Governor Romney addresses Latino elected officials and leaders today in Florida. (Photo/AP Images )

Romney’s immigration plan: Military pathway but not for DREAM students

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney just released what his campaign is calling a bipartisan immigration strategy  for long-term immigration reform, and he addressed this as he spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

The Romney plan says that “young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children should have the chance to become permanent residents, and eventually citizens, by serving honorably in the United States military.”  In no place does his plan talk of an opportunity for undocumented young residents to obtain a pathway by going to college.  Moreover, his plan does not support Obama‘s recent policy changes to undocumented young immigrants.

“Governor Romney never addressed what would happen to the Dreamer students,” says Clarissa Martinez De Castro, Director of Immigration at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). “In light of how specific Obama’s directive was on students, there was no excuse not to mention this,” she adds.

Ali Noorani, of the National Immigration Forum Action fund, said Romney’s plan was “tweaks around the margin where the only path to legal status for grandmothers  is to enlist in the military.”

Republican legislators such as Florida state senator Anitere Flores disagree. The former Massachusetts governor is stressing long-term solutions which can be done legislatively, says Flores.

“It’s a nuanced policy, it’s not about platitudes and making promises; he wants to fix red tape and focus on family reunification,” says state senator Flores.  “I think he laid out a very clear policy on many issues which are so real for many Hispanics.”

Governor Romney drew applause from the crowd when he proposed a better system to keep families together by cutting red tape and streamlining the process of securing visas and residency for family members.

“Our immigration system  should promote strong families,” said Romney during his speech. “Too many are caught in a broken system,” he said.

Romney’s plan calls for reallocating green cards and giving priority to family of citizens and legal permanent residents. Romney says he would also work with Congress to give legal permanent residents the same priority as citizens when applying to bring husbands, wives and minor children to the U.S.

Stressing his plan is to make legal immigration more attractive than illegal immigration, Romney proposes raising caps on visas for more highly skilled immigrants, as well as permanent residency to any foreign student obtaining an advanced degree in math or science. The campaign says he would also make the temporary agricultural visas more “functional.”

Romney also proposed  completing a high-tech border fence, more border patrol officers, and mandatory employment verifying systems which he says would help discourage illegal immigration.

Romney’s plan comes at a time when Republican immigration policies are being closely scrutinized.

“There is only very tepid support right now for Romney; our polls show about a quarter of Latinos support Romney and the Republican party,” says Sylvia Manzano, a political scientist at Latino Decisions. “But frankly, support for Republicans used to be higher among Latinos; this lower number is the party’s own doing, especially on matters of immigration,” she adds.

A Latino Decisions poll conducted a few days ago found Romney’s standing among Latino voters was not that favorable, especially after the heels of Obama’s policy change on undocumented youth and “Dreamers.” The poll found 59 percent of Latino voters – almost 6 out of 10 – had less favorable views of Romney when they were asked their thoughts on two issues Romney has favored. One was his advocating for undocumented immigrants to “self-deport,” and the other was his support for the Arizona immigration law as a “model” for the nation.

“Romney  has ‘party baggage’ when it comes to this topic,” says Latino Decisions political scientist Sylvia Manzano. “You have state legislators comparing Latinos to feral hogs, so I would steer clear  of this issue,” she adds. Manzano says Romney should have come out in support of Obama’s policy change on deportations, and this would have blunted the issue. “He has already said he would not support the Dream Act, so he boxed himself in.  If he changes his mind again, he will be accused of ‘etch-a-sketch’ all over again.

Another issue, says Manzano, is that Romney’s plan has to be passed by Congress, “and I don’t see how a Congress who does not even approve of Obama’s plan to permit “Dreamers” to stay two years without deportation plans would agree to more long-term immigration measures.”

Republicans, however, think it is important he address the immigration issue head-on with Latino voters.

“I think Romney had to his clarify his positions and lay out a plan, if not, it would have been disappointing,” says Republican Alfonso Aguilar,  Executive Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. “Romney should bring up immigration from time to time, apart from his economic platform, and stress he intends to find a congressional solution to the issue.”

“Romney’s comprehensive plan shows he understands this issue is important to Latino voters,” says Florida state senator Anitere Flores.


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