Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Romney too timid on immigration

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
June 22, 2012 -- Updated 1136 GMT (1936 HKT)
Mitt Romney speaks at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Florida on Thursday.
Mitt Romney speaks at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Florida on Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: In speech, Romney needed to address "DREAMers" issue
  • He spoke of vague plan for long-term reform; green cards for Latinos who served in military
  • Navarrette: Romney hasn't said what he'd do to keep families of illegal immigrants together
  • Navarrette: Romney should bravely stand up to his party with compassionate solution

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego, California (CNN) -- Now that President Obama has put the immigration issue front and center, Mitt Romney can't avoid the subject any longer.

Romney needs to answer two simple questions: "What specifically are you going to do about the estimated 800,000 "DREAM'ers" at the center of President Obama's announcement last week -- those young illegal immigrants under age 31 who, because they've graduated from high school or served in the military, are being told they'll be spared deportation? Would you deport them or let them stay in the United States?"

And during his speech Thursday to the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, here is the closest that Romney came to an answer:

"Some people have asked if I will let stand the president's executive action," he told the organization. "The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure. As president, I won't settle for a stop-gap measure. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution."

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

And? Surely, Romney must have an idea of what he thinks the proper solution should be. Why not share it?

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee promised to "strengthen legal immigration and make it easier" while dealing with illegal immigration in a "civil but resolute manner." If foreigners get an advanced degree in the United States, Romney wants to "staple a green card" to their diploma, and support "a path to legal status" for anyone who joins the military.

He added that, if elected, he would "redouble our efforts to secure the borders" with more border patrol agents and high-tech fencing. He also promised to create a "strong employment verification system" so that employers know who is legally eligible to work and who isn't, and improve temporary worker programs.

Romney talks immigration in Florida
Rubio: GOP is pro-legal immigration
Obama immigration policy vs. Romney

Romney envisioned an immigration system that helps "promote strong families, not keep them apart."

But he was talking about legal immigrants and what needs to be done to make sure that those who seek to come to the United States legally are able to, as he put it, "keep their families under one roof." One thing that he plans to do is "exempt from caps the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents."

That's a wonderful sentiment, and I support it wholeheartedly. But the way we deal with legal immigrants isn't the only part of the system that is broken. What about families in this country that are currently being devastated by the gung-ho deportation policies of the Obama administration? How about promising to keep them together under one roof?

Notwithstanding last week's announcement, the administration has ratcheted up the immigration enforcement apparatus to the point where nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants are removed each year. That's also the annual capacity of the system, according to what top immigration officials have told me.

With the resources they have and the legal constraints they have to work with, this administration couldn't remove any more people if it wanted to. Add it up and that's more than 1.2 million in the 3½ years that Obama has been in office, and hundreds of thousands of families that have been split up to prove to critics that this president is sufficiently tough on the undocumented.

As a member of a party that has botched its handling of the immigration issue -- at the local, state and federal level -- with harsh rhetoric, simplistic solutions and transparent efforts to pander to nativists and racists, Romney doesn't have to prove he'll be tough on illegal immigration. He has to prove he'll be something that Republicans usually aren't when it comes to immigration: smart and compassionate.

That's hard when you're afraid to tell us specifically what you would do to offer a permanent solution to the immigration question. That is: What to do with nearly a million people who may have been born in another country but only know this one and who are Americans in every way other than legal status.

I understand why Romney might not be eager to wade in. Obama put his opponent in a box. If Romney says he'll find a way to let the DREAM'ers stay, his right-wing supporters will come unhinged. If he says they'd be deported, or at least go back to being eligible for deportation, he'll come across as heartless and won't capture even a sliver of the all-important Latino vote. According to the polls, Romney isn't going to get much of that anyway, but he needs to carve out a respectable percentage -- at least 30% -- to avoid losing the election.

I'll give Romney some credit for saying more about immigration on Thursday than he has in any other single speech in this campaign. He did a lot to explain his views, and it was certainly an improvement on what has been his silly stock answer up to now about how he'd like illegal immigrants to simply "self-deport." But, when it comes to the DREAM'ers, he could have -- and should have -- said a lot more.

Granted, that wouldn't have been easy. But then, as evidenced by Obama's failure in the immigration arena, leadership never is.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT