By Cameron Joseph - 04/22/12 11:00 AM EDT
Immigration hawks are warning Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, not to moderate the hard-line stances on border security and deportation that he took during the GOP primary.
Conservatives who focus on an anti-illegal immigration message are worried that Romney will move toward the political center in the general election election campaign after he suggested the GOP develop a “Republican DREAM Act.”
Romney, took a hard line on immigration during the GOP primary and said he would veto the “DREAM Act,” which in its current incarnation would allow some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. But he said at a private fundraiser last weekend that his campaign was “doomed” if he didn’t improve his standing with Hispanic voters. Romney did not detail policy specifics of a “Republican DREAM Act” and avoided discussing those comments when asked about them on Friday in Arizona.
Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), a longtime anti-immigration activist, said he was unsurprised that Romney seemed to be signaling a shift.
“It should be expected with him,” Tancredo told The Hill. “It’s not as if he’s a guy with a deep philosophical commitment one way or the other ... there’s nothing you can count on including any philosophical roadmap for his presidency. I don’t have any idea what he’ll do, and I’m not sure he does.”
Tancredo said that any version of the DREAM Act is “simply wrong.”
Romney will spend Monday campaigning with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is working on introducing his own version of the “DREAM Act” this summer that would give some illegal immigrants permanent residency rather than a pathway to citizenship. Many consider Rubio a top contender to be Romney's choice for vice president.
Romney also recently added former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, a centrist on immigration, as a senior adviser in his campaign.
Latinos are the fastest growing voting bloc in the country, doubling as a percentage of total voters in the 20 years between 1988 and 2008. Roughly 9.7 million Latino voters turned out in 2008 – 7.4 percent of the total – and they supported President Obama by a ratio of 2:1.
Romney's campaign and the Republican National Committee have launched efforts to win over Latino voters. Romney put out a statement on Friday arguing that Obama “has brought hard times to Hispanics in America.”
Other top Republicans said they though Romney had boxed himself in on immigration and would be perceived as a flip-flopper if he tried to move toward the center.
“Anything that you say and do in public or in your pajamas lives forever in cyberspace,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa.). “'Etch-a-sketch' is an archaic concept that cannot exist in the modern social media world so I don’t think that that actually could work and I don’t think that’s what’s going to be applied.”
King joked that Gillespie isn’t “completely reformed yet” when asked about his views on immigration, and pointed out that Romney had stressed his border hawk bona fides numerous times in Iowa, a key swing state in the presidential race.
“Iowans are going to want to the hear solid, consistent immigration policy that Mitt Romney has delivered for five or more years in Iowa,” he said.
When asked if he was trying to box in Romney on the issue, King laughed.
“I know what I heard and so does cyberspace,” he said.
Romney’s campaign declined to comment for this story.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), an informal adviser to the Romney campaign who co-wrote Arizona's controversial immigration law, predicted Romney would stick with his previous positions on border control.
“Governor Romney and the Romney team remain firmly opposed to amnesty,” he told The Hill earlier this week. “I’m not getting any sense he’s changing his positions. He’s staked them out in the [presidential] debates with considerable specificity. He said the Arizona bill should be a model. He said the concept of self-deportation should be one that’s used. I hadn’t heard at all he’s moving and I doubt he will.”
Kobach said that Romney’s “DREAM Act” comments didn’t concern him — but said any support of a bill that changed the status of illegal immigrants is beyond the pale for him.
“I would not be amenable to any status adjustment for illegal aliens,” he said. “Any status adjustment to illegal aliens would be amnesty — I would not be in favor of any of that,” he said.
Tancredo expressed hope that Kobach could convince Romney to hold his position on the DREAM Act and keep up the rhetoric he used during the primary, but doubted he would.
“If I were in his camp I’d counsel him to stand firm on it because I think it’s a winning political issue, but I don’t know if there’s anyone high the campaign that will advise him that,” he said. “My guess is Gillespie’s voice will be louder than Kris Kobach’s."