WASHINGTON -- Former Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican behind the state's contested immigration law, SB 1070, said on Tuesday he "absolutely" believed Mitt Romney had endorsed the law as a model for the country.
"The folks that he's said [are] his advisers on this, I have worked with for years and have great confidence and trust in them," Pearce told reporters after a Senate subcommittee hearing on the immigration law. "I know Romney is a compassionate man, most of us, I'd like to think, are. But I think he also understands the crisis and the damage to this republic and the need to enforce our law."
(Video of Pearce's committee testimony above)
The Romney campaign made a concerted effort last week to point out that the candidate has called another immigration law "a model" for the nation. That law would require employers to verify the immigration status of potential hires using a federal government program called E-Verify. SB1070 -- the bill introduced by Pearce in 2010 and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer (R), though portions of the legislation have since been blocked -- similarly allows police to inquire about immigration status in some situations, among other enforcement provisions.
Romney's comments at an Arizona debate in February, though widely read as an endorsement of SB 1070, refer specifically to the separate E-Verify law.
"I think you see a model here in Arizona," Romney said at the time. "They passed a law here that says that people who come here and try to find work, that the employer is required to look them up on E-Verify. This E-Verify system allows employers in Arizona to know who's here legally and who's not here legally. And as a result of E-Verify being put in place, the number of people in Arizona that are here illegally has dropped by some 14 percent."
Pearce said Tuesday that he hadn't heard anything to indicate Romney did not believe SB 1070 should be a model.
Romney has said repeatedly that he supports the Arizona's right to pass such a law and would drop a federal lawsuit against it were he elected -- perhaps not an explicit endorsement, but one that implies he supports the law, at least for Arizona.
Romney also has advocated for what he called "self-deportation," or making things difficult for undocumented immigrants until they decide to leave, one of the central tenets of the Arizona law. One of his informal advisers on immigration, SB 1070 architect and Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, supports the law as a model for nationwide enforcement.
"[Self-deportation] is in SB 1070," Pearce said.