Romney accuses Obama of breaking immigration promise
After taking it on the chin from Democrats for months, Romney went on the offensive on immigration. (Flickr: NewsHour)
MILWAUKEE, Wis. -– Mitt Romney on Monday flatly accused President Obama of reneging on his campaign promise to bring up sweeping immigration reform, despite enjoying a Democrat-controlled Congress for his first two years in office.
“This has always been a priority for the President he chooses to do nothing about,” Romney said. “Let the immigrant community not forget that, while he uses this as a political weapon, he has not taken responsibility for fixing the problems we have.”
The former Massachusetts governor’s decision to turn his sights to Obama on the immigration issue comes as he’s inching closer to securing the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney has faced stinging criticism from the Obama campaign for months as the President’s surrogates have repeatedly dubbed him “the most extreme candidate” on issues affecting Latinos, who could play a decisive role in the fall, including immigration.
Romney now appears to be testing out a broader message on the issue, including jabs at the President. While running for president in 2008, Obama promised that he would have an immigration reform bill in his first year in office, which never occurred. The President has blamed a lack of Republican support and said last month he would work toward reform in a second term.
Romney also pledged he would address immigration during his presidency, if he’s elected, though his views on a solution differ significantly from the president’s.
“That is something that I will not just talk about in this campaign. This will be a priority of mine if I become president to make sure we finally reform our immigration laws step by step, secure the border, improve our legal immigration system, so we can keep people here and welcome people here who will make America a stronger nation,” he said.
The GOP front runner’s comments came at a town hall meeting at the Moore Oil Company after an audience member, noting that his girlfriend would have to return to Spain soon when her visa runs out, asked about immigration reform.
“My own view is our immigration policies are upside down,” he continued. “We make it very hard for people who have skills that we need — education and English-speaking and workplace skills — make it very hard for those people to come here and to stay here. On the other hand, those that don’t have any of those things are often times able to come either across the border or over-stay their visas and remain in this country indefinitely. So we’ve got it backwards.”
As to the audience member’s predicament, Romney said that if a foreigner has a degree from an institution of higher learning — a master’s, a PhD — in this country, then the government should “staple a green card to their diploma.”
“Welcome them here to the United States of America. We want those people in our country,” he noted. “At the same time we want to make sure that we stop illegal immigration so we can protect legal immigration. Legal immigration is something we conservatives like. We love people coming here legally, particularly that speak English, that can work in jobs here, that can create new industries, that are innovative.”
But Democrats have said that Romney’s approach focuses too heavily on onerous crackdowns on the 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
They cite his pledge to veto the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship to undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents, and his embrace of the controversial “self-deportation” model of immigration enforcement implemented in states like Arizona and Alabama.
Just when u think he can’t amaze, Mittattacks POTUS for not passing the immigration reform the entire GOP opposed!bit.ly/H9H6i6— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) April 2, 2012
“Mitt Romney’s attempt to Etch-a-Sketch his record on immigration has begun. But his extreme positions on immigration, can’t be erased,” said Obama campaign spokesperson Gabriela Domenzain. “The President, on the other hand, has made significant progress in implementing immigration policies that reward hard work and demand responsibility.”
Those attacks have contributed to Romney’s deep unpopularity with Latino voters, who largely favor a more accommodating approach to immigration. The former Massachusetts governor trails Obama by 46 percentage points among Latino voters, according to a January poll conducted for ABC News and Univision.
In this state just south of Canada, one might think that immigration and border security would not be much of an issue. But it was a topic that came up twice during the event.
The first mention of border security happened to be a light-hearted one after Romney was surprised to see an audience member who took the microphone to ask a question wearing a University of Oklahoma Sooners shirt.
“You guys got a border security problem here!” Romney quipped, triggering laughter from the crowd.
In Wisconsin, red and white sports gear is a familiar sight, but usually for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, not the Sooners. Madison is around 85 miles due west of here, while Norman, Okla., is 900 miles south.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who joined Romney at the event, noted moments later that he has two dogs: one named Boomer and the other Sooner. The University of Oklahoma’s fight song is “Boomer Sooner.”
Matthew Jaffe is covering the 2012 campaign for ABC News & Univision. Emily Friedman covers Mitt Romney’s campaign for ABC News.