Mitt Romney’s Immigration Position Is Finally Clear: Pressure Undocumented To Leave The Country

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was accused on Wednesday of flip-flopping for comments he made in 2007 indicating he was open to a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

During Republican Debate on Tuesday Mitt Romney, whose status as the Republican front-runner is threatened by Newt Gingrich’s rise, said that any form of amnesty — such as providing a path to permanent legal residence, as the former House speaker advocated — would become “a magnet” for others to enter the country illegally. Photo: The Heritage Foundation Think Tank/Flickr

The Republican presidential candidate’s comments this week on the issue of undocumented immigrants made clear where he stands now: The U.S. government should do nothing proactive beyond creating a hostile environment for those in the country illegally, in the hopes that they leave.

The Newt Gingrich campaign noted that during the 2007 interview, Romney said “that those people who had come here illegally and are in this country, the 12 million or so that are here illegally, should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship.”

So in the past, Romney indicated an openness to creating a process by which undocumented immigrants might achieve permanent status in the U.S. But his position has hardened.

He now believes the government should do nothing directly for those who are in the country without documentation and want to stay, regardless of whether they are productive members of society or are receiving government benefits or are involved in criminal enterprises.

“People respond to incentives,” Romney said during the Republican presidential debate Tuesday night. “And if you can become a permanent resident of the United States by coming here illegally, you’ll do so.”

Romney and the rest of the Republican field criticized Gingrich, who has become the Republican front-runner in some national polls, for saying on Tuesday night he would not favor separating families in an effort to deport illegal immigrants.

“If you’ve been here 25 years and you’ve got three kids and two grand kids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out,” Gingrich said.

An incentive approach mainly means making it so difficult for undocumented immigrants to be in the U.S. that they leave on their own, as Romney’s top spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, explained to Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner after the debate Tuesday.

“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 countries,” Fehrnstrom said.

Meanwhile in Iowa on Wednesday, Romney said Gingrich had “offered a new doorway to amnesty.”

“I know there’s going to be great interest in finding how far we can apply amnesty, and I just think we make a mistake as a Republican Party to try to describe which people who come here illegally should be given amnesty, to be able to jump ahead of the line of people who have been waiting in line,” Romney said in Des Moines.

“My view is people who have waited in line patiently to come to this country legally should be ahead in line. And those who come here illegally should not be given a special deal or a special accelerated right to become a permanent resident or citizen,” Romney said.

Something similar happened on the payroll tax cut. Mr Romney criticized the payroll tax cut extension, because it was proposed by Obama and faulting it would presumably appeal to GOP primary voters. But his campaign wouldn’t state clearly that he opposes extending it, presumably because that would be used against him in a general election.

And this latest episode on immgration came only hours after the Romney camp defended its dishonest new ad tearing Obama’s words out of context by blithely claiming that, hey, the words aired in the ad were spoken by Obama. Romney advisers even said the media attention drummed up by the ad’s dishonesty was good for them.

Obama’s campaign said Romney has not been clear on what immigration policy he would support and criticized the former Massachusetts governor for changing his position on the matter.

“Governor Romney is somebody who once claimed to support comprehensive immigration reform, but now he is a candidate who is absolutely demagogue to the issue of immigration in a politically craven way because he believes that it serves his political interests,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt. “He is the most right-wing presidential candidate in recent presidential history on this issue.” [via Huff Post, The Washington Post and National Post]

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