One of the biggest myths of the 2012 presidential campaign, propagated by Team Romney and the mainstream media, is that Willard Mitt Romney is a hard-liner on immigration issues. One easily could reach that conclusion if Romney were judged on his speeches, press releases, and sound bites.
However, as all conservatives should know, it is foolish to predict how a politician will govern based on campaign rhetoric. The more reliable way to determine a candidate‘s position is to review his actual record.
It is clear the Romney campaign, beginning with his 2008 bid, decided to use immigration as one of the few hooks it had to lure conservatives to its camp. With Romney’s dismal record on fiscal and social issues, his consultants must have concluded that with so little said about immigration by Romney while governor, they could get away with creating a phony record.
Indeed, if one digs deeply, a disturbing pattern emerges. Romney’s “hard-line” positions on immigration suddenly arose as he began thinking of running for president in 2006. Moreover, his current views on immigration usually contradict what he actually said and did as governor. It appears that Romney’s immigration positions have been created solely for his presidential run or were based upon events that simply never occurred.
Romney’s Support for McCain’s Amnesty
Romney has made opposition to any amnesty proposal a central campaign plank. This message first surfaced during the run-up to his 2008 race when his potential rival, Senator John McCain, introduced an immigration measure that included amnesty. Romney attacked it:
I strongly opposed today’s bill going through the Senate. It is the wrong approach. Any legislation that allows illegal immigrants to stay in the country indefinitely, as the new “Z-Visa” does, is a form of amnesty . . . today’s Senate agreement falls short of the actions needed to both solve our country’s illegal immigration problem and also strengthen our legal immigration system.
Moreover, Romney specifically opposed any kind of “pathway to citizenship” for illegal aliens, saying, “I don’t think there should be a pathway to citizenship for people who are here illegally.”
And quite consistently during the 2012 campaign, Romney made clear in nearly every debate that he opposed amnesty for illegal aliens in any and all forms whatsoever.
However, these statements conflict with Romney’s earlier view on amnesty. Romney gave the Boston Globe an interview in 2005 in which he argued that the McCain-Kennedy immigration-reform bill was “quite different” from an amnesty bill and even called the bill “reasonable”:
I think an amnesty program is what — which is all the illegal immigrants who are here are now citizens, and walk up and get your citizenship. What the president has proposed, and what Senator McCain and Cornyn have proposed, are quite different than that. They require people signing up for a, well, registering and receiving a registration number. Then working here for six years and paying taxes — not taking benefits. . . . And then at the end of that period, registering to become a citizen. . . . And I think that those are reasonable proposals.
And in contrast to his attacks on a “pathway to citizenship,” Romney specifically supported such an approach while governor, saying:
Those who’ve 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.
But Romney didn’t stop there. In 2006, as reported by the AP, Romney even criticized Republicans who didn’t support the Bush-McCain amnesty legislation:
Meantime, one of McCain’s potential rivals for the GOP nomination, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has made it known that he supports the president’s immigration position, saying that Republicans who have broken rank with Bush “made a big mistake.”
Romney’s Phony Deputization Program
At least four times during the last three months, Romney has boasted in various debates and on Fox News that he “even deputized state police to enforce our federal immigration laws.” His campaign literature makes the same boast:
Romney signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the federal government allowing Massachusetts State Troopers to investigate immigration status and enforce federal immigration laws. The agreement included authority to arrest illegal aliens encountered during the normal course of their duties.
Indeed, during the ’08 campaign, Romney even produced a campaign commercial called “Cops on the Case,” in which Romney authoritatively states, “As Governor, I authorized the state police to enforce immigration laws.”
This sounds tough; indeed, it sounds like what Governor Jan Brewer (R., Ariz.) tried to do before Obama sicced his Justice Department on her. But this policy never was implemented. It never happened. Even though Romney had the authority to sign such an order with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency four years earlier upon becoming governor, he waited to sign this agreement on December 13, 2006 — 18 days before his term ended.
Since the officers required a five-week course before they could enforce federal immigration law, this policy never was implemented. The order never took effect. State police never were deputized, nor did they ever detain illegal aliens. In any case, the order quickly was overturned by Romney’s successor a few weeks later.
