As the GOP candidates gear up for Tuesday's primary in Alabama, the home of the nation's toughest immigration law, Mitt Romney remains comparatively quiet on the state's form of "self-deportation" which he promoted aggressively just months prior. Some say his fear of alienating Latino voters in the general election is informing his new silence in the primary.
While Alabama’s primary alone won’t make Romney the nominee, Tuesday could determine if the candidate can “sidestep” a “dominant, singular rival”, as The New York Times reports. In the past week, Romney’s taken to the campaign trail, sticking to the talking points regarding jobs, the economy, and why he’s the man that can beat Obama.
Although Romney has quieted down on immigration after a much criticized "self-deportation" comment in a January debate, Alabama voters might expect him to pipe up again on the headline-grabbing immigration law written by one of his own advisers.
Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and adviser to Romney on immigration policy, wrote and helped pass Alabama's controversial law HB 56. The law, which aims to drive undocumented immigrants from the state, requires that police officers inquire about the legal status of anyone they suspect of being undocumented during any routine traffic stop. Although Romney had publicly endorsed the law, and called a similar law in Arizona a "model" for the nation, he hasn't stuck his neck out on the issue in Alabama.
Kobach's law requires that employers, landlords, and in some instances, school administrators, inquire about the immigration status of those they suspect might be in the country unlawfully. Federal appeals courts have temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a number of provisions in the law.
A few notable slip ups have also occurred as a result of the legislation, garnering some unwanted media attention. In November, a German Mercedes-Benz executive was mistakenly arrested by Tuscaloosa police, and the following month, the same happened to a Japanese Honda official in Leeds, Alabama.
"[H.B. 56] has embarrassed the governor, discouraged industry, scared legal immigrants and, according to a recent report, been a drag on the state economy it was supposed to help," the editorial board of Mobile Alabama's Press Register wrote last month.
While some Republican lawmakers in Alabama now say they regret passing the legislation, Kobach maintains that the law has worked wonders and enjoys support of the locals.
"Alabama’s reputation has also increased around the country," Kobach told NPR on a recent episode of "This American Life."
In a January debate, Romney outlined his "self-deportation" plan to deal with undocumented immigrants. The plan closely resembled laws designed by Kobach in Arizona and Alabama.
"Self-deportation," Romney said, "is when people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here."
Romney faced criticism for the idea of "self-deportation" from Latino leaders and Republican politicians including John McCain, challenger Newt Gingrich, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and hasn't made headlines with the issue since.
Some suspect the Latino vote might have something to do with it.
Last week's TIME Magazine cover made the bold claim that the Latino vote will decide the next president. According to the author of the cover story Michael Sherer, the Latino population has grown so rapidly in certain states that it might tip the balance in favor of Obama. A recent Fox News Latino poll asserts that to date a Mitt Romney would win only 14% of the Latino vote when pitted against Obama. This 14% falls far behind the 40% minimum many think they need to win the White House. Some attribute such low Latino support to harsh anti-immigration rhetoric used by the GOP candidates, including Romney, during the primaries.
So this all puts Romney in an uncomfortable position. Alabama has a tiny Latino population (less than 4 percent, according to recent Census numbers), and will likely have little effect in the GOP primary on Tuesday.
When deciding about his tone on the state's hot issue, the candidate must weigh his need to cinch the party nomination by appealing to the same white conservative base which ushered in Kobach's immigration law against the threat of alienating the integral Latino vote later in the game.
On Monday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ immigration task force, called for Romney to denounce Alabama’s immigration law before Tuesday’s primary elections - a move Romney is unlikely to make given his history on the issue.
"Not speaking out against Alabama's HB56, perhaps the most egregious [immigration enforcement law] so far, sends a clear signal to Latino voters that the GOP is more interested in pandering to the anti-immigrant wing of the party than in leading a nation in need of serious immigration reform,” Gutierrez said.
WATCH: Romney On Immigration In GOP Debates
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