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Romney On Immigration: Sorting Through The Record

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Romney On Immigration: Sorting Through The Record

Romney On Immigration: Sorting Through The Record

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

We're going to take some time this morning to look at the record of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. This is Romney's second presidential campaign, coming after a long career in Massachusetts. That means he has a long record of public statements.

INSKEEP: And Romney's critics - Democratic and Republican alike - think they see a weakness in that record. In debates, in social media and in ads, they have accused Romney of flip-flops, changing his position on major issues. In a moment, we'll look at Romney's record on abortion rights. We start with the candidate's views on immigration. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The immigration fight blew up last week at a CNN debate on national security. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said someone who has lived peacefully in the U.S. for many years with a family, a community and a job should have an opportunity to become a legal, permanent resident. Mitt Romney said that sounds like amnesty.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

MITT ROMNEY: Saying that we're going to say to the people who've come here illegally that now, you're all going to get to stay, or some large number are going to get to stay and become permanent residents of the United States, that will only encourage more people to do the same thing.

SHAPIRO: So no permanent legal status in the U.S. for people who arrived here illegally. The next day, Gingrich tweeted a link to an earlier Romney appearance, from "Meet the Press" in 2007.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

ROMNEY: Those people who have come here illegally and are in this country - the 12 million or so that are here illegally - should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship.

SHAPIRO: The Romney campaign says that quote was taken out of context. They point to what Romney said next on "Meet the Press."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

ROMNEY: They should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to stay here for the rest of their lives,

SHAPIRO: So thumbs up on some form of legal status. Thumbs down on what Romney calls a special pathway, or a special guarantee. Romney went on to say that he believes people in the U.S. illegally who want citizenship should have to leave the country first.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

ROMNEY: There's a set period whereupon they should return home. And if they've been approved for citizenship or for permanent residency, why, that'd be a different matter. But for the great majority, they'll be going home.

SHAPIRO: But this week, Bloomberg News released an old quote from Romney that seems to conflict with that statement. In 2006, Romney told Bloomberg reporters and editors that undocumented workers, quote, are not going to be rounded up and boxcar-ed out. He went on: We need to begin a process of registering those people - some being returned, and some beginning the process of applying for citizenship and establishing legal status.

This plays into a larger criticism of Romney as flip-flopper that Democrats and Republicans alike have capitalized on. Romney policy director Lanhee Chen argues that there is nothing inconsistent in Romney's statements on immigration. Chen said in a statement to NPR, quote: Governor Romney believes that illegal immigrants who apply for legal status should not be given any advantage over those who are following the law and waiting their turn.

But even some Republican experts in the field say Romney has not been clear.

HECTOR BARAJAS: It's still very confusing as to what he's proposing, and what some of the solutions that some of the other Republican candidates would be offering.

SHAPIRO: Hector Barajas is a Republican political consultant in California who specializes in Latino issues. He says the murkiness around immigration should not surprise anyone. Republican candidates are trying to appeal to many different constituencies: anti-immigration hard-liners, Latino swing voters, small-business owners who depend on foreign labor, and more - all without alienating anyone.

A candidate who goes too far in one direction risks alienating Tea Party voters. Go too far in the other direction, and they risk alienating the fastest-growing minority group in the country.

BARAJAS: It's kind of like having that Thanksgiving dinner, where you invite everyone in the family and you're try to figure out and make sure your, you know, Uncle Joe's happy along with Aunt Suzy. You're trying as much as possible - and a lot of these presidential candidates are trying as much as possible to appease every section of the base.

SHAPIRO: Today, Romney campaigns in the early voting state of Florida. Immigration is a huge issue there. And with Florida's large Latino population, his answers to these questions could ultimately determine whether he wins the state or takes runner-up, as he did to John McCain four years ago.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

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