you get Republicans to work with you to address this issue? 

In May of 2008 on Univision, Obama said, “I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting.  And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.”  We know that didn’t happen, for various reasons.  In April of this year, also on Univision, Obama said, “I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term.”  And at Univision’s “Meet the Candidates” forum last month, Obama told Univision anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas that failing to enact comprehensive immigration reform was his “biggest failure.”  If he is re-elected, can we expect to see a White House proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, or will Obama wait for Congress to act?  How will his approach be different and more successful in a second term?

  • If Congress continues to obstruct progress on immigration reform, will you be willing to use executive authority like you did with the DREAMer deferred action policy to protect other groups of immigrants, such as the parents of U.S. citizen children?

The Administration’s documentation program for “DREAMers” was broadly embraced, with a recent CNN poll finding that 64% of registered voters said the new policy was “about right,” while 15% said it “does not go far enough” and only 18% said the program goes “too far.”  The President used his authority this way because Republicans blocked the DREAM Act in Congress, and the alternative – deporting these young aspiring citizens – went against his values.   If Republicans once again refuse to work with Obama to help pass immigration reform in Congress, will he use his administrative powers to make other meaningful changes to immigration policy?  Specifically, what additional steps would the Administration be prepared to take if legislation fails?

For more information, view:

America’s Voice Backgrounder on President Obama’s Immigration Positions

America’s Voice Backgrounder on Mitt Romney’s Immigration Positions