Mitt Romney said Friday that he hopes an immigration reform measure will be signed into law before the 2016 presidential election, a striking posture considering his hard-line stance in the immigration debate during his 2012 campaign for president.

"I do believe it's important for us, before the presidential contest in 2016, to finally have immigration reform in place," Romney said in Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register. "I just don't think it's healthy for the country to continue to have this issue open and unresolved, particularly with so many families that are waiting for the answers.

Romney made the comment to reporters after a campaign stop for state Sen. Joni Ernst (R), a candidate for U.S. Senate. He said that he hopes Congress can pass a bill before the fall, but "time is running out for that to happen."

When he ran for president in 2o12, Romney advocated "self-deportation" during the GOP primary as his prescription for reducing the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. He won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the general election, faring worse than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) four years earlier.

After the election, Romney told The Washington Post's Dan Balz that he was surprised by the blowback to his "self deportation" line.

"I thought of it as being a term that is used in the community of those discussing immigration," Romney said. "I hadn't seen it as being a negative term."

Romney said Friday that undocumented immigrants "should not be given a special pathway to citizenship or permanent residency," the Register reported.