Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney softened his rhetoric on immigration, downplaying a key element of his plan for handling undocumented immigrants before an audience of Hispanic voters.
“We’re not going to round up people around the country and deport them,” Romney said today during a televised forum with Spanish-language network Univision at the University of Miami in Florida. “We need to provide a long-term solution.”
The comments marked a departure from his tone in the Republican primary campaign, when he differentiated himself from some of his rivals with a harder stance on immigration. Romney said then he opposed giving legal status to undocumented immigrants without first requiring them to leave the U.S., a policy he termed “self-deportation.”
Romney said during the primaries earlier this year the government shouldn’t conduct mass deportations. Still, he called for a series of actions that would “turn off the magnet” and make immigrants feel less comfortable in the U.S.
Tonight, Romney calibrated his description of the proposal, portraying the decision to leave as being up to the immigrant. The former Massachusetts governor was questioned in Spanish, with his responses in English translated simultaneously.
“I believe people make their own choices as to whether they want to go home, and that’s what I mean by self- deportation,” he said in response to a question. “People decide if they want to go back to the country of their origin and get in line legally to be able to come to this country.”
Romney said he would grant legal status to young immigrants who serve in the military or pursue advanced degrees, though he wouldn’t explain his broader immigration plans.
He also attacked President Barack Obama for failing to pursue comprehensive immigration legislation during his time in office.
“He never tried to fix the immigration system,” Romney said. “I will actually reform the immigration system and make it work for the people of America.”
In June, the president signed an executive order stopping the deportation of hundreds of thousands of young, illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Romney wouldn’t say whether he would overturn the policy.
Democrats seized on Romney’s lack of specificity to argue that Latinos can’t trust the Republican candidate.
“Mitt Romney is wrong on issues of importance to the Hispanic community,” Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said in a statement. “On critical issues, he continued to refuse to answer any of the tough questions or provide any specifics on what he’d do as president.”
A new poll by Fox News Latino showed Obama leading Romney among Hispanic voters by a 2-1 margin. The survey was conducted Sept. 11-13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Obama is scheduled to address the Univision forum tomorrow evening.
Both parties have been working hard to woo Latino voters, one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups, with Spanish-language advertising, specially crafted political messaging and Hispanic-American speakers highlighted at both conventions.
At a rally in Miami tonight, Romney stood with a banner reading in Spanish “juntos con Romney” -- or “Together for Romney.”
“This party is the natural home for Hispanic Americans,” he told a cheering crowd, after being introduced in Spanish by his son, Craig. “We’re going to win because we’re going to get the support of you and your friends.”
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