Mitt Romney and President Obama made direct appeals to Latino voters this week, appearing on successive days at a candidate forum sponsored by Univision, the national Spanish-language television network. The discussion ranged widely, touching on subjects as varied as the Middle East and student loans. But it focused heavily on immigration, a difficult subject providing rich opportunities for evasion and disappointment.
Mr. Romney seized them. He went first, on Wednesday night, and quickly showed why it is so hard to figure out what he means or believes.
“Well, we’re not going to — we’re not going to round up people around the country and deport them,” he said when asked whether he would protect young immigrants who qualify for legalization under the Dream Act, which Mr. Romney has promised to veto. Mr. Obama used executive action this year to spare “Dreamers” from deportation. Mr. Romney refused to say whether he would do the same as president. “That’s not — I said during my primary campaign time and again, we’re not going to round up 12 million people, that includes the kids and the parents, and have everyone deported. Our system isn’t to deport people.”
Except that’s exactly what Mr. Romney’s “system” seems to be. His informal adviser Kris Kobach wrote the radical laws enacted by Arizona and other states that seek to make it impossible for illegal immigrants to survive and much easier for police to round them up. And Mr. Romney has praised Arizona as a model for the nation.
Mr. Romney talks vaguely about possibly exempting a fraction of the undocumented from the purge — service members, maybe some students — but he has never backed away from those on the hard right for whom mass legalization is unthinkable. So if Mr. Romney won’t give 11 million people a way to be legal (that’s “amnesty,” rejected by Republicans), and he is not going to deport them, but he supports Arizona-style laws that make people unable to work, drive, study or otherwise live, then ... what?
Mr. Romney wouldn’t say.
Mr. Obama had a better time of it on Thursday, mostly because he actually supports a solution — comprehensive reform, not just tougher enforcement but also a path to citizenship. Hard questions posed by the interviewers centered on his failure to deliver reform, while deporting more than a million people in his first term.
Jorge Ramos repeatedly reminded Mr. Obama that he had pledged to fix the problem in his first four years: “You promised,” he said, “and a promise is a promise.”
Mr. Obama’s reply was that he had tried, that the economy was terrible, and that a president can’t require Congress to act. It was good to see him forced to acknowledge his failure, though we wish he had been pressed harder about the deportation efforts his administration has expanded, like Secure Communities, which have led to the removal of tens of thousands of noncriminals and left thousands of citizen children in foster care.
Mr. Obama talked proudly about helping Dreamers, saying he had been persuaded by “wonderful kids” he had met. “If you heard their stories, there’s no way you would think it was fair or just for us to have them suffering under a cloud of deportation.” Which is true. But not just for the 1.7 million or so Dreamers. There are about 11 million people waiting for the government to fix the broken system. They did not get satisfactory answers in Miami this week.