By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — With polls showing Latinos overwhelmingly backing President Barack Obama’s re-election, Mitt Romney has shifted stands on the deportation of many young illegal immigrants, saying he would honor visas granted to them under a program that Obama launched in June.
Romney’s remarks in an interview with the Denver Post mark the first time he has taken a position on Obama’s order halting the deportation of most illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. They also contrast sharply with the tough rhetoric that Romney used on illegal immigration when he was seeking the support of conservatives in the Republican primaries.
Until Monday, Romney had refused to say whether he would halt Obama’s program, calling instead for an undefined “permanent solution” on illegal immigration to be worked out with Congress and criticizing Obama for failing to reach one.
“The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid,” Romney told the Denver Post on Monday. “I’m not going to take something that they’ve purchased. Before those visas have expired we will have the full immigration reform plan that I’ve proposed.”
When Romney was seeking the Republican presidential nomination, he opposed efforts to legalize the status of anyone brought to the United States as a child by parents who were illegal immigrants, with the sole exception of those who served in the U.S. military. At a GOP debate in January, he called for “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants, saying they should “return home and to apply for legal residency in the United States — get in line with everybody else.”
“We’re going to encourage a wave of illegal immigration by giving amnesty of some kind to those who have come here illegally,” he said at the Tampa, Fla., debate.
But Obama’s order stopping hundreds of thousands of deportations of young immigrants has posed a political challenge for Romney. He is caught between the growing influence of Latino voters in Colorado, Nevada and other swing states, on the one hand, and conservatives who are a crucial base of support, on the other.
Gabriela Domenzain, the Obama campaign’s director of Hispanic press, released a statement saying Romney’s “latest immigration pivot raises more questions than it answers.”
“He still has not said whether he would continue the administration’s policy that provides a temporary reprieve from deportation for young people who were brought here through no fault of their own,” she said. “Would he side with his extreme anti-immigration advisers and repeal this measure? What would he do with those who qualify for deferred action but haven’t received it?”
A poll last month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 69 percent of Latino voters support Obama’s re-election.