Romney said that he will not grant “amnesty” to illegal immigrants living in the country, adding that there are millions waiting to use the legal immigration system, which he said he wants to streamline. The former governor also said that he agrees with Obama on prioritizing criminals and would not be in favor of “rounding up” other illegal immigrants in the country for removal. Instead, he referred to the concept of “self-deportation” he has articulated in his campaign.
“What I was saying is, we’re not going to round up 12 million people, undocumented illegals, and take them out of the nation,” he said. “Instead, let people make their own choice. And if they find that they can’t get the benefits here that they want and they can’t find the job they want, then they’ll make a decision to go a place where they have better opportunities.”
Obama attacked Romney’s record on those points, noting that the former governor said during the Republican primary season that he would veto the DREAM Act and had characterized self-deportation as “making life so miserable on folks that they’ll leave.”
The two candidates also sparred over remarks Romney made during a February primary debate, when he called Arizona’s tough immigration enforcement law a “model” and said he would drop a Justice Department lawsuit against it — which the Supreme Court later largely ruled in favor of — on “day one.” Obama criticized the Arizona law, and Romney’s support of it.
“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,” the president said. “You know what? If my daughter or yours looks to somebody like they’re not a citizen, I don’t want to empower somebody like that.”
Romney, however, said he was speaking only about a portion of the Arizona law dealing with E-Verify, the federal online employment authorization checking system. “That was a model for the nation,” he said.
Obama retorted that Romney’s “top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the entirety of it — not E-Verify, the whole thing.” Kris Kobach, an influential Republican currently serving as Kansas secretary of state and an architect of tough enforcement laws in Arizona and Alabama, has served as an informal adviser to the Romney campaign.
A version of this story first appeared on CQ Homeland Security.