Romney talks tough on illegal immigration to Latino group
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) speaks at a GOP presidential primary debate in Iowa last month (Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday backed tough restrictions on illegal immigration before an audience of Latino Republicans in Florida.
Latino voters typically favor looser immigration restrictions. But Romney, who is looking to make inroads with conservative GOP primary voters, voiced support for strict enforcement mechanisms such as completion of a high-tech fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and improvements to the federal E-Verify system.
Romney said during a speech to the Republican National Hispanic Assembly in Tampa that he is a “great proponent” of legal immigration, name-checking the parents of GOP rising star Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). But he added that the government needs to crack down on undocumented immigrants flowing across the border “in a way that is civil but resolute.”
“As president, I promise to lead on this critical issue,” he said. “The people who came to America did not come for a handout. They came here for opportunity. The President and his party are about handouts and the redistribution of wealth. That is not what brought people to these shores.”
It remains to be seen how Romney’s tough talk on immigration will help him with Latino voters nationwide, but the candidate is hoping it pays off during the GOP primary.
Romney’s words might not hurt him in Florida — which doubles as a key GOP presidential primary state and general election swing state — since it contains a large segment of Cuban Republican voters who don’t support immigration reform as strongly as the rest of the Latino community.
But comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants consistently ranks as a top issue for the broader Latino community. President Obama won 67 percent of the group in 2008, a total at which Republicans will have to chip away in 2012.
Democrats said that Romney’s rhetoric and immigration record as Massachusetts governor will hurt him with Latino voters next year and that it’s merely part of his primary campaign strategy to appeal to segments of the GOP’s right wing.
Indeed, Romney appears to be using immigration as a way to distinguish himself from his main rival, Rick Perry (R), who had a mixed record on the issue as Texas governor. But some conservative immigration hawks have also questioned Romney’s own record.
“This is going to be a huge issue that you will see Romney having to tap dance around because of his primary shuffle to get further and further right to court the Tea Party,” Florida state Rep. Darren Soto (D) told reporters on a conference call Friday. “We see Romney flip-flopping all over the place on this.”
Democrats also pointed out that Romney does not support the federal DREAM Act and vetoed a law in Massachusetts that would have provided in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, a fact Romney himself noted in his speech.
Overall, Romney appears hopeful that his economic message will resonate with Latino voters, considering that 11.3 percent of the demographic group is unemployed.
He led his speech with criticism of President Obama’s economic policies and touted his job-creation ideas and record as governor of the Bay State. He promised a ”bold, sweeping and specific” jobs plan to be released next week that includes proposals to reduce taxes on businesses and promote free trade.
“Hispanics have been hit terribly hard, with an unemployment rate that is higher than the national one. Home values have dropped more than they did during the Depression and Florida has seen some of the worst of it,” he said. “Four more years on the same misguided political path would be disastrous. Career politicians got us into this mess and career politicians can’t get us out.”
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