Commentary: Between Obama and Romney, Choice Should Be Crystal Clear to Immigrants

Mitt Romney at the second Presidential debate. (Photo: Flickr/barackobamadotcom)

During the second presidential debate on Tuesday a question about immigration was finally posed by an audience member. “Mr. Romney, what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?”

Gov. Romney’s response belied his hardline immigration stance. He may have paid lip service to his immigrant ancestry and acknowledged the need for more high-skilled visas, but he stressed that “we’re going to have to stop illegal immigration.” He swore not to “grant amnesty to those who have come here illegally.”

Rather than proposing a path to citizenship for those who have been living here for some time without papers, he said that he’ll “put in place an employment verification system and make sure that employers that hire people who have come here illegally are sanctioned for doing so.”

This, in his grand scheme of things, would encourage the 12 million “undocumented illegals” to choose self-deportation. “If they find that — that they can’t get the benefits here that they want and they can’t — and they can’t find the job they want, then they’ll make a decision to go (to) a place where — where they have better opportunities.” He did offer a way for “kids of those that came here illegally” to gain permanent residency, namely through military service.

In contrast, the President reiterated the need to fix “a broken immigration system” and articulated the need for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “I’ve done everything that I can on my own and sought cooperation from Congress to make sure that we fix the system.” He reminded those who point out that he has not fulfilled his promise of reform, “I have sat down with Democrats and Republicans at the beginning of my term. And I said, let’s fix this system. Including senators previously who had supported it on the Republican side. But it’s very hard for Republicans in Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform, if their standard bearer has said that this is not something I’m interested in supporting.”

Mr. Obama also acknowledged the entrepreneurial spirit of immigrants which is “good for our economic growth.” He reminded Mr. Romney that while the Republican candidate had said he would veto the DREAM Act, the current administration has granted a reprieve to young immigrants. The President derided the self-deportation policy solution of Gov. Romney and his anti-immigrant allies.

For most immigrant voters, none of this is new. A majority of Latinos and Asian Americans support President Obama because they are acutely aware that he and the Democratic Party have long embraced people of color and immigrants. They know, that at the end of the day, they will fare better under an Obama White House and a Democratic Congress, not only as immigrants but as hard-working lower and middle class Americans.

There is no denying that the Obama administration has deported a staggering number of unauthorized immigrants, including those who are not, in Mr. Obama’s own words, “criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community” but “folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families.” This approach, in my mind, is a misguided and very unfortunate attempt by the administration’s to prove their law enforcement bona fides to Republican critics and lawmakers who never intended to and never will cooperate in enacting comprehensive immigration reform.

Nonetheless, for the few who remain undecided, what else is there to consider? Review the debate video, read the transcript, and check both men’s past words and actions. Gov. Romney is hell bent on getting rid of those people, those who are here illegally without considering that they are the parents, children, uncles, aunts, friends and neighbors of millions of Americans who only want a shot at the American Dream. President Obama in stark contrast, is determined to treat everyone with dignity while finding a fair and rational solution to an intractable immigration stalemate.

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Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.