It is difficult not to conclude that Romney signed this agreement simply at the request of his political handlers so that he could portray himself as a conservative for his upcoming campaign. After all, by the end of his gubernatorial term, Romney already was laying the groundwork for his ’08 presidential bid. Indeed, a member of Romney’s Advisory Council for Refugees and Immigrants, Westy Egmont, said in an interview in the October 4, 2011, issue of USA Today, “It came late in his administration as a political statement more than as a well-thought-out policy.”
Romney and Sanctuary Cities
“Sanctuary cities” are municipalities that defy federal law by offering safe haven for illegal aliens. Romney talked tough on this issue in both of his campaigns. Indeed, his campaign literature certainly sounds very conservative:
Cut back federal funding to cities that are “sanctuaries” for illegal immigrants and refuse to comply with federal law or aid federal law enforcement.
And Romney himself said this in August 2007 on Fox News:
And I think we ought to cut off some funding, federal funding, to cities that call themselves sanctuary cities, that welcome people into their cities who are illegal and who provide benefits to individuals . . . but we don’t want sanctuary cities, calling on people to come to this country illegally.
Moreover, the ’08 Romney campaign produced television ads that said he would “cut funding for sanctuary cities.” Romney also attacked his former rival Governor Rick Perry (R., Texas) as weak on this issue.
But what is Romney’s actual record on sanctuary cities? Let’s check FactCheck.org:
Romney might well get tough on sanctuary cities in the future, but he didn’t when he was governor. During his tenure, at least four Massachusetts cities enacted or renewed legislation declaring themselves sanctuary for illegal immigrants. . . . we asked Romney’s campaign if he had acted against these cities, but they didn’t provide us with any examples. As far as we were able to determine in our own research, Romney made no attempts to penalize, censure, or cut funding to them.
Indeed, Romney continued to give “local aid” to three cities providing sanctuary to illegal aliens — Cambridge, Orleans, and Somerville. In Romney’s 2006 budget — just a year before he called for the federal government to cut off aid to sanctuary cities — Governor Romney poured more than $88 million in state aid to these three municipalities. If Romney had proposed to cut funding to those cities, the funds probably would have been restored by the Democrat-dominated state legislature, but it is the governor’s job to propose the state budget. Romney made no effort whatsoever to propose any reductions in state aid to these three sanctuary cities.
The Phony Driver’s-License Issue
As a candidate, Romney also opposed drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens. As Romney boasted in the 2007 Republican presidential debate in St. Petersburg, Florida, “Let me tell you what I did as governor; I said no to driver licenses for illegals.”
The clear implication is that as governor, Romney faced relevant legislation, and rejected it. But that didn’t happen. Romney never “said no” to any such legislation; a search of all legislation during that time shows no such bill ever reached his desk.
Moreover, we really don’t know what Romney would have done if he had been presented with such a bill. His campaign wants voters to believe that he would have vetoed it, but why should voters believe that? If he supported amnesty, refused to punish sanctuary cities, and initiated a phony order to empower the state police, why should anyone think Romney would have vetoed such a bill? Indeed, the Boston Globe reported that Romney was “undecided” on this issue a week before the legislature voted on it.
Illegal-alien students and the Romney record
Romney did veto a bill allowing illegal aliens to attend colleges at the in-state tuition rate. However, his main argument was not that these people were illegal, but rather that Massachusetts couldn’t afford the bill’s $15 million price tag. In other words, so long as illegal aliens paid the same rate as out-of-state students, Romney didn’t appear terribly concerned.
Indeed, Romney repeatedly attacked Governor Perry for supporting a similar bill in Texas. In the September GOP debate in Florida, Romney argued: “That kind of magnet draws people into this country . . . we have to turn off the magnet.”
However, as the Boston Globe reported in June 2004, Romney very reluctantly vetoed another similar bill: “I hate the idea of in any way making it more difficult for kids, even those who are illegal aliens, to afford college in our state.”
During a 2008 debate with Rudy Giuliani in St. Petersburg, Florida, Romney argued that federal law required states to educate illegal aliens:
If you’re here illegally, you should not be here. We’re not going to give you benefits, other than those required by the law, like health care and education, and that’s the course we’re going to have to pursue.
