Mitt Romney has unveiled his immigration platform and it is the definition of anti-climactic. Romney's speech at the National Association of Latino Elected Official's (NALEO) conference had been billed as an opportunity for a candidate, who is struggling to connect with Hispanic voters, to re-orient his message to this core voting block. Many looked at this speech as an opportunity to distance himself from his stance on "Self Deportation," and articulate a plan for how he would fix our immigration system. He didn't really do either.
His policy recommendations are brief, offer nothing new, and on the most crucial element of reform, what to do with undocumented immigrants currently here, Romney didn't bother to offer anything. In not addressing this particular issue, he did not move away from his position of self-deportation as a national immigration solution. Just as Romney has said he is not "overly concerned with the poor," given his paltry recommendations here, he does not seem overly concerned with actually fixing our broken system.
Simon Rosenberg, President of center left think tank NDN called the speech "thin gruel," in many ways this is an accurate description. Like gruel this speech was bland and not particularly nutritious. Any plan immigration plan must be judged upon its ability to do the following things: enhance enforcement of immigration laws, processing future flows of immigration and deal with those undocumented immigrants currently here. Mitt's plan deals maybe one of these issues. On the first set of criteria enhancing enforcement of our current immigration laws, the President has already done a lot in this area.
He has done away with inefficient work site raid's, replacing them with an effective I-9 audit system. Under the Obama Administration, cases against employers are up sharply: Simon notes that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has quadrupled and the number of employer audits after Obama took office has also increased. He has increased the number of criminal deportations by focusing limited resources on deporting criminal undocumented immigrants. He has increased resources at the Southwest Border, including troop deployment, and all time high numbers of Border Patrol personnel making the region safer than it has been in ages.
Romney's other enforcement recommendations are already works in progress. While an exit verification system for visiting is a good idea, he offers no concrete way of achieving this. As for a national employment system, failing to get any floor time from GOP leadership, legislation to achieve this recently died an inglorious death in the House.
Romney is right on this point, creating a legal system for immigrants to enter the country is essential to fixing our broken system. As Simon noted in his analysis, much of these proposals already exist, and are currently supported by a broad coalition of groups who want these recommendations included in a comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system. Romney will need much more than the suggestion that we reform our current temporary worker system and adding more high skilled visas if he hopes to create more legal immigration into the United States. Again doing so would be a welcome step forward but this alone would actually do little to deal with future flows of immigrants or those currently here without documentation.
In some ways this is actually consistent with Romney's overall vision of only helping the very rich but not being overly concerned with everyday American's. He wants high skilled immigrants to come to the country, but the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently here, well they can just self deport. The colossal failure of Romney's speech is the fact that it does absolutely nothing for those undocumented immigrants currently here. Romney had a real opportunity to distance himself from his earlier "self deportation" stance. He did not even try to discuss it. Many commentators have noted that this speech softened Romney's tone to Hispanic voters, where they watching the same speech? Again it was not what he said, but what he did not say. He did not distance himself from anti-immigrant leaders such as Kris Kobach, Joe Arpaio or Jan Brewer. He tossed out some policy recommendations, which are welcome and should be commended, but for those keeping score actually engaging should not be counted as a victory.