LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney said Thursday that the "best and brightest" should be given green cards to stay in the United States after graduating with advanced degrees.
Unless, it turns out, they are undocumented immigrants.
A Romney aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Romney's policy on visas for graduate students would not apply to undocumented immigrants.
"If you get an advanced degree here, we want you to stay here -- so we will staple a green card to your diploma," he said at a conference here for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "We want the best and brightest to enrich the nation through the jobs and technologies they will help create."
Romney's speech went into more specifics on immigration than usual for the candidate. Still, he was vague on the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and the so-called "DREAMers," unauthorized young people who entered the country as children and either attend college or join the military.
Many of those young people will be granted temporary work authorization and reprieve from deportation under a policy change announced last week by President Barack Obama. Romney condemned that change, calling it an overreach and a short-term fix, but has repeatedly declined to say whether he would end the policy.
Romney spoke about keeping families together, but within the realm of legal, permanent residents with no details on how families with one or more undocumented members would be treated under his immigration plan.
"Too many families are caught in a broken system that costs them time and money, and entangles them in red tape," he said. "For those seeking to come to America the right way, that kind of bureaucratic nightmare has to end."
Undocumented immigrants, many of whom have American family members, have few options under current law for obtaining legal status without leaving the country. That has big implications for children of undocumented immigrants: In April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released data showing that more than 46,000 undocumented immigrants deported in a six-month period said they had a child who is a U.S. citizen.