SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Mitt Romney on Monday said the Supreme Court should have given states "more latitude" to deal with immigration than the justices allowed when they struck down key parts of Arizona's tough immigration enforcement law.
The likely Republican nominee declined to address the specifics of the court's decision to uphold the Arizona law's "show me your papers" requirement but prohibit police officers from arresting people on minor immigration charges, taking the teeth out of the law's enforcement.
"I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to states, not less. And the states, now under this decision, have less authority, less latitude, to enforce immigration law," Romney told donors at a fundraiser in Scottsdale, a wealthy enclave outside Phoenix. The event raised $2 million, the campaign said.
Romney instead used Monday's ruling as an opportunity to criticize President Barack Obama for what he termed inaction on immigration reform until recently. Romney called for a national immigration strategy and insisted he would tackle immigration during his first year in office.
America's immigration laws have "become a muddle," Romney said.
The court struck down three major provisions of Arizona's immigration enforcement law: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers; making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job; and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
Romney campaign spokesman Rick Gorka told reporters that "the governor supports the states' rights to craft immigration laws when the federal government had failed to do so." He repeatedly declined to answer questions about whether Romney agreed with the ruling or whether the former Massachusetts governor would support the kind of laws the high court found mostly unconstitutional.
Romney has worked to soften his rhetoric on immigration policy since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee for president. During the Republican primary, he never endorsed Arizona's immigration law.
Asked in February during a GOP primary debate in Arizona whether he supported tough immigration enforcement that includes arrests, Romney said: "I think you see a model in Arizona." He then mentioned the federal E-Verify program — it requires businesses to check the legal status of their employees — as one way to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in a particular state.
Romney then said: "So going back to the question that was asked, the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn't doing."
The Obama administration sued to block the Arizona law soon after its enactment two years ago.
Protestors greeted Romney at his fundraiser in Scottsdale. The court's immigration ruling "leaves us with a bittersweet victory," said Carlos Galindo, an Obama supporter and the president of the Phoenix-area Immigrant Advocacy Foundation.