Mitt Romney has a miraculous secret plan to fix immigration for good. It is miraculous because it somehow doesn’t involve deportation, even though 11 million people are living in the United States outside the law, and also because it will permanently solve a problem that has defied solution for two and a half decades.
It is secret because Mr. Romney won’t tell us what it is.
I long ago gave up trying to figure out what Mr. Romney means or believes when he moves his mouth about immigration. But at a forum in Miami on Wednesday night sponsored by Univision, the hosts, Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, did their very best to get clear answers out of him. They failed.
They asked Mr. Romney repeatedly what he would do about the 1.7 million so-called Dreamers, immigrant students who would gain legalization under the Dream Act — a bill that has not passed Congress and that Mr. Romney has promised to veto. Would he repeal Mr. Obama’s decision to halt their deportations? And what about the rest of the undocumented population?
Mr. Romney would not answer — not in any way that made sense. Here are excerpts of the exchange. (The questions were asked in Spanish and are translated here. Mr. Romney, of course, spoke in English.)
A. Now, for those that are already here and that are undocumented, that were brought here by their parents and therefore are illegal aliens in this country, my view is that we should put in a place a permanent solution. What the president did was take no action when he had a Democrat House and Senate, even though he said he would, then he put in place something he called a stop-gap measure. Temporary. These kids deserve something better than temporary. […]
Q. But, with all due respect, your reluctance to provide details on a permanent solution has created maybe a perception that you are kind of evading the question. What would you tell Hispanic voters right now regarding this important issue? All the Dreamers want to know: If you become president, are you going to deport them or not? Yes or no.
A. Well, we’re not going to — we’re not going to round up people around the country and deport them. That’s not — I said my primary campaign time and, again, we’re not going to round up 12 million people that include the kids and the parents, and have everyone deported. Our system isn’t to deport people. […]
Q. So that’s your answer? You’re going to allow them to stay?
A. I’m not going to be rounding people up and deporting them from the country. We’re going to put in place a permanent solution and, unlike the president, when I am president I will actually do what I promise. I will put in an immigration reform plan that solves this issue.
Q. What you said is not very clear. On January 26 you told me that you were in favor of self-deportation. In a debate in the primary on February 22 you said that you thought that the Arizona model was a model to follow. Should the United States follow Arizona’s immigration laws? And in that same response from when you told me that self-deportation will be a solution, do you think that we’re going to self-deport 11 million undocumented immigrants? Are you going to deport them or not? I’m not that clear.
I’m not that clear either. Because deportation, not legalization, is the central immigration position that Mr. Romney has put forth in this campaign. It is the bedrock principle guiding Mr. Romney’s immigration advisor Kris Kobach, who wrote the radical enforcement laws adopted by Arizona, the state Mr. Romney praised as a model for the nation, and other copy-cat states. These laws seek to make it impossible for illegal immigrants to survive and much, much easier for the police to round them up. While Mr. Romney talks in vague terms about perhaps exempting a fraction of the undocumented population from the national purge — members of the military, some students maybe — he has never backed away from his supporters on the hard-right for whom mass legalization is unthinkable.
So if you’re not going to give 11 million people a way to legalize, which Mr. Romney has never said he would do, and you’re not going to deport them, but you support Arizona-style laws that try to make sure immigrants cannot work, drive, go to school or otherwise survive, then … what?
There is only way not to be baffled or exasperated by Mr. Romney’s words. It is to conclude that his plan does not exist.