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Romney on Immigration: "Softer Touch" or Snow Job?

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On Thursday, Mitt Romney spoke before a group of Latino lawmakers in Florida, and displayed what the New York Times calls a "softer touch" on immigration.

The inevitable-from-the-start Republican presidential nominee now calls for "bipartisan and long-term immigration reform." The former Massachusetts governor refuses to say whether, if elected, he'd eradicate President Obama's executive order which precludes Immigration and Custom Enforcement from deporting many thousands of undocumented workers and students who are under age 30, and came to this country as children.

Romney, a candidate who coined the phrase "self-deport," is clearly trying to one up the president, especially now that a prominent Republican Latino, Marco Rubio, has withdrawn his own Dream Act plan from consideration. By repeating the phrase "long-term," and emphasizing what he suggests is a "temporary" measure to address immigration reform, Romney is deflecting attention to one simple fact. His solution is too little, and too late.

Immigration plan Romney would give green cards to undocumented immigrants who have earned advanced degrees in the U.S., as well as those who have served, and are now serving in the U.S. military, but plan Romney would leave undocumented college students, migrant workers, and other youngsters out in the cold, and without a clear path to citizenship.

To be fair, neither presidential candidate in 2012 is addressing "ICE-capades," the insidious practice of using devious methods to round up, detain, and deport many thousands of "illegals" who are routinely being separated from their mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, as well as forced to live and work in substandard conditions in sweatshops and on farms throughout the country while working below minimum wage. Neither candidate is discussing closing down federal detention centers that have been built, at great profit to private contractors, for the specific purpose of housing the undocumented until they can be deported back to their native countries.

But, while President Obama's executive order which opens the door to citizenship for many who might otherwise find themselves in a detention center is only a baby step, it is a seismic improvement over what his nemesis has to offer.

Gov. Romney has consistently stressed the importance of having President Obama run on his record. In this, he is right. While his current and ever-shifting positions on immigration are of interest, Romney's position on immigration when he served as governor of Massachusetts, his only elected office, is crucial now that he's running for public office again.

From 2003 through 2007, Mitt Romney was Massachusetts' governor. He was a vocal supporter of what he called "legal" immigration then. But, according to The Boston Globe, in 2004, Romney vetoed a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to avail themselves of in-state tuition rates at state college, even after they graduated from a state high school, and pledged that they would seek citizenship. Then-Governor Romney argued it would cost too much. The legislation was defeated two years later.

Then, of course, there was the scandal in 2006 which resurfaced in Romney's failed bid for his party's nomination two years later, the one about the landscaping company he employed, and their use of "illegal" immigrants. Romney resolved that issue expeditiously enough. He simply fired the undocumented workers. Mission accomplished. We've learned from his business experience at Bain Capital that firing people is something at which Romney excels.

More pernicious still was an agreement signed by Gov. Romney, in December, 2006, and reported by the Associated Press, as his term was nearing its close The agreement was with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, and it would have essentially deputized 30 Massachusetts State Police troopers, and allowed them to arbitrarily arrest and deport anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally. Yes, Arizona's Jan Brewer has a forefather in Mitt Romney. This was an executive order that Mitt Romney would have signed as governor of Massachusetts in 2006, six short years ago. Compare and contrast that with the executive order President Barack Obama signed this week.

It is dangerous to be seduced by a candidate who appears to be softer now in light of his record the last time he had the ability to effect legislation. Whoever he takes on as his vice president, whether it's Marco Rubio or Tim Pawlenty, the bottom line is, Governor Romney used his power as chief executive of his state to try to empower local law enforcement to serve as ICE agents, and the only thing that stopped Romney's agreement between ICE and Massachusetts's state police -- the very police whose jobs he would cut as president -- was the adamant opposition by Democratic governor-elect Deval Patrick who revoked the executive order a month after assuming office.

Make no mistake, this is the kind of executive order Mr. Romney would like to inaugurate to replace the one that President Obama has put into effect. This is the kind of legislation Mr. Romney supported as governor; legislation that denies state tuition rates to youngsters who, while lacking documentation, have resided in the United States since childhood; legislation that would effective turn law enforcement into agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At a time when, according to a recent study, non-Hispanic whites account for more than 75 percent of the nation's total wages and other income even though they make up just 64 percent of the population as of 2010, and at a time when the largest minority group, Hispanics, earn 9 percent of the income, can this country really afford a leader who shot down legislation giving undocumented youngsters an opportunity to go to college by refusing to allow them to pay in-state tuition? Is this the time to return to the era of institutionalized privilege and economic apartheid?

Never mind what he says on the campaign trail; look instead at what Mr. Romney did during the one and only time he held public office. His Florida speech to a group of Latino lawmakers in Florida isn't indicative of a softening on immigration reform at all, but just another in a long series of Mitt Romney smokescreens.