By Mike Lillis - 01/16/12 08:04 PM EST
A leading House Democrat hammered Mitt Romney on Monday for his positions on illegal immigration.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Capitol Hill's most vocal proponent of immigrant rights, said Romney, the front-runner in the GOP presidential primaries, has "gone way too far" to cater to conservatives on the thorny issue — a move that will backfire in states with significant Latino populations, the Illinois Democrat warned.
“There is no route to the White House that does not go through a Latino neighborhood. Any winner in either party needs a significant proportion of Latino voters,” Gutierrez said on a press call. “When you say you want millions of us to leave the country … we will vote against you.”
"On the day that we observe Martin Luther King's birthday, Mitt Romney is … campaigning to restrict the civil rights of immigrants," Gutierrez said in a press call. "It's really appalling."
Last month, Romney churned headlines when he said that, as president, he would veto the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant students.
"For those that come here illegally, the idea of giving them in-state tuition credits or other special benefits, I find to be contrary to the idea of a nation of laws," Romney said while campaigning in Iowa late last month.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney vetoed legislation that would have provided in-state tuition rates to undocumented students at state schools and universities — a move that set him apart from another GOP presidential hopeful, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who signed a similar bill into law. Romney has also opposed comprehensive immigration reform before "[we] secure our border."
Romney's hard-line position on illegal immigration has drawn cheers from many conservatives, but has also alienated immigrant-rights groups, including Somos Republicans, the nation's largest Hispanic Republican group, which endorsed Newt Gingrich, Romney's closest competitor in South Carolina.
"Romney stated he will veto the DREAM Act, therefore, Somos Republicans will veto Romney at the polls," the group said Monday in a statement announcing the endorsement.
Monday's press call with Gutierrez was organized by America’s Voice, which advocates for immigrant rights.
Frank Sharry, executive director of the group, said that Romney, by accepting Kobach's support, has aligned himself with “the ugly fantasies of the anti-immigrant movement.” Sharry said the new immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama are designed “to make life so intolerable" for undocumented immigrants that they'll have no choice but leave the country — the equivalent, Sharry said, of a mass deportation policy.
"There's nothing humane about it, and it's not an alternative," Sharry said. "This idea that we can expel 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States — most of whom have been here for 10 years; most of whom live in families; most of whom work very hard and contribute mightily to the economy of this country and to the well-being of their communities — is not only impractical, it's un-American."
Some political observers have speculated that Romney, if he wins the GOP nomination, might choose Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as his running mate in order to boost his standing with Latino voters in the general election. Gutierrez warned, however, that the move won't work.
"The stink of anti-immigration positions he's taken just isn't going to rub off. Latino voters, they can smell a phony, and they can smell that that's what Mitt Romney is," he said. "If Mitt Romney thinks that selecting Marco Rubio as a running mate will make that stink go away, he should think again."