By Jonathan Easley - 09/19/12 11:59 PM EDT
Mitt Romney on Wednesday ripped President Obama for not pursuing permanent immigration reform, but declined to provide specifics on how he would do so if he’s elected in November.
Speaking to a crowd of Republicans at a Univision forum at the University of Miami in Florida, Romney was pressed on how he would act once Obama’s deferred action mandate expires early next year.
Earlier this year, Obama announced that his administration would stop deporting illegal immigrants who come to the country at a young age and meet certain requirements. The directive is particularly popular among Hispanics, with more than 90 percent of those surveyed saying they’re in favor of the policy change. The president's directive has placed Republicans on the defensive, with Romney's campaign caught between Hispanic outreach efforts and large segments of the GOP base that regard the new policy as amnesty. After Obama’s announcement, Romney offered support for easing deportations, but said he believed the decision could make it more difficult to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.
“A few months before the election [Obama] puts in place something that is temporary and doesn’t solve this issue,” Romney added Wednesday. “We need to provide a long-term solution.”
The forum moderators asked Romney if his permanent solution would result in mass deportations.
“I’m not going to be rounding people up and deporting them,” he said, adding that he like aspects of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) plan, which would allow those who serve in the military a path to citizenship.
Rubio has not made public any details of his immigration reform plan, but has said he was working on one before Obama’s deferred action directive.
Romney was also asked to address a remark he made during the Republican primaries, when he said he was for the “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants.
“I’m not in favor of a mass deportation,” Romney said. “I believe people make their own choices if they want to go home and that’s what I mean by self-deportation…I love legal immigration…and at the same time to protect legal immigration we have to secure our borders.”
Also during the Republican primaries, Romney said he supported Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which has since been struck down by the Supreme Court, as a model for the country.
On Wednesday, Romney said he liked some aspects of the Arizona immigration law, such as a putting the onus on employers to make sure they don’t hire illegal immigrants. But he said the law was the result of states “doing their best to solve it state by state” because Obama had failed to act on his promise of pursuing immigration reform in his first term.
Obama has since pledged to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in his second term.
Obama has a massive lead among Hispanic voters, leading Romney 63 percent to 28 in a NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll released in late August.
In the 2008 election, Obama took 67 percent to GOP nominee Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) 32. The Romney campaign has said it needs to take 38 percent of the Hispanic vote to defeat Obama in November.