But that’s not entirely correct. While the Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision indeed requires states to provide K–12 education to illegal aliens, states are not required to admit illegal aliens to their higher-education institutions. If Governor Romney was serious about saving Massachusetts money by denying illegal aliens lower tuition, then why didn’t he try to ban illegal aliens from enrolling in state colleges altogether? There is no record that he ever did so.
Romneycare CARING FOR Illegal Aliens
While federal law requires that states provide emergency health care for illegal aliens, Romneycare created a program called the Health Safety Net Fund, which provides medical treatment for illegals, whether it be urgent or routine. The Romney campaign has claimed that the regulations allowing this practice arose long after Romney left office. But the original legislation creating the Health Safety Net Fund states otherwise. Moreover, as the Los Angeles Times reported in October 2011, Romney’s health officials apparently knew this:
But Massachusetts officials involved in crafting the health-care law said there was broad understanding when Romney signed it that at least some people who would benefit would be in the country illegally.
In Romney’s speeches, one of his most common stock phrases is, “we have to turn off the magnet of extraordinary government benefits.” But Romney’s own landmark legislative achievement, Romneycare, provided millions of dollars in taxpayer-subsidized benefits for illegal aliens.
EMPLOYER SANCTIONS FOR THEE BUT NOT FOR ME
Another aspect of Romney’s alleged immigration policy is employer sanctions. There is little doubt that Romney’s campaign literature sounds very law-and-order on this issue: “Employers will be held accountable if they hire illegal immigrants, with stiffer fines and penalties.”
Romney even has detailed how he would implement sanctions:
If you want to hire someone that’s not a U.S. Citizen with a valid Social Security number, you ask for the card. You then verify it on the computer, and you can hire them if it’s a valid card, if they have a card. If they don’t have a card and you hire them anyway, then you’re going to be subject to the same kind of sanctions you get for not paying your taxes. And that’s typically fines, very substantial fines; they get larger and larger.
Romney, however, did not act in his personal life as he demands that other employers do. Indeed, for a decade, Romney never bothered to check the citizen status of those whom he hired to care for his 2.5 acres of lawn. As the Boston Globe reported:
But, for a decade, the governor has used a landscaping company that relies heavily on workers like these, illegal Guatemalan immigrants, to maintain the ground surrounding his pink Colonial house on March Street in Belmont. . . . Romney never inquired about their status, they said.
Romney now says he was unaware of these workers’ immigration status. But that’s the same argument often used by employers whom Romney wants to punish with huge fines. When he discovered the workers’ status, he instructed the landscaping company to terminate them. That did not happen, and a full year passed before Romney terminated the company’s contract and actually stopped employing the illegal immigrants.
Romney did not report the illegal aliens to ICE, and allowed them to keep working for him for another year. Of course, ICE never would give an employer using illegal workers a year to comply with the law; Romney certainly did not follow the same standard that he itches to impose on everyone else.
Indeed, Romney said he was insulted that he was expected to ask foreign-looking workers for their papers. But this is exactly what Romney demands of all employers. In a heated exchange with Rudy Giuliani in the November 2007 CNN/YouTube debate, Romney even claimed that asking workers for papers was un-American:
Are you suggesting, Mr. Mayor — because I think it’s really kind of offensive, actually, to suggest — to say, look, you know what, if you’re a homeowner and you hire a company to come provide a service at your home . . . if you hear someone with a funny accent, you, as a homeowner, are supposed to go out there and say, “I want to see your papers”? Is that what you’re suggesting? That you now are responsible for going out and checking the employees of that company, particularly those that might look different or don’t have an accent like yours, and ask for their papers? I don’t think that’s American.
The Romney campaign desperately wants voters to believe that he has a long history as a law-and-order conservative on immigration issues. But the reality is that Romney’s record on immigration is convoluted and deceptive, as it is on nearly every other issue. This confirms what most people already know: Romney lacks a consistent worldview. Consequently, no one has any idea what Romney might do as president regarding immigration policy. His record suggests, however, that Romney will employ contradictory policies resulting in a very unsatisfactory record. Basically, George W. Bush 2.0.
— Steve Baldwin was Republican whip of California State Assembly, served as executive director of the Council for National Policy from 2001–2009, and is co-author of From Crayons to Condoms, The Ugly Truth about America’s Public Schools. New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a contributing editor with National Review Online.