PoliGraph: Romney’s tone on immigration a moving target

Republicans and Democrats can agree on one thing: Both sides say former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has changed his views on a range of issues to make good with conservative voters.

The latest attack comes from Democratic National Committee, which launched a new website this week highlighting Romney’s flip-flops.

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin headlined a press conference to introduce Minnesotans to the site, saying, “Romney once supported Ted Kennedy and John McCain’s immigration reform bill, but last week he said he’s willing to kick out of America families who have lived in the United States for over a generation.”

Martin’s statement uses hyperbole to score a point against a Republican presidential hopeful, but it’s true that Mitt Romney has shifted the way he talks about immigration.

The Evidence

In 2005, Republican Sen. John McCain, and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy were leading an effort to overhaul federal immigration rules. Among other things, their proposal would have created a path to citizenship for immigrants not legally in the United States, as long as they worked, declined public benefits and paid fines and back taxes.

According to a March 2007 Boston Globe story, Romney said in 2005 that the McCain-Kennedy plan and others were “reasonable proposals” because they didn’t simply hand out citizenship to illegal immigrants – a process known as amnesty often criticized by some on the right.

“[The bill is] saying you could work your way into becoming a legal resident of the country by working here without taking benefits and then applying and then paying a fine,” Romney told the Globe in 2005.

The Globe reported that Romney stopped short of endorsing the McCain-Kennedy bill, as Martin’s claim implies. But he signaled that he generally supported a plan that would allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the country.

In March 2006, Romney told The Lowell Sun that while he didn’t believe in amnesty, he also didn’t believe “in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country.”

“Let’s have them registered, know who they are,” Romney said. “Those who have been arrested or convicted of crimes shouldn’t be here. Those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process towards application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.”

Romney made similar comments to Bloomberg News in 2006, and again suggested that some illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States.

“We need to begin a process of registering those people, some being returned, and some beginning the process of applying for citizenship and establishing legal status,” Romney said according to a recent Bloomberg story on his immigration record.

But by 2007, as he launched his first bid for the White House, Romney’s tone had changed.

Westy Egmont, who co-chaired an immigration advisory committee during Romney’s tenure, says the shift was driven by McCain’s presence in the race.

“Romney went from trying to figure out a position where he could turn off the magnets and yet appear to offer an understanding that people needed to get themselves right in status,” Egmont said. “With that not working, and with McCain being competitive for the presidency, I saw him taking a position challenging McCain for amnesty. He became hardline with respect to McCain.”

Romney’s comments at a 2007 event in Arizona with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose aggressive views on illegal immigrants make him a controversial figure, underscore Egmont’s observations.

“My view is there should be no advantage for those that are here illegally in pursuing a course of permanent residency,” Romney said. He said that legislation that would allow some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship “could result in virtual amnesty,” according to the Globe.

When pressed on his 2006 comments to the Lowell Sun on a 2007 episode of Meet the Press, Romney said what he meant was that illegal immigrants should “have a set period during which… they sign up for application for permanent residency or for citizenship. But there’s a set period where upon they should return home… For the great majority, they’ll be going home.”

Romney’s 2007 comments were reflected in the Nov. 11, 2011, Republican debate Martin references.

At the event, GOP contender Newt Gingrich said that illegal immigrants who have been here for “25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”

When CNN host Wolf Blitzer asked Romney if he thought that Gingrich’s approach amounted to amnesty, and entice others to come to the United States illegally, Romney’s response was unequivocal.

“There’s no question,” Romney said. “To say that we’re going to say to the people who have come here illegally that now you’re all going to get to stay or some large number are going to get to stay and become permanent residents of the United States, that will only encourage more people to do the same thing.”

But when pressed by Blitzer to say whether he would let some long-time illegal immigrants stay, Romney dodged the question.

“I’m not going to start drawing lines here about who gets to stay and who get to go,” Romney said. “The principle is that we are not going to have an amnesty system that says that people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their life in this country legally.”

The Verdict

Romney’s flip-flop on immigration reform is not as dramatic or clear-cut as Martin makes it out to be; Romney always talked around the edges of the issue, and never officially endorsed any specific immigration proposal.

But it’s true that Romney’s tone on immigration has changed in recent years, especially as he has run for president.

So, while Martin is guilty of hyperbole, it would be misleading to say that Romney hasn’t changed his views on immigration.

It was a tough call, but because Romney initially called the McCain-Kennedy approach reasonable and now says he will not support a system that allows illegal immigrants to stay, PoliGraph says that Martin’s statement leans toward accurate.


