Romney: Immigration System Needs To Be Fixed

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney promised to pursue a permanent fix for the country's "broken" immigration system during a Univision forum. Despite pointed questioning, Romney offered few details about how he would deal with millions of immigrants who are already in this country illegally.

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Mitt Romney and President Obama are making back-to-back appearances on Univision, the Spanish language TV network offering access to an increasingly important Latino audience. And last night, Romney promised to pursue a permanent fix for what he called the country's broken immigration system. Still, Romney offered few details about how he would deal with millions of immigrants who are already in this country illegally.

Romney is trying to cut in to the big advantage that President Obama has with the fast-growing Latino population, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Having been criticized this week for his apparent willingness to write off nearly half the American public, Mitt Romney went out of his way during the Univision forum to say he wants to be president for the whole country.

MITT ROMNEY: This is a campaign about the 100 percent.

HORSLEY: Romney can ill afford to disregard the Latino vote, which has grown more than 25 percent just since 2008. Latinos are expected to cast more than one out of 12 votes nationwide. And here in Florida, the biggest of the November battlegrounds, it's more like one in five.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Spanish)

HORSLEY: At a campaign rally in Miami last night, Romney argued the Republican Party should be the natural home for Latino voters, because, he said, it's the party of hope and opportunity.

ROMNEY: This is why Hispanic Americans are going to join this campaign. We're going to win because we're going to get the support of you and your friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

HORSLEY: Romney notes that Latino unemployment has hovered above 10 percent for more than 50 months in a row. That dates back to the Bush administration. But Romney insists that President Obama's policies are largely to blame.

ROMNEY: He's eloquent. He can describe his vision for the future. You heard his convention speech. He talked of all the things he wanted to do. But we have his record and his record speaks louder than his words will ever speak.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

HORSLEY: Supporters, like insurance consultant Fernando Silva, waved signs that read: Juntos con Romney, or Together with Romney.

FERNANDO SILVA: It seems that Governor Romney's policies would lead more to more economic freedom. I think that anybody who wants to see the country succeed is going to make the right choice and pick Governor Romney.

HORSLEY: But Latinos who support Romney represent a minority within a minority. Polls suggest Romney is trailing Mr. Obama among Latinos by an even bigger margin than John McCain did four years ago. McCain, after all, had once bucked the Republican Party to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, while Romney has distinguished himself within the GOP for his hard line on illegal immigration. Pressed about that during last night's Univision forum, Romney agreed the U.S. immigration system is broken.

ROMNEY: And it's been a political football for years and years, on the part of both Republicans and Democrats. It needs to be fixed.

HORSLEY: But while he promised to work with both parties to resolve the issue, Romney offered few details of what a fix might look like. He criticized the president's decision to stop deporting illegal immigrants who came to this country as children as a mere stop-gap. But except for allowing those who serve in the military to obtain green cards, Romney refused to say how he would handle the so-called DREAM Act kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIVISION BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Are you going to deport them or not?

ROMNEY: Well, we're not...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes or no.

ROMNEY: We're not going to - we're not going to round up people around the country and deport them. That's not - I said during my primary campaign, time and again, we're not going to round up 12 million people, that includes the kids and the parents and have everyone deported. Our system isn't to deport people. We need to provide a long-term solution.

HORSLEY: Romney also defended his support for Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigration, saying the state only acted because the federal government had failed to.

The Obama campaign accused Romney of trying to gloss over his immigration record with an extreme makeover, but insisted it won't work. Mr. Obama will also be courting Latino voters with his own appearance on Univision later today.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Miami.

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