(CNSNews.com) - While speaking before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacked President Barack Obama for not enacting immigration reform legislation when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House and could not have been readily thwarted by congressional Republicans.
“Unfortunately, despite his promises, President Obama has failed to address immigration reform,” said Romney. “For two years, this President had huge majorities in the House and Senate--he was free to pursue any policy he pleased. But he did nothing to advance a permanent fix for our broken immigration system. Instead, he failed to act until facing a tough re-election and trying to secure your vote.”
In his speech in front of the Latino officials, Romney took a different approach to immigration than he did only a half year ago, when he was campaigning in the Republican primary race.
Now, Romney is not saying he will reverse President Obama's unilateral act of letting some illegal aliens stay in the United States and work, instead Romney is saying he will "replace and supersede" Obama's order with something permanent.
Back during this Republican primary campaign--and also during the 2008 Republican primary--Romney said he was against letting any illegal aliens stay in the United States, including those who had been here a long time and had children in school.
In the 2012 primaries, Romney scored points against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry by objecting to Gingrich’s plan to grant permanent resident status to a limited number of illegal aliens who had been in the United States 25 years and to Perry's having signed a state version of the DREAM Act that allowed illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition at Texas state colleges and universities.
Gingrich explained his position in a Dec. 10, 2011 debate in Des Moines, Iowa, that was broadcast by ABC News.
“I started with cases that I think are very hard to argue about: somebody who has been here 25 years, somebody who has been a good local citizen, may well belong to your church, has children and grandchildren in the United States,” said Gingrich.
“And I would have said flatly, I do not believe the people of the United States are going to send the police in to rip that kind of person out and ship them out of this country, particularly because those are precisely the people who are going to end up in churches as sanctuaries,” said Gingrich.
In light of Gingrich's remarks, Dianne Sawyer asked Romney, “How many people should be sent back home to their country? Should they be tracked down to establish who they are, sent back home to their country?”
Romney responded by taking a hardline to the right of Gingrich.
“I believe that any time that we start talking about a form of amnesty, whether it's technically amnesty or not, when we start talking about how people have been able to come here and stay illegally for some period of time that they're going to be able to stay here permanently and become permanent residents of the United States with rights to our education system, our health care system, and so forth, we will then create another magnet that draws people into our country illegally,” said Romney.
“So the right course for us is to, once again, talk about what you described, secure the border,” said Romney. “Once we do that, we can start talking about the 11 million or whatever number that might be that are in the country illegally.
“My own view is, those 11 million people should register the fact that they're here in the country,” said Romney. “They should be given some transition period of time to allow them to settle their affairs and then return home and get in line--at the back of the line with everybody else that wants to come here.”
In that Republican primary debate, Romney expressed the view that sending all 11 million illegal aliens back home was the fair thing to do because many people were patiently waiting overseas to legally immigrate to the U.S.
“Don't forget, when we talk about the difficulty of people going home, there are millions of people, many of whom have relatives here in this country who are in line, who want to come here,” said Romney. “I want to bring people in this country who have skill, experience, family here, who want to draw them in.
“I do not want to do something which encourages another wave of illegal immigration,” said Romney. “So from my viewpoint the key measure is this, no favoritism for permanent residency or citizenship for those that have come here illegally.”
Romney expressed the same view--that all illegal aliens in the United States must go home--in the 2008 primary campaign in a debate held Feb. 2 of that year at the Reagan Library in California.
"My plan is this, which is for those that have come here illegally and are here illegally today, no amnesty," said Romney.
"Now, how do people return home?" he said. "Under the ideal setting, at least in my view, you say to those who have just come in recently, we're going to send you back home immediately, we're not going to let you stay here. You just go back home. For those that have been here, let's say, five years, and have kids in school, you allow kids to complete the school year, you allow people to make their arrangements, and allow them to return back home. Those that have been here a long time, with kids that have responsibilities here and so forth, you let stay enough time to organize their affairs and go home.
"But the key is this," said Romney. "These individuals are free to get in line with everyone else that wants to become a permanent resident or citizen. But no special pathway, no special deal that says because you're here illegally, you get to stay here for the rest of your life."
"Do it in a humane and compassionate way, but say to those who have come here legally, you must return home, you must get in line with everybody else that wants to come here," said Romney back then. "There are millions throughout the world who want to come to this country legally. It's a wonderful privilege. But those that have come here illegally should not be given a better deal."
Romney also sharply attacked the idea of letting illegal aliens attend U.S. colleges and pay in-state tuition.
In a Sept. 22, 2011, debate in Orlando, Fla.--that was televised by Fox News--Romney attacked Gov. Rick Perry of Texas for signing a Texas state version of the DREAM Act that allowed illegal aliens to stay in the state and pay in-state tuition at Texas state colleges.
