THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 22, 2012 -
David Royse, The News Service of Florida
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney acknowledged that Hispanics may not always agree with him, but he offered a vision Thursday of an America more welcoming to certain legal immigrants and their families.
Speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Orlando, Romney primarily talked about the economy, reprising his usual stump speech that tries to make the case that President Obama hasn't led the nation in a robust enough recovery. Romney did highlight the specific concern to his audience: Hispanic unemployment is at 11 percent, compared to about 8 percent for the nation as a whole.
But Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is expected to officially accept his party's nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in two months, focused much of his speech on immigration, offering more details than on many prior occasions.
While he started by acknowledging that Hispanics may disagree with him on some issues, "there is much more that unites us than there is that divides us," he said.
Romney said he hopes to crack down more on illegal immigration, including pushing for a border fence and strengthening efforts to find people who enter legally but overstay visas. Romney also tempered his remarks in light of his audience.
"I'm going to address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil, and resolute, manner," he said.
But he spent most of his time talking about making it easier for legal immigrants to come to America, and making a case for the necessity of welcoming them.
"I will prioritize efforts that strengthen legal immigration and make it more transparent and easier," Romney said. "…Too many families are caught in a broken system. For those seeking to come to America the right way, that kind of bureaucratic nightmare has to end."
Also, more non-citizens would be able to stay legally in the United States under Romney's plan because he would exempt from current numerical caps on green cards the spouses and minor children of green card holders.
Romney also pledged to find a path to legal citizenship for any immigrant who serves in the U.S. military, and argued that visas ought to be automatic for science and technology students who come here to be educated – and under current rules then often go home to create jobs in other countries because they're not allowed to stay.
"I'd staple a green card to the diploma of someone who gets an advanced degree in America," Romney said, after noting that a huge number of new companies here are started by immigrants – about half of the top venture-funded firms, he said.
Romney's reach out to Hispanics comes a week after President Obama took over what had been one of the best chances Republicans had to convince Latinos to give them a look. Hispanic Republicans, led by Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, were pushing to allow children who were brought here illegally by their parents to stay in the country under some circumstances. Obama last week by executive order did the same thing.
Romney said Obama should have done that earlier, and accused him of doing it simply to get Hispanics' votes. He didn't give details, but said he would put in place a permanent program that would go beyond what Obama has ordered, creating a long-term solution.
Obama is slated to address the same group on Friday.
Hispanics are thought to be one of the biggest keys to the presidential election this year – a huge number live in the critical swing state of Florida, and more and more are registering as independents, leading both parties to see their votes as up for grabs.