Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has pulled a startling about-face on immigration reform, saying that undocumented immigrants should be able to earn U.S. citizenship.
Romney favored a “self-deportation” policy for the undocumented population during last year’s GOP primary. But now, he says he is “absolutely convinced” the Republican Party must deal with the issue in a way that that’s friendlier toward undocumented immigrants.
“I do believe that those who come here illegally ought to have an opportunity to get in line with everybody else,” he said Friday on “CBS This Morning.”
“I don’t think those who come here illegally should jump to the front of the line or be given a special deal, be rewarded for coming here illegally, but I think they should have a chance, just like anybody else, to get in line and to become a citizen if they would like to do so,” he added.
Romney’s remarks are indicative of the shift among Republican elites about the need to address immigration reform following last year’s election.
This year, the Senate passed a broad immigration overhaul that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The proposal attracted Democratic and Republican votes. But the reform effort has ground to a halt in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
Last year, the tone was different. GOP candidates alienated minority and immigrant voters with their strict, enforcement-heavy policies and rhetoric. Here’s how Romney said he would deal with undocumented immigrants in January 2012.
“The answer is self-deportation,” he said during a primary debate in Florida. “People who come here legally would be given a transition period to work here, but then they would no longer have the documentation to stay here. We’d have a card that says who is here legally. If they’re not here legally, they’re going to find they can’t get work here. Ultimately, with this transition period, they would get in line at home.”
Romney lost seven in ten Latino voters to President Obama and nearly three-quarters of Asian-American voters sided with the president. He openly acknowledged that his campaign failed to win over minority voters.
"The place that my campaign and I fell short was probably in being able to speak openly and effectively to minority populations,” he said. “We didn't get as many African-American voters as we should have, didn't get as many Hispanic voters as we should have.”
In response to last year’s election, the Republican National Committee commissioned a study to find out why the party had badly alienated non-white voters. The report recommended that Republicans embrace immigration reform and dramatically expand outreach to minority voters.
“By the way, across the board, we need to do a better job explaining why it is that our policies will lead to higher wages, better health care, and better schools,” Romney said.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.