Contrasting Romney And Obama On Immigration

We get two perspectives on President Obama's policy shift on immigration and the election year efforts to reach Hispanic voters. Host Scott Simon speaks with Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, co-chair of Obama campaign and head of Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, who served alongside Mitt Romney when he was governor in Massachusetts and is now an adviser to the campaign.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're going to get two perspectives on President Obama's policy shift on immigration and the election year efforts to reach Hispanic voters. We turn now to congressman Charlie Gonzalez. He's a Texas Democrat, co-chair of President Obama's re-election effort. He's at the studios of Texas Public Radio in San Antonio. Congressman, thanks for being with us.

REPRESENTATIVE CHARLIE GONZALEZ: Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: And former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. She served alongside Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, and she's now an advisor to his campaign. She joins us on the phone from Utah. Lieutenant Governor Healey, thanks for being with us.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR KERRY HEALEY: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And let me begin with you first, Lieutenant Governor. What do you think Governor Romney offers Hispanic voters that the president doesn't? Mr. Romney, he had indicated he'd veto the DREAM Act.

HEALEY: Well, what Governor Romney laid out in his speech to NALEO was a comprehensive plan, and a commitment to seek comprehensive immigration reform, which is something that for whatever reason President Obama has not pursued during the past three and a half years. During two of those years, he had control of Congress, and had he made this a priority, had sought some sort of comprehensive reforms, we would not be in the position that we are today.

And so what Governor Romney brings to the table is a firm commitment to seek comprehensive reforms of our immigration policies. He understands how highly dysfunctional our immigration system is in the United States at this time. And he hits certain things that I think are going to be very appealing to Hispanic voters and to all immigrants.

SIMON: Let me follow up with you, congressman. The president's recent statement notwithstanding, deportations are at an all-time high. So what do you say to Hispanic voters who might wonder if the president's announcement about what amounts to prosecutorial discretion is just a lot of talk?

GONZALEZ: Not at all. The truth is you have limited resources. What this administration decided is to basically concentrate on those individuals that had criminal histories, were being arrested for some sort of a criminal act, imposed some danger to national security or the local safety and welfare of the citizens. That makes total sense. Why would you be deporting a DREAM Act kid? You would never do that.

But what Governor Romney's come out, in essence, he hasn't said that he'd make any kind of distinction. He hasn't said that this is a comprehensive plan that incorporates treatment for the 11 million illegal workers and their families that are in this country today.

If Governor Romney and the Republican Party want to simply ignore the facts and the economic necessity of comprehensive immigration reform, they're free to do that. But they can't go before NALEO and claim that they support it when they just haven't been there in the past when the effort has been attempted.

SIMON: Let me - I was intrigued in the reaction that followed President Obama's announcement with a number of people who are usually on the one side or another seemed to cross the lines of allegiance in this case. Lieutenant Governor Healey, Bill Kristol, of course, editor of the Weekly Standard, said it's the right thing to do. And Dr. Richard Land, a top conservative evangelical leader called it the low-lying fruit of immigration reform. This ought to be something we call unite around.

So, Lieutenant Governor Healey, to put you on the spot a bit, what restrains Governor Romney from just saying the same thing - yes, this is the right thing to do?

HEALEY: Because what happened when President Obama put this band-aid on this gaping wound of immigration - illegal immigration in America, was that it's not enough. It's kicking the can down the road. It's not saying I demand that Congress comes together and deal with this important issue.

And it also preempted efforts by people on the Republican side. Senator Rubio was putting together his own version of the DREAM Act. And perhaps that could have garnered enough bipartisan support to deal with this comprehensively. This doesn't really give any certainty. What President Obama did for those folks who are impacted by his new policy, it doesn't give those young people any certainty. It gives them a two year deferment, perhaps.

SIMON: Congressman Gonzalez, President Obama's believed to have received 67 percent of the Hispanic vote when he was elected in 2008. And if his people expect this is going to be a close election this year, he - and you presumably, wouldn't want that to go down. But he was a candidate in 2008, he's now running as the president who has enacted the highest number of deportations ever. Does the president of the United States, your candidate, see illegal immigration first and last as a national security problem?

GONZALEZ: I think he appreciates the potential. Anyone should. But that's not the issue that you really have presented when we come to immigration reform. Of course, we secure the border for many, many reasons - criminal activity, dangers to our national security - that will always be paramount as far as a consideration. But that doesn't really describe what ails the broken system.

One thing that Kerry's not addressing - the 11 million undocumented workers and their families here in the United States. I don't see that Governor Romney and - because all you have to do is look at the history and the rhetoric. He never came out and said that he was ever for a DREAM Act, whether it was the Rubio version or anyone else's version.

He just simply deferred and said I'll have to look at the particular details. Why didn't he come out and simply say, we have to find a way of keeping these DREAM kids here. Last I heard he said it was a handout. That was his last quote, that he was specific on it. I will agree with this when he says it's about economic necessity. The president has already made a proposal. Now, you may say it's piecemeal, but he's moved forward on every aspect of comprehensive immigration in a way that you can do it effectively and timely. If he waited for this Senate - and you don't have but three Republicans supporting cloture - then we wouldn't get anything done.

SIMON: Lieutenant Governor Healey, does your candidate Governor Romney first and last see illegal immigration as a security problem?

HEALEY: I think he sees it both from an economic perspective and also, of course, from a security perspective. But I really would argue with the point. When you talk about congressional gridlock being the answer to why President Obama couldn't do anything, really, I mean, if Democrats are in charge of both houses of Congress and they still can't get even these small things done that would be of such great benefit to the country, I think it's time we had a different kind of leadership.

SIMON: Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey of Massachusetts for the Romney campaign joining us from Utah. Thank you for being with us.

HEALEY: Thank you so much.

SIMON: And Texas Congressman Charlie Gonzalez of the Obama campaign speaking with us from Texas public radio in San Antonio. Thank you.

GONZALEZ: Thank you for the opportunity.

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