Immigration at the Debates
In the last debate, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama traded barbs on immigration, however, for Romney they stung more. This is largely because of Obama’s strategic advantage: he pushed for more empathetic immigration rhetoric.
Romney began much like he often does, with his same laudatory, hollow platitudes: “First of all, this is a nation of immigrants.” He then began to make the same tired distinctions on documented and undocumented immigration I’ve seen in interviews with Jorge Ramos and at many of his campaign stops I’ve been at, seemingly towing the same Republican immigration rhetorical line which has been heavily alienating Latinos this year. He spoke of giving visas to skilled laborers abroad, but didn’t say he would ever offer them citizenship for the fact that they help build and maintain our nation.
When Romney was pushed by Crawley on “self-deportation,” he completely buckled rhetorically and started to verbally scramble:
CROWLEY: Let me get the governor in here, Mr. President. Let’s speak to, if you could…
CROWLEY: …the idea of self-deportation?
ROMNEY: No, let — let — let me go back and speak to the points that the president made and — and — and let’s get them correct.
Mitt then went on to say that it was still his policy.
On the DREAM Act, while Romney did not mention it specifically, he did re-iterate he would be behind measures like the one Marco Rubio was pushing for permanent residency that the DREAMers overwhelmingly rejected. They did so because it is much more limited than the DREAM Act, and will keep them trapped in a second-class citizen status. When he elaborated “I will not grant amnesty to those who have come here illegally,” this was another confirmation that he would veto the DREAM Act if given the opportunity. When he went after Obama on the issue of undocumented youth, his harshest criticism was that he was not able to overcome the Republican filibuster and offer relief in his first year as he tried.
Obama, meanwhile, did mention the DREAM Act specifically: “Now, Governor Romney just said, you know he wants to help those young people too, but during the Republican primary, he said, ‘I will veto the DREAM Act,’ that would allow these young people to have access.’ His main strategy during the Republican primary was to say, “We’re going to encourage self-deportation.’ Making life so miserable on folks that they’ll leave. He called the Arizona law a model for the nation. Part of the Arizona law said that law enforcement officers could stop folks because they suspected maybe they looked like they might be undocumented workers and check their papers.”
Obama also talked about how Romney’s “Self-Deportation” policy put him to the right of former President Bush. He reminded viewers that Romney’s immigration advisor, Kris Kobach, designed SB 1070. This is something which Romney has backed off of in the past, claiming that he didn’t know Kobach, however, it’s hard to argue with YouTube and Google. To this, Obama said “Governor Romney says he wasn’t referring to Arizona as a model for the nation. His top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the entirety of it; not E-Verify, the whole thing. That’s his policy. And it’s a bad policy. And it won’t help us grow.” To date, the state which has had the most obvious negative effects is Alabama, whose HB 56 law is very similar to SB 1070. The detrimental effects, according to the University of Alabama, include losing 70,000 jobs and 2.3 billion dollars from the state economy. Doubtlessly, the Republicans will try to pin this harsh, unnecessary, laughably stupid (if it wasn’t so sad) economic downturn on the President, not to mention the human cost of splitting up mixed-status families and paying for foster care for the children removed from their parents.
When it came time to talk immigration enforcement, Obama answered pretty directly: he talked about the fact that there are dangerous criminals that come into the country undocumented, however, we shouldn’t be going after waste resources pulling a student out of his MCAT exam or a working, single mother away from her children to send them out of the country.
To sum up the evening of Romney vs. Obama on immigration, the best place to look is tonight’s quote from Romney himself: “I would not give driver’s licenses to those that have come here illegally as the president would.” As we close in on the elections, on the issue of immigration and the DREAM Act, the contrast couldn’t be clearer.