Romney waffles on immigration, again

His much-anticipated speech before Hispanic officials gave no hints about his plan for undocumented immigrants

Topics: 2012 Elections, Immigration, Mitt Romney,

It looks like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will have to wait a bit longer for his answer from Romney on immigration.

Previewing the presumed GOP nominee’s speech before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials today, Salon’s Steve Kornacki explained: “Mitt Romney has three basic choices for the speech he will deliver to a conference of Latino leaders later today: He can break with his practice of never agreeing with President Obama on anything, ever; he can continue it and plant himself even more firmly on the right; or he can keep looking like a slippery politician who’s trying to have it both ways.”

Romney, perhaps unsurprisingly, decided to go with the slippery approach.  In his remarks, Romney did not budge from the non-position he took Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” where he refused to say if he would overturn President Obama’s new deportation policy while he sought to implement a more permanent legislation. “Some people have asked if I will let stand the president’s executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure,” he said, apparently hoping to confuse you into thinking the second sentence answers the question raised by the first. Overhauling the nation’s immigration system will take a lot of time, if it happens at all, under a Romney administration, so what he will do in the meantime he wouldn’t say.

And while we got some details on what Romney would do to strengthen legal immigration – “we will staple a Green Card to the diploma of someone who gets an advanced degree in this country” — we got nothing new on what Romney would do to address illegal immigration.

Instead, Romney offered a grand narrative about immigration that was heavy on rhetoric and light on specifics, but was not unconvincing. He started off by noting that “Hispanics have been hit disproportionately hard” by unemployment and the down economy — “and yet the president said that the private sector is doing fine.” He alone, Romney argued, could fix the middle class and ensure that “liberty’s torch can shine for future immigrants as brightly as it has shone for immigrants in the past.” He also spoke movingly about his own father’s immigrant experience, saying George Romney taught him that “the circumstances of one’s birth are not a barrier to achievement.”

That’s all fine and good, and polls do show that the economy is unquestionably the No. 1 issue for Hispanic voters. But how long can Romney go on without offering a real plan to deal with the 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the country? Even Republicans are getting frustrated waiting.

“Unfortunately, despite his promises, President Obama has failed to address immigration reform. 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,” Romney scolded. But the presumed GOP nominee, who has none of the complications of the House and Senate to deal with, did nothing to lay out his own vision. “I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution,” he said, without mentioning what that solution might look like for undocumented immigrants.

“[Obama] will imply that you don’t have a choice,” Romney told the audience of Hispanic political figures. “But I think he’s taking your vote for granted. I come here today to tell you you do have a choice.” That could be a convincing argument, but he’ll need to lay out his own side of that choice first.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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