De Leon: Romney is Out of Touch With Voters on Immigration

GOP candidate Mitt Romney

GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney is cementing his hardline stance on immigration.

He has touted the endorsement of Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Secretary of State who helped author the draconian immigration laws of Alabama and Arizona. He reiterated his unrelenting position on unauthorized immigrants and DREAMers—young people who stand to benefit from the DREAM Act—at the GOP presidential debate Monday.

“I absolutely believe that those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism or a special route to becoming permanent residents or citizens that’s not given to those people who have stayed in line legally. I just think we have to follow the law, I think that’s the right course,” he said when asked by Fox News political analyst Juan Williams whether he was alienating Latino voters. Romney did say “I love legal immigration.”

“I would veto the DREAM Act, if provisions included in that act say that people who are here illegally, if they go to school here long enough, get a degree here that they can become permanent residents,” Romney added after applause from the audience.

“I think that’s a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist those who come here illegally, ultimately return home, apply, and get in line with everyone else.”

He ended by stressing that “to protect our legal immigration system we have got to protect our borders and stop the flood of illegal immigration and I will not do anything that opens up another wave of illegal immigration.”

It won’t help Romney win Hispanic votes. Somos Republicans, the largest Hispanic republican group which says it has 6,000 members, endorsed Newt Gingrich this week, the one candidate who supports a limited path to residency for some undocumented immigrants.

Who is Romney even trying to appeal to? According to the latest Gallup poll, only three percent of Americans say immigration is the most important problem facing the country today, reported Jon Clifton, Gallup Social and Economic Analysis deputy director at an immigration symposium in Washington, D.C. Tuesday.

Clifton said that based on Gallup’s latest findings, lingering unemployment, the federal budget and continuing economic malaise are more worrisome to Americans than the perceived scourge of unauthorized immigration trumpeted by some on the far right.

Its true that almost two thirds of those polled say they are “dissatisfied” about the level of immigration to the U.S. Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of NDN, a think tank and advocacy organization, believes that immigration will be an issue in the upcoming Presidential elections because it is a hot button topic, especially in key southwestern states that will be contested in November. Clearly, Romney is placing his bets that reaching anti-immigration voters in those states is more important than the Hispanic voters who live in them.

Rosenberg, another panelist at Tuesday’s symposium, said that immigration is at a deeper level a “surrogate for growing diversification of society.” It is “about race, culture and how we are changing.”

He believes that with the election of an African American president, “the country has passed on to a new place in race,” but he contends that “we have not digested it yet as a country.”

Mitt Romney, rather than helping us process these seismic social and cultural shifts is calcifying the toxic immigration debate by insisting on an uncompromising position, a stance not taken by previous Republican presidents and candidates.

Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 which legalized the status of millions of unauthorized immigrants. President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain supported comprehensive immigration reform that included border enforcement and a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.

If Romney’s braggadocio proves to be real, then he will be presenting a very different Republican Party from that of Reagan or Bush. Is pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment the direction the Republican party, and this country, should be going?

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Feet in Two Worlds is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore 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.