Thomas, Summary of H.R. 2330: Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, accessed Nov. 29, 2011

The Boston Globe, Romney’s words grow hard on immigration, by Scott Helman, March 16, 2007 (subscription only)

The Boston Globe, Romney’s shifting stance on immigration, by Matt Viser, Nov. 29, 2011 (subscription only)

The Lowell Sun, Romney supports immigration program, but not granting ‘amnesty’, March 30, 2006 (subscription only)

Bloomberg News, Romney in 2006 Backed Immigration Stance He Now Deems ‘Amnesty’, by Julie Hirschfield Davis, Nov. 27, 2011

Meet the Press, transcript, Dec. 16, 2007, accessed Nov. 29, 2011

Time Magazine, Transcript of Nov. 22 CNN GOP debate, accessed Nov. 29, 2011

E-mail exchange, Carlie Waibel, DFL spokeswoman

E-mail exchange, Andrea Saul, spokeswoman, Romney for President

  • cb

    Eighty-four ethics charges were filed against Speaker Gingrich during his term, including claiming tax-exempt status for a college course run for political purposes. Following an investigation by the House Ethics Committee Gingrich was sanctioned. Gingrich acknowledged in January 1997 that “In my name and over my signature, inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable statements were given to the committee”. The House Ethics Committee concluded that inaccurate information supplied to investigators represented “intentional or … reckless” disregard of House rules. The special Counsel concluded that Gingrich violated federal tax law and had lied to the ethics panel in an effort to force the committee to dismiss the complaint against him. He has always been about the money.

  • tommyzax

    Now you can do an in-depth study on what Obama was teaching in college and to whom.

  • Dave Francis

    The first Bipartisan commitment to enacting the ‘Legal Workforce Act?’

    AMAZING! THIS IS GREAT NEWS! A Democrat with political will, to go against the Liberal Progressive grain. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA.) has cosponsored House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith’s Legal Workforce Act (H.R.2885), making him the first Democrat to do so. In addition Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV.) added his co-sponsorship to this passage of this law just yesterday. The original co-sponsors to this bill, has been whittled down to only 32 co-sponsors to march it through, to be read in the House. This means we are closing in at a speed not seen before, when it comes to altering the course of illegal immigration. The Mandatory E-Verify systems that will begin to have a powerful effect on the 8.2 illegal aliens, who are taking jobs from average low income American Workers, will soon be confronted in every business to show proof that they are an authorized worker. The demonization by the special interests and all the far left and democrats, who have used every piece of their influence has failed. Mandatory E-Verification is well on its way, to becoming a tough law.

    Every law since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control act has been jeopardized by even the GOP career politicians, as neither party wanted any enforcement. Yes! And it succeeded; otherwise we wouldn’t have at least 20 million illegal aliens homesteading in the jurisdiction of the United States. They came by plane and overstayed their visa; they slipped across the border, in any large open regions from the South. They brought their desperate poverty with them, which have further added to our own underprivileged. Taxpayers in America have carried this financial yoke for decades. It’s like a repeating record that doesn’t sink into those in Congress that taxpayers are forced to by the Supreme Court’s decision, which we must pay for their upbringing.

    The bill, which is now officially bipartisan, would require 100% of businesses to begin using E-Verify for all new hires within 2 years and require all federal, state, and local governments to check new hires and existing employees within 6 months. Rep. Altmire represents Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District and is serving his 3rd term in Congress. He has earned a career grade by pro-sovereignty organization NumbersUSA of B.

    Congresswoman Bachmann (R-MN) in the past has co-sponsored legislation to make E-Verify mandatory nationally for all employers, and needs to add her co-sponsorship to Rep. Smith’s Mandatory E-Verify. Then Rep. Ron Paul (R-AN) who has always opposed amnesty, he also refuses to back enforcement measures that would lead to significant attrition of the illegal population. The candidates have no say in introducing or co-sponsoring the ‘Legal Workforce Act, as they cannot vote this powerful enforcement tool into law.

    Passing this Law will stop the hounding of the Obama Administration from threatening the States of Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah. The immediate effects will cause hesitation from millions of illegal aliens from arriving through ports of entry, by aircraft or whatever means? ‘Enforcement through Attrition’—forecasts the end of costly deportations, as countless numbers will leave of their own accord. As to the German auto executive, Detlev, or the Japanese Honda worker being taken into custody under the Alabama harsh immigration laws–Perhaps, just perhaps if the 9/11 terrorist murderer Mohamed Atta who was stopped in his vehicle by the police and then let. If this radical had been questioned more extensively, it could have changed the outcome of that dark day?

    It is this point in time patriotic Americans should contact the Ways and Means Committee responsible for bringing ‘The Legal Workforce Act’, bill H.R.2885 to the House floor in Congress. Only the American voter or legal resident has a say in this urgent matter, which will decrease large numbers of jobs STOLEN by the 8.2 illegal workers as estimated to self-deport. The number to call for the Washington political phones is 202-224-3121. The legislators need to pay attention to the People, instead of misleading us anymore. If you have further questions read about the widespread corruption in the federal and state governments at ‘Judicial Watch.’ Be attentive that the TEA PARTY does not agree with any kind of Amnesty, Dream Acts or Sanctuary cities.

    Controversial as it is, everybody who wants a green card who overstayed their visa, or just slipped through the border, must eventually leave the country to be reevaluated for legal entry. Bringing to America legal immigrants is a different condition altogether and should be promoted expeditiously. The beacon should be lit for the highest skilled workers conceivable, but we must remain sensible and not be hoodwinked by mediocre workers, who could easily end up on the taxpayer’s dime. Build the real fences along our lengthy border, and then we can talk about another ‘Bracero Project’ like during the World War 2 for agriculture.

    We have seen the financial damage, crime forced upon us by the impact of illegal immigration. So it’s time for all Americans, whether you are a legally processed resident or birthright citizen this illegal migrant and immigration. This should be bipartisan for every Democrat, Liberal, Independent or Republican to stop this travesty.