During the Republican primaries Mitt Romney ran hard to the right on immigration. He vowed to veto the DREAM Act, to pursue "self-deportation" for the 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in America and to embrace an Arizona-style crackdown as a "model" for the nation. But once the general election kicked in, on the defining immigration issue of our generation - what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants rooted in and contributing to America - Mitt Romney went silent.
We were hoping the Republican National Convention would shed some light on the GOP nominee's current thinking on the immigration issue. If not directly from him then at least from some of his prominent Latino surrogates. But, that didn't happen. As Univision's Jordan Fabian reported:
...no speaker took the opportunity to address the topic, and that gaping absence stood out like a sore thumb. (emphasis in original)
So, what are voters - especially the 12 million Latinos expected to vote in this election - to make of where Romney and the Republicans stand? Here' our take:
With the Nominee Ducking the Issue, Romney's Primary and Platform Immigration Positions Hold
Despite predictions that after the primaries Mitt Romney would pull out the Etch-a-Sketch and tack to the center on immigration ...to appeal to Hispanic voters, it is now clear that his general election strategy is one of avoidance, not reinvention. He hasn't said whether he will keep or revoke President Obama's Dreamer relief policy. He hasn't updated or disavowed his hard right primary stances.
Meanwhile, the RNC's official platform spoke loudly and clearly. It ended up being a grab-bag of hardline anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies including opposition to the Dreamers deferred action policy and in-state tuition programs as well as support for self-deportation and state laws in Arizona and Alabama (much of which have already been found unconstitutional).
Huffington Post's Elise Foley reported on the pivotal role an anti-immigrant extremist and Romney advisor had in crafting the GOP's platform:
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the author of Arizona's SB 1070 immigration bill, ensured on Tuesday that the Republican Party platform will also have his fingerprint.
As Foley noted, Kobach made it clear these were Romney's views, too:
"These positions are consistent with the Romney campaign," Kobach said. "As you all remember, one of the primary reasons that Governor Romney rose past Governor Perry when Mr. Perry was achieving first place in the polls was because of his opposition to in-state tuition for illegal aliens."
While Kris Kobach is more than willing to discuss Romney's immigration positions, the GOP nominee Romney is tongue-tied. He seems stuck between a nativist rock and a demographic hard place - afraid to stand up to the loud but not large nativist wing of the GOP, but also wary of alienating even further the sizeable and growing Latino voting population. In fact, one of Romney's top Hispanic surrogates, Mel Martinez indicated that we won't hear Romney discuss immigration for the rest of the campaign:
Former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), an adviser to Romney, suggested this week that he would attempt to avoid the topic altogether for the final two months of the campaign.
"He's decided he will deal with this issue as a president, not as a candidate," he said.
Talk about ducking the tough issues. This "avoidance" strategy may represent the campaign's tactical decision. But it does not represent leadership.
Republican Latino Outreach Strategy: A Triumph of Messenger Over Substance
Instead of speaking up forcefully about his immigration positions, Romney is relying on Latino surrogates and his Spanish-speaking son to soften the ground for him with the Latino community. Though Republican Latino elected officials and Craig Romney were given prominence at the convention, none used the opportunity to discuss immigration policy. Instead, speakers from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Governor Susana Martinez (R-NV) to Senate candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Craig Romney, speakers talked about their own families' inspiring stories - but not about the inspiring stories of millions of today's immigrants.
Expect more biographical fluff from the Spanish-language ads coming to a TV near you in short order. Yes, Latinos--like all Americans--see the economy as their number one issue. But as Jeb Bush noted this week, "Immigration is a gateway basically. It's a check-off point for Latino voters." Judging by the RNC proceedings, the box remains - at best - unchecked for most Latinos.
GOP Recognizes Immigrant Tradition of Yesteryear, Ignores Today
The gauzy, pro-immigrant biographical notes touted by the speakers on stage contrast sharply with the harsh, anti-immigrants proposals adopted by Romney in the primaries and by the RNC in its official platform. Even Romney joined the nostalgia for the immigrants from the good old days. In his acceptance speech, he said:
We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better.
Meanwhile the GOP's platform language declares that undocumented immigrants pose "grave risks to the safety and sovereignty of the United States." In today's GOP, Marco Rubio's grandfather would be maligned as lawbreakers.
So, after a week of speeches, balloon drops and conversations with invisible people, here's what we know.
For Romney and his allies, the immigrants of the past were hard-working strivers who helped to build this nation and their descendants deserve to be prominently featured on the RNC dais. But the immigrants of today are - in the words of the official RNC Platform - 'illegal aliens' who deserve to be purged from America.
The bottom line is that it won't matter to most Latino voters that Craig Romney can speak Spanish if his father and friends say yesterday's immigrants were great for the country but today's pose a threat to our future.