For the first time, Mitt Romney said in an interview he would not deport those undocumented immigrants who are granted temporary work visas during the Obama administration if he becomes President.
The GOP presidential nominee told the Denver Post on Monday, “the people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I’m not going to take something that they’ve purchased.” Romney told the paper, “before those visas have expired we will have the full immigration reform plan that I’ve proposed.”
President Obama issued an executive order in June allowing children brought to the U.S. by their immigrant parents a two-year reprieve to avoid deportation and obtain a work visa if they meet certain requirements, such as graduating high school and having good moral character.
Romney’s position left some DREAMers confused as to what will happen to the 1.7 million young immigrants eligible for deferred action.
“It’s not even clear what’s his stance on immigration reform,” Julieta Gariby of the United We Dream network told NBC News. “So it’s very concerning because the only thing we’ve heard from him has always been, ‘I will veto the DREAM act and I believe in self-deportation.’”
That doesn’t mean they’re locked in for Obama either. Lorella Praeli, Policy Coordinator of the United We Dream Network said today in a statement, “On the other hand, we are also gravely concerned about President Obama’s continued record number of deportations, which, if not stopped, will continue to devastate our families.”
In the past, Romney has said he would veto the DREAM act if put in office, so the Obama camp went on the defensive immediately.
In a statement, Gabriela Domenzain, director of Hispanic press for the Obama campaign said, “Romney’s latest immigration pivot raises more questions than it answers. He still has not said whether he would continue the Administration’s policy that provides a temporary reprieve from deportation for young people who were brought here through no fault of their own.” Domenzain goes on to mention that Romney called the DREAM act “a handout” and promised to veto the bill.
“Good for him, this is the right thing to do, though he should have been there a long time ago,” says Kristian Ramos, Policy Director of the 21st Century Border Initiative at NDN and the New Policy Institute. He adds, “But who knows what [Romney's] position will be in the debate.”
For many of Romney’s critics, this new development in would-be policy is just another example of Romney flip-flopping on an issue. The change of heart is read as a change of strategy to combat his current standings in national polls, which have given Obama the advantage with Latino voters.
“To me this sort of reads like he’s looking at the polls and he’s realizing that at 70 percent approval for Obama with Hispanics and different electorates abandoning him, he has to show support,” says Ramos.
For the conservative base looking for border protection and real answers to immigration reform, this isn’t a play for the Latino vote. Rather, it confirms that Mitt Romney will create permanent immigration solutions across party-lines, unlike President Obama.
“Despite rhetoric from Democrats and Obama, the reality is that there’s a better chance of getting something constructive done on immigration with Romney rather than Obama,” says Alfonso Aguilar, Executive director of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and Former Chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship under President G.W. Bush. “The president hasn’t done anything [regarding immigration]. He’s given speeches. He hasn’t pushed anything,” adds Aguilar.
In his interview with the Denver Post, Romney said he would work with Congress in the first year of his presidency to pass permanent immigration reform legislation.
“Obama talks about comprehensive reform, but he doesn’t define it,” says Aguilar, adding, “Romney has given more specifics than the president. He said he supports immigration for those willing to serve in the military. And while he did not endorse [Sen. Marco] Rubio’s alternative DREAM act proposal, he has suggested it may be a good stepping-stone.”
But these policy suggestions aren’t enough for Democrats who believe he’s only tackling half of the issue.
“If he was serious, he would do more homework,” says Ramos. “He said he’s not going to pass the DREAM act. So if he take takes away DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program] after two years and he’s not passing the DREAM act, what happens to all those people in DACA right now?” asks Ramos.
For DREAMers, who will be directly affected by policy from either Romney or Obama next year, their stay in the U.S. remains only temporary.
Miranda Leitsinger, from nbcnews.com, contributed to this report.