Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

What Romney Really Thinks On Immigration What Romney Really Thinks On Immigration

This ad will end in seconds
Close X

Want access to this content? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation


What Romney Really Thinks On Immigration


Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney walks past photographers before talking with reporters outside Allentown Metal Works in Allentown, Pa., Thursday, June 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)(AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

Getting down to brass tacks: just what does Gov. Mitt Romney want to do with the 12 million+ undocumented immigrants inside the United States?  This is an important question for the substance of the GOP primary debate, but it's also one that the Romney campaign needs to have answered -- that is -- it behooves them to leave open any room for misinterpretation. 

Romney's campaign points to a Meet the Press appearance from 2007 as the gold standard for his answer, an answer they deem to be consistent with past views:


GOV. ROMNEY: Now let's, now let's look at those very carefully, OK, and you're, you're a careful reader. In the interview with The Boston Globe, I described all three programs that were out there, described what they were, acknowledged that they were not technically an amnesty program, but I indicated in that same interview that I had not formulated my own proposal and that I was endorsing none of those three programs. I did not support any of them. I called them reasonable. They are reasonable efforts to, to look at the problem. But I said I did not support--and I said specifically in that interview I have not formulated my own policy and have not determined which I would support. And, of course, the Cornyn proposal required all of the immigrants to go home. The McCain proposal required most of them to go home, but let some stay. And the Bush proposal I, frankly, don't recall in that much detail. But they had very different proposals. My own view is consistent with what you saw in the Lowell Sun, that those people who had come here illegally and are in this country--the 12 million or so that are here illegally--should be able to stay sign up for permanent residency or citizenship, but they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to say here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally. And that, I think, is the great flaw in the final bill that came forward from the Senate.


MR. RUSSERT: But they shouldn't have to go home?


GOV. ROMNEY: Well, whether they go home--they should go home eventually. There's a set per--in my view they should be--they should have a set period during which period they, they sign up for application for permanent residency or, or for citizenship. But there's a set period where upon they should return home. And if they've been approved for citizenship or for a permanent residency, well, thy would be a different matter. But for the great majority, they'll be going home.


MR. RUSSERT: The children they had born here are U.S. citizens, so do the children stay here and the parents go home?


GOV. ROMNEY: Well, that's a choice, of course, the parents would, would make. But my view is that those 12 million who've come here illegally should be given the opportunity to sign up to stay here, but they should not be given any advantage in becoming a permanent resident or citizen by virtue of simply coming here illegally. And likewise, if they've brought a child to this country or they've had a child in this country, that's, that's wonderful that they're growing their families, but that doesn't mean that they all get to stay here indefinitely. We're fundamentally a nation of laws.


So, from this, we can discern that Romney wouldn't order the Border Patrol to round up all of them and throw them out immediately.

He recognizes that there may be cases where it makes sense, from a variety of perspectives, to allow some who registers with the government to stay in the US for a certain period of time.

He favors the establishment of a process that would speed legal immigration to the that would incorporate a registration process for undocumented immigrants.

In that process, the illegal immigrants would not be given any preferential treatment for coming here illegally. It would take LONGER for their citizenship claims to process.


At some point, every undocumented immigrant would have to return home for a period of time. The factors that would determine this would presumably vary by immigrant.
It would not make a difference, according to Romney, whether the immigrant in question had children in the United States; it would be their choice whether to take the child back to their country of origin, but they would not have a choice as to whether to leave.
Another implication is that Romney would create a hybrid status for undocumented immigrants who register...they would not be resident aliens, per se, nor would they be officially undocumented...while they were in the U.S., and while they had registered, some of them (presumably) would be able to continue working for a while until they were forced to return home as part of the citizenship process.   
A year earlier, Romney was quoted as saying that "[w]e need to begin a process of registering those people, some being returned, and some beginning the process of applying for citizenship and establishing legal status."   This is not inconsistent with the views he stated in 2007; what has shifted over time is his rhetoric and his emphasis.  He doesn't favor mass deportations, but he does not favor what he calls a special advantage for those who violated the law to become citizens.  
Left unanswered, though, is what process Romney favors:  once you agree to let some illegal immigrants stay in the U.S. after you know they are illegal, you are granting them, to some degree, temporary amnesty from the law, which would otherwise see them deported.  Romney could never call this amnesty, of course, because that word has become so pregnant with meaning among conservatives.  
The difference between Romney and Gingrich appears to be a difference in degree:  under Romney, undocumented aliens would have to return home for a period of time -- details of this complex process TBD.  Under Gingrich, many, especially those with families, would not be forced to leave the United States.  They wouldn't become citizens, but neither would they find themselves jailed.  

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories


Rick, Executive Director for Policy

Concise coverage of everything I wish I had hours to read about."

Chuck, Graduate Student

The day's action in one quick read."

Stacy, Director of Communications

I find them informative and appreciate the daily news updates and enjoy the humor as well."

Richard, VP of Government Affairs

Chock full of usable information on today's issues. "

Michael, Executive Director

Sign up form for the newsletter