So where does Mitt Romney stand on illegal immigration?
While he has positioned himself to the right of his GOP rivals -- in 2008 and now -- an interview he gave to FOX yesterday raised questions about his views, with some even now comparing his words to the language used by supporters of comprehensive immigration reform.
"Truth is, deciphering Romney's statements is a little like reading hieroglyphics," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a pro-immigration reform group. "It may even be sound bites without a policy basis."
Here is what Romney said yesterday:
Romney: “Those people that are here illegally today should have the opportunity to register and to have their status identified. And those individuals should get in line with everyone else that’s in line legally. They should not be placed ahead of the line. They should instead go at the back of the line. And they should not be allowed to stay in this country and be given permanent residency or citizenship merely because they’ve come here illegally.”
Baier: Isn't that what Gingrich is saying?
Romney: “My view’s pretty straightforward: For those people who’ve come here illegally, they should have the opportunity to get in line with everybody else who wants come into this country. But they go to the back of the line. And they should be given no special pathway to citizenship or permanent residency merely because they’ve come here illegally.”
Later, Romney said, “The right course: Secure the border and then we can determine what’s the right way we can deal with the 11 million [illegal immigrants]. And to make it as clear as I possibly can: Let those people apply just like everybody else that wants to come to this country. But they have to apply at the back of the line as opposed to jumping into the front because they’ve come here illegally.”
What's striking to some supporters of comprehensive immigration reform is Romney saying that illegal immigrants must "apply at the back of the line," or that they must "get in line with everyone else that's in line legally." The reason: Advocates of comprehensive immigration reform maintain that illegal immigrants must pay back taxes, learn English, not have a criminal record, and go to the back of the line before obtaining legal status in the United States.
As President Obama said at his town hall at Facebook headquarters back in April, "I think most Americans feel there should be an orderly process to do it. People shouldn't just be coming here and cutting in front of the line essentially and staying without having gone through the proper channels."
So one advocate of comprehensive immigration reform tells First Read that Romney's line -- "For those people who’ve come here illegally, they should have the opportunity to get in line with everybody else who wants come into this country. But they got to the back of the line" -- is consistent with what they're calling for.
"He was for comprehensive immigration reform before he was against it," this advocate says, referring to past statements Romney made in 2006 and 2007 that appeared to endorse this reform. "And now he's trying to get back there."
Eliseo Medina, the SEIU's secretary-treasurer, piles on: "With the Latino vote up for grabs and with pressure from his GOP rival, Romney's wavering position on immigration is being forced out of the shadows sooner than he expected."
But Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes comprehensive immigration reform, believes that Romney's "back of the line" remark means that illegal immigrants must return to their home countries first. That's different, he says, than "the deceptive use of 'back of the line' used by amnesty advocates, where the illegals would get some sort of provisional legal status to stay in the U.S."
Sharry adds that Romney's stance -- according to yesterday FOX interview, as well as other statements -- "seems to be that the 11 million should go home, get in line, apply and be given no special pathway." In other words, it isn't a pro-comprehensive-immigration-reform view. (A Romney aide says to First Read that a "special pathway" refers to any advantage or privilege over those who are waiting in line by virtue of their having come to the United States illegally.)
Indeed, Romney seemed to tell Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" back in late 2007 that illegal immigrants should return to their home countries before obtaining legal status. "Well, whether they go home--they should go home eventually. There's a set per--in my view they should be--they should have a set period during which period they, they sign up for application for permanent residency or, or for citizenship. But there's a set period where upon they should return home. And if they've been approved for citizenship or for a permanent residency, well, they would be a different matter. But for the great majority, they'll be going home."
Romney also said in that "Meet the Press" interview: "My own view is consistent with what you saw in the Lowell Sun, that those people who had come here illegally and are in this country--the 12 million or so that are here illegally--should be able to stay sign up for permanent residency or citizenship, but they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to say here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally."
Is that clear?