Obama v. Romney Immigration Policies

The Washington Post reported that Immigration was a major issue in the presidential campaign when Republicans were battling one another for the party’s nomination. It’s still an issue, but not one that either candidate talks about much, except in front of Hispanic audiences.

During the primaries, Mitt Romney tacked to the right on immigration to outflank his conservative rivals. He went after Texas Gov. Rick Perry over a long-standing state law that allows illegal immigrants who live in Texas to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities there.

Romney later went after former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) for suggesting that illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for a quarter-century or longer and who have roots in their communities eventually should have an opportunity to gain legal status, although not citizenship. Romney said he believed in “self-deportation” for the millions of illegal immigrants in the country.

The Hispanic vote will be critically important in the general election, and Romney is fighting an uphill battle. He has done little during the campaign to move toward the middle on immigration issues. Rather, he has tried to win Latino votes by talking economics and saying he would reform immigration laws, a promise he says Obama has broken.

Romney needs to hold Obama at or below 65 percent of the Hispanic vote but most polls show the president above that level. That puts Romney at a disadvantage in the competition for the fastest-growing share of the population.

Here are Obama and Romney’s positions on immigration, broken down by subject:

DEPORTATION

OBAMA

Despite his decision to grant some young illegal immigrants a reprieve from deportation this year, President Obama has pursued an aggressive policy of deporting others, especially those who break U.S. laws. Since 2009, his administration has deported about 1.5 million illegal immigrants, more than the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2011, a record 397,000 people were deported.

More than half of those deported in 2011 had been convicted of breaking U.S. laws, especially drug offenses and minor crimes such as drunk driving, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Others were repeat border crossers from Mexico or were deemed threats to national security.

Obama’s position has been that the government should focus on sending back criminals and recent arrivals rather than minors and families who are settled in the United States. In a new program, some attempted border-crossers were immediately sent back into Mexico, rather than being detained or processed for formal deportation.

The Obama administration initially carried out workplace raids in factories and other job sites aimed at catching and deporting illegal immigrant workers. However, it later changed to a less intrusive approach, sending agents to check employers’ payroll records. The new policy resulted in many workers being fired, but not necessarily deported.

ROMNEY

The Republican presidential candidate suggested in January that illegal immigrants should “self deport,” meaning that they would leave the country of their own accord if they were unable to find jobs or obtain driver’s licences.

Romney later backtracked from his comments andtold a Latino audience at a campaign event in Florida in June that he favored a long-term, comprehensive solution to illegal immigration, although he has not outlined in detail what that would mean.

Romney has always said he supports strong enforcement of U.S. border controls and the swift expulsion of foreigners caught trying to sneak into the country. He has also consistently said that he opposes providing “amnesty” or “magnets” for illegal immigrants such as drivers’ licenses, jobs and in-state college tuition. Yet he has also shown he is uncomfortable with the idea of rounding up and deporting people en masse.

SKILLED IMMIGRATION

OBAMA

President Obama has repeatedly said he supports congressional legislation, supported by some business sectors, to increase the numbers of highly skilled foreign workers and entrepreneurs who can enter the United States on special visas or apply to immigrate.The issue has been bogged down in congressional divisions, and Obama has said his options are limited.

The issue has been complicated by the high rate of joblessness in the United States Obama says he is committed to training 2 million Americans to meet high-tech business demands, while also helping American businesses hire more skilled foreign workers.

Administration officials say the president is committed to a variety of ways to attract skilled foreign workers, including support for proposed legislation that would grant permanent legal U.S. residency to foreign students who receive advanced U.S. degrees in science and technology.

ROMNEY

Mitt Romney has said consistently that he favors legal immigration, especially by skilled and highly educated workers who are sought by American high-tech firms and other industries. He has criticized the current annual limit on the number of high-skilled visas, saying it is a barrier to the kinds of immigrants the country needs to remain innovative.

Romney, a former business executive, has argued that private industry should be allowed to determine the number of skilled foreign workers needed to do jobs if Americans cannot be found to do them. He has often criticized the Obama administration for keeping limits on skilled foreigners while not taking action against illegal immigrants.

ARIZONA-ALABAMA LAWS

OBAMA

Obama says he is opposed to “a patchwork of 50 states with 50 different immigration laws.” He has called the 2010 Arizona law, SB1070, which requires police officers to check the status of anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant, “misguided.”

His administration filed a federal lawsuit against Arizona, saying the state law thwarted federal laws. In June, the Supreme Court threw out several of the law’s provisions, but left that one standing, although it did reinforce the federal government’s primacy in immigration policy.

Obama has called Alabama law HB56, which also requires police to try to determine a person’s legal status if they suspect that person is an illegal immigrant, “a bad law.” The law prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving state or local benefits and requires that school officials ascertain whether students are here legally. It prohibits landlords from renting to illegal immigrants and requires businesses to validate status using the E-Verify program. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit struck down major provisions of the law on August 20. Alabama has challenged the panel’s ruling and asked for a new hearing.

ROMNEY

Romney has not said outright that he supports the laws enacted in Arizona, Alabama, and other states, but he has called on the Justice Department to drop its suit against Arizona law SB1070. And his informal adviser Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State of Kansas, is a key architect of the laws.

Romney has called Arizona “a model” for the nation, for another immigrant-related law requiring employers to check the legal status of workers through the E-Verify system. He has remained relatively quiet on the Alabama law, and more recently he has deflected questions on whether the country should follow Arizona’s immigration laws.

DREAM ACT

OBAMA

Obama has urged Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would give young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children a path to citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military. The bill was blocked in the Senate in 2010.

In June, Obama announced that his administration would grant a two-year work permit and deferral of deportation to young illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, are students or veterans, have otherwise been law-abiding residents, and meet certain other conditions.

Up to 1.7 million people could be eligible for the program, known as “deferred action.” Tens of thousands have applied since the government began accepting applications in August. The first approvals were announced in September.

ROMNEY

As governor, Romney vetoed a state law similar to the DREAM Act, and during primary season he said that as president he would veto the DREAM Act if Congress were to pass it. But he later endorsed a path to legal status for those who serve in the military.

Regarding Obama’s deferred action plan, he has said that he would not continue it if elected president. Instead, he has said, there should be a “permanent solution” to the problem of illegal immigrants, but he has not given details of what that solution would be.

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