Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Mitt Romney Gain Traction with Hispanic Voters? (+Video)

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Mitt Romney Gain Traction with Hispanic Voters? (+Video)

Article excerpt

In an address to Latino officials Thursday, Mitt Romney softened his tone as he laid out immigration policy. But he still won't say whether he would overturn President Obama's new policy to help young illegal immigrants.

After a primary season marked by hard-line rhetoric toward illegal immigrants, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney sought to hit the reset button on immigration in a speech Thursday to Latino-American officials.

Talk of "self-deportation" is out. Promises of bipartisan collaboration toward a "long-term solution" on immigration are in.

Given Mr. Romney's gaping deficit in support from Hispanic voters, his election in November may depend on his ability to fix the perception that his party is inhospitable to them. President Obama's surprise announcement last Friday offering young undocumented immigrants a legal, though temporary, way to avoid deportation has made Romney's task all the harder.

But in his address to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in Orlando, Fla., Romney started up that hill. He accused Mr. Obama of doing nothing to advance a permanent fix for the broken US immigration system. Then he addressed the president's June 15 announcement.

"Some people have asked if I will let stand the president's executive action," Romney said. "The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure."

His answer sidestepped the core question: Would he undo Obama's policy, in advance of trying for a larger solution to immigration, just as he promises that on his first day as president, he would issue state waivers on health-care reform if the US Supreme Court does not strike it down first - then work on a longer-term solution?

In his address, Romney laid out his immigration plan: redouble efforts to secure US borders and make it harder to overstay visas; reallocate green cards to keep families together; issue green cards to foreigners who earn advanced degrees in the United States; and offer a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who serve in the US military.

"But improving access to legal immigration is only one part of the equation," Romney said. "We must also make legal immigration more attractive than illegal immigration so that people are rewarded for waiting patiently in line."

That's why, he said, his administration would establish a "strong employment verification system" so that businesses can be confident they are hiring people eligible for employment.

The challenge for Romney is to reach out to Hispanic voters, many of whom know people who are in the country illegally, while not alienating conservatives who reject any proposal that can be called "amnesty." During a GOP debate in January, Romney promised to veto the DREAM Act - legislation providing a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who complete some college or perform military service. …

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