During the primaries, Romney tacked to the right on immigration to outflank his conservative rivals. He went after Texas Gov. Rick Perry over a long-standing state law that allows illegal immigrants who live in Texas to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities there.
Romney later attacked former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) for suggesting that illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for a quarter-century or longer and who have roots in their communities eventually should have an opportunity to gain legal status, although not citizenship. Romney said he believed in “self-deportation” for the millions of illegal immigrants in the country.
The Hispanic vote will be critically important in the general election, and Romney is fighting an uphill battle. He has done little during the campaign to move toward the middle on immigration issues. Rather, he has tried to win Latino votes by talking economics and saying he would promote immigration reform. Obama has acknowledged that his inability to achieve such reform is his “biggest failure.”
Romney needs to hold Obama at or below 65 percent of the Hispanic vote, but most polls show the president above that level. That puts Romney at a disadvantage in the competition for the fastest-growing share of the population.
— Dan Balz
Here are Obama and Romney’s positions on immigration, broken down by subject:
Obama has urged Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would give young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children a path to citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military. The Senate blocked the bill in 2010.
In June, Obama said his administration would grant a two-year work permit and deferral of deportation to young illegal immigrants who arrived as children, are students or veterans, and meet certain other conditions.
Up to 1.7 million people could be eligible for the program. Tens of thousands have applied since August.
At the same time, the president has pursued an aggressive policy of deporting others, especially those who break U.S. laws. Since 2009, his administration has deported about 1.5 million illegal immigrants, more than the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
More than half of the 397,000 who were deported in 2011 had been convicted of drug offenses or crimes such as drunken driving. Others were repeat border-crossers from Mexico or were deemed threats to national security.
Obama’s position has been that the government should focus on sending back criminals and recent arrivals rather than minors and families who are settled.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney vetoed a state law similar to the Dream Act, and during the primaries he said that as president he would veto the legislation if Congress were to pass it. But he later endorsed a path to legal status for those who serve in the military.
Regarding Obama’s deferred-action plan, he has said he would not continue it. Instead, he has said that there should be a “permanent solution” to the problem of illegal immigration, but he has not detailed what that solution would be.
The Republican suggested in January that illegal immigrants should “self-deport,” meaning that they would leave the country of their own accord if they were unable to find jobs or obtain driver’s licences. He later backtracked from his comments and told a Latino audience at a campaign event in Florida in June that he favored a long-term, comprehensive solution to illegal immigration.
Romney has always said he supports strong enforcement of U.S. border controls. He has consistently said that he opposes providing “amnesty” or “magnets” for illegal immigrants such as driver’s licenses, jobs and in-state college tuition. He also has said that he is uncomfortable with the idea of rounding up and deporting people en masse.
Obama has repeatedly said he supports legislation, backed by some business sectors, that would increase the number of highly skilled foreign workers and entrepreneurs who can enter the United States on special visas or apply to immigrate. The issue has been bogged down in congressional divisions, and Obama has said his options are limited.
The issue has been complicated by the high rate of joblessness in the United States. Obama says he is committed to training 2 million Americans to meet high-tech business demands, while also helping U.S. businesses hire more skilled foreign workers.
Administration officials say Obama is committed to attracting skilled foreign workers in various ways, including support for measures that would grant permanent legal residency to foreign students who receive advanced U.S. degrees in science and technology.
Romney has said consistently that he favors legal immigration, especially by skilled and highly educated workers who are sought by American high-tech firms and other industries. He has criticized the current annual limit on the number of high-skilled visas, saying it is a barrier to the kinds of immigrants the country needs to remain innovative.
Romney, a former business executive, has argued that private industry should be allowed to determine the number of skilled foreign workers needed to do jobs if Americans cannot be found to do them. He has often criticized the Obama administration for keeping limits on skilled foreigners while not taking action against illegal immigrants.
Obama says he opposes “a patchwork of 50 states with 50 different immigration laws.” He has labeled as “misguided” the 2010 Arizona law that, among other provisions, requires police to check the status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.
His administration filed a federal lawsuit against Arizona, saying the state law thwarted federal laws. In June, the Supreme Court threw out several of the law’s provisions but left standing the one on status checks, although it did reinforce the federal government’s primacy in immigration policy.
Obama has similarly called “a bad law” an Alabama statute that requires police to try to determine a person’s legal status if they suspect that he or she is here illegally. The law prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving state or local benefits and requires that schools ascertain whether students are here legally. It prohibits landlords from renting to illegal immigrants and requires businesses to validate workers’ status using the E-Verify program. In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit struck down major provisions of the law. Alabama has challenged the panel’s ruling and asked for a new hearing.
Romney has not said outright that he supports the laws enacted in Arizona, Alabama and other states, but he has called on the Justice Department to drop its lawsuit against the Arizona legislation. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, his informal adviser, is a key architect of the measures.
Romney has called Arizona “a model” for the nation, for another immigrant-related law that requires employers to check the legal status of workers through the E-Verify system. He has remained relatively quiet on the Alabama law, and more recently he has deflected questions on whether the country should follow Arizona’s immigration laws.
WHO ARE THEIR ADVISERS ON IMMIGRATION?
Cecilia Muñoz: Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Muñoz is a child of Bolivian immigrants. She is a former senior vice president for the office of research, advocacy and legislation at the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group.
Kris Kobach: The Kansas secretary of state is a chief author of Arizona’s tough law targeting illegal immigrants. He has blasted President Obama’s policy to grant deferred action to some illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.