Last night, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney appeared on Univisión’s “Meet the Candidate” forum—President Obama was interviewed today—where the questions from Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas almost immediately turned to his stance on key immigration issues. Unfortunately, Governor Romney did not provide much additional clarity as to his stance on issues such as continuation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), deportation and a balanced approach to comprehensive immigration reform.
First, the question of Deferred Action. When first asked about whether he would keep the President’s temporary policy, Romney responded: “The immigration system, I think we all agree, is broken and it’s been a political football for years and years on the part of both Republicans and Democrats. It needs to be fixed.” This answer did not address whether he would continue with DACA. Further pressed to specifically provide an answer on the fate of DACA under a Romney administration, the answer was that a “permanent solution” would be his goal—again, refusing to address whether he would keep the policy.
Clearly, a permanent solution is necessary. But in the absence of Congress and the White House being able to agree to one—a reality given Washington’s bitter partisanship—voters were left still guessing whether the 1.7 million potential beneficiaries of Deferred Action would be left out in the cold under a Romney administration.
Given Mr. Romney’s vague response to his stance on the DREAM Act—saying it would “have to be worked out by the Republicans and Democrats together”—the answer is that the President’s Deferred Action policy would likely not be upheld in its current form. This is a good reason for Romney to avoid the question in front of Univisión’s Spanish-speaking audience.
Why? Deferred Action is largely modeled after the DREAM Act that failed to pass Congress in late 2010—a bill where Mr. Romney disagrees with its core provisions. DACA, similar to the most recent DREAM bill, applies to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, and who are over 15 years old and under age 31, and have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years. Potential beneficiaries must also have a high school diploma or a GED, or be currently in school. Military veterans are also eligible. The major difference is that DREAM provides a pathway to citizenship but Deferred Action beneficiaries are only granted a two-year reprieve from deportation along with work authorization.
Romney said yesterday evening: “I would be in support of a program that said the people who serve in our military could be permanent residents of the United States.” The problem is that does not describe either the DREAM Act proposal or Deferred Action. It misses one of the fundamental reasons behind the DREAM Act: we educate immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at too young of an age to make the decision themselves. But then after educating kids who generally know no other home than the U.S., today’s broken system does not authorize their employment. At a time when our country needs every young, bright mind to compete in the global economy, it does not make sense to bar these DREAMers from being fully-contributing members of American society.
Next up at the Univision discussion came the question of deportation. Here, neither Mr. Romney nor President Obama has a stellar record. The President has deported approximately 1.4 million undocumented immigrants as of July 2012, with nearly 400,000 people deported in Fiscal Year 2011—the highest number yet. Although 55 percent of those deported were convicted criminals, government resources should be more judiciously managed so that they are not directed to deporting law abiding citizens who constitute the other 45 percent. The Obama administration has moved in that direction but at a late point in his term.
Here, Mr. Romney showed that he had not reassessed his policy of “self-deportation,” which was first articulated as a primary candidate. He told Univisión yesterday: “I’m not in favor of a deportation, mass deportation, a rounding up of 12 million people and taking them out of the country. I believe people make their own choices as to whether they want to go home and that’s what I mean by self-deportation.” The question becomes how a Romney administration would lay the groundwork for people to decide to leave—and what is meant by the decision “to go home.” For DREAMers, the U.S. is their home.
Still, the big immigration question is the prospect for comprehensive immigration reform. At today’s Univisión discussion, President Obama was asked why he did not introduce comprehensive reform despite it being a campaign pledge to do so in the first year. His response was that he made this pledge before the economic collapse and that meant “my first priority was avoiding us from entering into a Great Depression.” He also placed blame on that fact that he “could not get a single Republican to stand up and support comprehensive immigration reform.” But Obama did admit not keeping this campaign promise and flipped this reality into a reason to support him: “I haven’t gotten everything done that I want to get done and that’s why I’m running for a second term.” He also struck a somewhat optimistic note: “Deferred action gives us a basis to get something done for the DREAMers” and for comprehensive reform.
After these two forums, the decision now turns to the more than 23 million eligible Hispanic voters, especially those who may likely help to decide the election results in Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado, and other pivotal swing states with large Hispanic populations.
*Jason Marczak is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is senior editor of Americas Quarterly, managing editor of AQ Online and director of policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas.