Romney's Mass. immigration record mixed
Romney's varied record on immigration after being elected governor in 2002 could help shed light on how he'd tackle the issue if he becomes president.
Mitt¬†Romney¬†adopted a mixed bag of¬†immigration¬†policies during his four years as Massachusetts governor.
He fought against in-state college tuition rates for illegal¬†immigrants, pushed hard to give state troopers expanded powers to arrest those in the country illegally, and championed English-only classes for bilingual education students.
Yet¬†Romney¬†also showed a more compassionate side, personally interceding on behalf of an¬†immigrantteacher facing deportation whose case drew heavy news coverage across the state. In 2004,¬†Romney¬†signed into law a requirement that¬†immigration¬†judges warn non-citizen defendants that pleading guilty to certain crimes could ultimately lead to their deportation.
Romney¬†has recommended more funding for English as a Second Language programs because he wanted to help newcomers to this country become better equipped to compete for jobs by learning English, his campaign noted.
Romney's¬†varied record on¬†immigration¬†after being elected governor in 2002 could help shed light on how he'd tackle the issue if he becomes president.
"Mitt¬†Romney's¬†view is that¬†immigration¬†is what built this country and that we should encourage legalimmigration, but that we are also a nation of laws and that we should say no to illegal¬†immigration,"¬†Romneyspokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said in an e-mailed statement. "This very simple view is what informed MittRomney's¬†policies as governor."
Candidate¬†Romney¬†has presented differing profiles during the 2012 campaign.
He struck a hard line during the GOP primary season as he courted conservative voters, but softened his rhetoric on¬†immigration¬†after emerging as the likely Republican nominee, seeking to gain ground with Latino voters critical to his chances in the fall against President Barack Obama.
Romney's¬†campaign is working to woo Hispanics who have supported Democrats in previous presidential elections. Their support is expected to be critical in battleground states such as Nevada, Florida, Virginia and Colorado, where significant populations with Mexican and Central American origins are especially worried about¬†immigration¬†policy.
Heading into the leadoff Iowa caucuses in January and facing the challenge of winning over the right-wing GOP base,¬†Romney¬†vowed to veto the so-called DREAM Act, a bill backed by Democrats that would create a path to citizenship for illegal¬†immigrants¬†brought to the U.S. as children.
Romney's¬†tough talk bothered many¬†immigrants. Instead of emphasizing the plight of illegal¬†immigrants, he focused on the consequences illegal¬†immigration¬†has for U.S. jobs.
He hasn't said whether he would reverse Obama's decision this year to stop deporting some illegal¬†immigrantswho came to the U.S. as children.¬†Romney¬†has said Obama's executive order to allow some of them to obtain work permits and stay in the U.S. was problematic because it can be reversed by subsequent presidents.
Complaining that the nation's¬†immigration¬†laws have become a "muddle,"¬†Romney¬†has called for a national strategy and pledged he would tackle¬†immigration¬†during his first year in office.
He's stressed his support for giving legal status to illegal¬†immigrants¬†who serve in the military. He favors a U.S.-Mexico border fence. But he's also vowed to "staple a green card" to the diplomas of¬†immigrants¬†who receive advanced degrees.
Romney¬†supports establishing an immigration-status verification system for employers and he would punish them if they hire non-citizens who do not prove their legal status. He backs more visas for holders of advanced degrees in math, science and engineering who have U.S. job offers, and he would award permanent residency to foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools with a degree in those fields.
As governor,¬†Romney¬†generally opposed initiatives favored by¬†immigration¬†advocates, although they occasionally found common ground.
One of¬†Romney's¬†more contentious decisions came late in his term in 2006 when he signed an agreement with federal authorities allowing Massachusetts State Police troopers to arrest and seek deportation of suspected illegal aliens they encounter during their normal duties.
Immigration¬†activists opposed the initiative, saying it would drive a wedge between¬†immigrants¬†and police, discouraging them from reporting crimes or seeking critical services.
Shortly after taking office¬†Romney's¬†Democratic successor, Gov. Deval Patrick, rescinded the agreement, saying he wanted to free troopers to focus on gun, gang and drug crimes.
Romney¬†also pushed for changes to the state's decades-long bilingual education system.
Massachusetts was the first state to adopt bilingual education, but during his 2002 campaign¬†Romneyembraced an "English immersion" ballot question aimed at replacing two-way bilingual education with one-year, all-English classes intended to move non-English speakers into regular classes as quickly as possible.
Some Hispanic and¬†immigration¬†advocates opposed the measure, which won wide public support, but¬†Romneyfought against efforts to delay implementation of the English-only classes.
He ultimately lost one battle when lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature created some exemptions to the law and later overrode¬†Romney's¬†veto of those exemptions.
Romney¬†accused lawmakers of "unfathomable arrogance" and flouting the will of voters.
Immigration¬†advocates found a rare moment of agreement with¬†Romney¬†in 2004 when he signed into law the requirement that¬†immigration¬†judges warn non-citizen defendants that pleading guilty to certain crimes could ultimately lead to their deportation, even if they were currently in the country legally.
"That was one positive thing that happened during his term," said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts¬†Immigrant¬†and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
She said that victory was overshadowed by other stances, like¬†Romney's¬†opposition to allowing illegalimmigrants¬†brought to the country as children to pay the same tuition rates at state colleges as legal Massachusetts residents.
"Overall he has been consistent in his misconception about¬†immigration. We never found him to have a big vision about reform on¬†immigration¬†issues," she said. "He lacks understanding and focuses more on politics than policy."
Romney¬†showed a more personal approach on¬†immigration¬†in 2005 after students rallied behind a beloved schoolteacher facing deportation.
Obain Attouoman, then a 42-year-old teacher at Boston's Fenway High School, fled political persecution in the Ivory Coast in 1992 and later applied for asylum in the United States. But he missed a hearing with animmigration¬†judge in 2001 and was ordered deported.
Romney¬†joined a chorus of public officials ‚ÄĒ including Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry ‚ÄĒ in urging a reprise for Attouoman, who won a delay but was ultimately deported in 2008.
In a letter to then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in 2005,¬†Romney¬†pleaded Attouoman's case, calling him "a teacher and role model."
"The unique and impassioned effort by these students to convey to our government the important contribution of Mr. Attouoman certainly demonstrates the impact he is having as a member of our education community,"Romney¬†wrote.