“It's an argument I just can't follow,” said Romney. “I've got be honest with you, I don't see how it is that a state like Texas--to go to the University of Texas, if you're an illegal alien, you get an in-state tuition discount. You know how much that is? That's $22,000 a year.
“Four years of college, almost $100,000 discount if you are an illegal alien go to the University of Texas,” said an incredulous Romney. “If you are a United States citizen from any one of the other 49 states, you have to pay $100,000 more. That doesn't make sense to me.”
“That kind of magnet draws people into this country to get that education, to get the $100,000 break,” said Romney. “It makes no sense.”
“We have to crackdown on employers that hire people that are here illegally,” Romney said in that Florida primary debate. “And we have to turn off the magnet of extraordinary government benefits like a $100,000 tax credit--or, excuse me, discount for going to the University of Texas. That shouldn't be allowed. It makes no sense at all.”
In speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on Thursday, Romney made no mention of the view he has expressed in December that all 11 million illegal aliens should be sent home and get in the back of the line. Nor did he restate the view he expressed last year that granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens would create a magnet for more illegal immigration and made “no sense at all.”
Romney did say that he thought the Latino elected and appointed officials he was addressing “deserve better” than the “temporary measure” President Obama took last week when he unilaterally declared that illegal aliens between the ages of 16 and 30 who have been in the United States at least five years and fulfill certain other criteria will be able to stay legally in the United States and apply for work permits.
Romney did not say he would overturn Obama’s unilateral action that bypassed Congress—and Congress's constitutional power over the naturalization of aliens. But he did say he would put in place something that would “replace and supersede” Obama's unilateral action.
“Last week, the President finally offered a temporary measure that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election,” said Romney. “ After three and a half years of putting every issue from loan guarantees for his donors to Cash For Clunkers before immigration, now the President has been seized by an overwhelming need to do what he could have done on Day One. I think you deserve better.
“Some people have asked if I will let stand the President's executive action,” said Romney. “The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President's temporary measure.
“As President, I won’t settle for a stop-gap measure,” said Romney. “I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution. I will prioritize measures that strengthen legal immigration and make it easier. And I will address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner. We may not always agree, but when I make a promise to you, I will keep it.”
Romney then laid out the principles he said would guide him in enacting his own permanent immigration reform.
“As I have said many times, it is critical that we redouble our efforts to secure the borders,” said Romney. “That means both preventing illegal border crossings and making it harder to illegally overstay a visa. We should field enough border patrol agents, complete a high-tech fence, and implement an improved exit verification system.
“Our immigration system should help promote strong families, not keep them apart,” said Romney. “Our nation benefits when moms and dads and their kids are all living together under the same roof. But, today, too many families are caught in a broken system that costs them time and money and entangles them in red tape. For those seeking to come to America the right way, that kind of bureaucratic nightmare has to end. And we can do this with just a few common-sense reforms.
“As President, I will reallocate Green Cards to those seeking to keep their families under one roof,” said Romney. “We will exempt from caps the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents. And we will eliminate other forms of bureaucratic red tape that keep families from being together.”
Romney indicated he wanted to bring in more immigrants with advanced degrees and also create an updated “temporary worker” program that would allow employers to bring in foreign workers to fill jobs here in the United States.
“Immigration reform is not just a moral imperative, but an economic necessity as well,” said Romney. “Immigrants with advanced degrees start companies, create jobs, and drive innovation at a high rate. Immigrants founded or cofounded nearly half of our 50 top venture-backed companies. They are nearly 30 percent more likely to start a business. And that kind of risk taking is something we need more than ever because new business starts are now at a 30-year low.
“I will work with states and employers to update our temporary worker visa program so that it meets our economic needs,” said Romney.
“And if you get an advanced degree here, we want you to stay here--so we will staple a green card to your diploma,” said Romney. “We want the best and brightest to enrich the nation through the jobs and technologies they will help create.”
He then indicated he would like to grant a path to citizenship to illegal aliens who have served in the military or “anyone who is willing” to do so.
“We also have a strong tradition in this country of honoring immigrants who join our military and put their lives on the line to keep this country safe,” said Romney. “Since September 11, 2001, the United States has naturalized almost 75,000 members of the Armed Forces. Too many of these patriots died on distant battlefields for our freedom before receiving full citizenship here in the country they called ‘home.’
“As President, I will stand for a path to legal status for anyone who is willing to stand up and defend this great nation through military service,” said Romney. “Those who have risked their lives in defense of America have earned the right to make their life in America.
Romney also said he would “establish a strong employment verification system so that every business can know with confidence that the people it hires are legally eligible for employment.”