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David Leopold Headshot

Obama Easily Wins Immigration Debate

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AP
AP

It's clear from last night's debate that Mitt Romney has no plan to fix America's badly broken immigration system in a way that will secure the borders, protect American families, and keep American businesses globally competitive.

Yes, Mr. Romney repeated his talking point about "stapling green cards" to science, technology, engineering and mathematics diplomas. But his words are meaningless because he does not also advocate for a comprehensive overhaul of the current immigration policy -- one that includes more visas for highly skilled workers and a pathway to lawful compliance for the 12 million undocumented immigrants now living in the shadows. Last night Romney simply repeated the anti-immigrant Restrictionist line, flatly opposing any policy solution that gives undocumented immigrants a way to comply with the law as an unacceptable "amnesty."

Romney has offered few, if any, specifics about what he would do as president to build a safe, orderly, and fair immigration policy. As President Obama pointed out last night, during the primaries Romney enthusiastically endorsed "self-deportation", a mean-spirited nativist policy proposal that would effectively target immigrant families, particularly Latino families, by making their lives so unbearable that they flee the U.S. And it's disturbing that, as the president noted, Romney's "top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law." Yet, when it comes to building a safe, orderly and fair immigration system, Romney's plan remains woefully devoid of substance.

On the other hand, it's clear President Obama understands that the dysfunctional immigration system must be fixed in "a comprehensive way." And unlike Romney, Obama's support for welcoming scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and other job creators to America's shores is not just a convenient general election pivot -- it's his long-standing policy. In his January 2011 State of the Union address the president spoke of this generation's "Sputnik Moment," reminding the nation that the challenges of the 21st century can only be met though innovation, education, and rebuilding of America's infrastructure. Obama included immigration reform as a key element in the "reinventing" of America, declaring he was "prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows."

Obama also zinged Romney during last night's debate for his steadfast opposition to the DREAM Act. And while he spoke in vague terms about "military service" as a possibly appropriate way to give undocumented youth a pathway to citizenship, Romney failed to level with the American people about what he would actually do if elected president. What great evil does Romney see in giving a young high school graduate a chance to come out of the shadows and earn a college diploma?

Nor did Romney say last night whether or not he'd put an end to President Obama's temporary deportation reprieve that gives undocumented youth a chance to remain in the U.S. if they can show they were brought here as children, went to school or served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and respected our laws. Will Romney deport these youth who find themselves in the U.S. through no fault of their own but who long to give back to this country where, as the president put it, they've "gone to school" and "pledged allegiance to the flag"? Does Romney really wish to continue their intolerable immigration limbo which forces undocumented youth to live in constant in fear of arrest, detention, and removal?

Since the president's Deferred Action process was announced in June, Romney has ducked, dodged and evaded the question of whether he will cancel it if he wins in November. Instead, he tries to have it both ways. He says he would veto the DREAM Act -- which would offer undocumented youth a chance to earn permanent immigration status -- and, at the same time, he opposes the deferral of deportation for DREAM Act eligible youth because it's not permanent.

To his credit, Romney agreed with the smart immigration enforcement polices put into place by Obama during his first term. As the president said:

"If we're going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families. And that's what we've done."

Yet, Romney skated through last night's debate without offering the American people positive policy solutions to fix America's immigration system. And that's not good enough. Far from embracing the best and the brightest, the current immigration system stymies innovation and growth by forcing immigrant innovators, entrepreneurs, and job creators to navigate an unfriendly maze of arcane rules and regulations. All too often immigrants with exceptional skills are forced to go to other countries because unworkable U.S. visa quotas require them to wait years for a green card.

Romney needs to give the American people specifics about what he'll do to forge an immigration policy that secures America's borders, keeps American families safe and together, and attracts the best and brightest to our shores.

The American people should not have to guess which President Mitt Romney would enter the White House on Jan. 20, 2013.