The candidates discussed immigration in one of the recent debates. A very serious domestic policy, immigration continues to fester as businesses and immigration advocates push for a resolution of some of the key problems. One of the most significant issues is the fate of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, as well as their families, employers, and advocates on both sides of the aisle. Despite the introduction of certain intermediate measures such as President Obama’s deferred action directive, the federal government has yet to pass comprehensive reform and resolve its long-standing impasse over immigration policy. Below is an excerpt from the candidates’ exchange about this key issue during the October 16, 2012, town hall debate held at Hofstra University in New York.
QUESTION: Mr. Romney, what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?
ROMNEY: Thank you. Lorraine? Did I get that right? Good. Thank you for your question. And let me step back and tell you what I would like to do with our immigration policy broadly and include an answer to your question.
But first of all, this is a nation of immigrants. We welcome people coming to this country as immigrants. My dad was born in Mexico of American parents; Ann's dad was born in Wales and is a first-generation American. We welcome legal immigrants into this country.
I want our legal system to work better. I want it to be streamlined. I want it to be clearer. You shouldn't have to hire a lawyer to figure out how to get into this country legally. I also think that we should give visas to people – green cards, rather, to people who graduate with skills that we need. People around the world with accredited degrees in science and math get a green card stapled to their diploma, come to the U.S. of A. We should make sure our legal system works.
Number two, we're going to have to stop illegal immigration. There are four million people who are waiting in line to get here legally. Those who've come here illegally take their place. So I will not grant amnesty to those who have come here illegally.
What I will do is I'll put in place an employment verification system and make sure that employers that hire people who have come here illegally are sanctioned for doing so. I won't put in place magnets for people coming here illegally. So for instance, I would not give driver's licenses to those that have come here illegally as the president would.
The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids, I think, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States and military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident.
Now when the president ran for office, he said that he'd put in place, in his first year, a piece of legislation – he'd file a bill in his first year that would reform our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration. He didn't do it.
He had a Democrat House, a Democrat Senate, super majority in both Houses. Why did he fail to even promote legislation that would have provided an answer for those that want to come legally and for those that are here illegally today? That's a question I think the president will have a chance to answer right now.
OBAMA: Good, I look forward to it.
Lorraine we are a nation of immigrants. I mean we're just a few miles away from Ellis Island. We all understand what this country has become because talent from all around the world wants to come here. People are willing to take risks. People who want to build on their dreams and make sure their kids have an even bigger dreams than they have.
But we're also a nation of laws. So what I've said is we need to fix a broken immigration system and I've done everything that I can on my own and sought cooperation from Congress to make sure that we fix the system.
The first thing we did was to streamline the legal immigration system, to reduce the backlog, make it easier, simpler and cheaper for people who are waiting in line, obeying the law to make sure that they can come here and contribute to our country and that's good for our economic growth.
They'll start new businesses. They'll make things happen to create jobs here in the United States.
Number two, we do have to deal with our border so we put more border patrol on the border than any time in history and the flow of undocumented works across the border is actually lower than it's been in 40 years.
What I've also said is if we're going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families. And that's what we've done. And what I've also said is for young people who come here, brought here often times by their parents. Had gone to school here, pledged allegiance to the flag. Think of this as their country. Understand themselves as Americans in every way except having papers. And we should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship.
And that's what I've done administratively. Now, Governor Romney just said, you know he wants to help those young people too, but during the Republican primary, he said, "I will veto the DREAM Act" that would allow these young people to have access. His main strategy during the Republican primary was to say, "We're going to encourage self-deportation." Making life so miserable on folks that they'll leave. He called the Arizona law a model for the nation. Part of the Arizona law said that law enforcement officers could stop folks because they suspected maybe they looked like they might be undocumented workers and check their papers.
You know what? If my daughter or yours looks to somebody like they're not a citizen, I don't want to empower somebody like that. So, we can fix this system in a comprehensive way. And when Governor Romney says, the challenge is, "Well Obama didn't try." That's not true. I have sat down with Democrats and Republicans at the beginning of my term. And I said, let's fix this system. Including Senators previously who had supported it on the Republican side. But it's very hard for Republican's in Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform, if their standard bearer has said that, this is not something I'm interested in supporting.
CROWLEY: Let me get the governor in here, Mr. President. Let's speak to, if you could . . .
CROWLEY: . . . the idea of self-deportation?
ROMNEY: No, let me go back and speak to the points that the president made and let's get them correct.
I did not say that the Arizona law was a model for the nation in that aspect. I said that the E-Verify portion of the Arizona law, which is the portion of the law which says that employers could be able to determine whether someone is here illegally or not illegally, that that was a model for the nation. That's number one.
Number two, I asked the president a question I think Hispanics and immigrants all over the nation have asked. He was asked this on Univision the other day. Why, when you said you'd filed legislation in your first year didn't you do it? And he didn't answer. He doesn't answer that question. He said the standard bearer wasn't for it.
I'm glad you thought I was a standard bearer four years ago, but I wasn't.
Four years ago you said in your first year you would file legislation.
In his first year, I was just getting – licking my wounds from having been beaten by John McCain, all right. I was not the standard bearer.
My view is that this president should have honored his promise to do as he said.
Now, let me mention one other thing, and that is self-deportation says let people make their own choice. What I was saying is, we're not going to round up 12 million people, undocumented illegals, and take them out of the nation. Instead let people make their own choice. And if they find that that they can't get the benefits here that they want and they can't – and they can't find the job they want, then they'll make a decision to go a place where they have better opportunities.
But I'm not in favor of rounding up people and taking them out of this country. I am in favor, as the president has said, and I agree with him, which is that if people have committed crimes we got to get them out of this country.
OBAMA: I do want to make sure that we just understand something. Governor Romney says he wasn't referring to Arizona as a model for the nation. His top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the entirety of it; not E-Verify, the whole thing. That's his policy. And it's a bad policy. And it won't help us grow.
Look, when we think about immigration, we have to understand there are folks all around the world who still see America as the land of promise. And they provide us energy and they provide us innovation and they start companies like Intel and Google. And we want to encourage that.
Now, we've got to make sure that we do it in a smart way and a comprehensive way, and we make the legal system better. But when we make this into a divisive political issue, and when we don't have bipartisan support – I can deliver, Governor, a whole bunch of Democrats to get comprehensive immigration reform done, and we can't . . .
ROMNEY: I'll get it done. I'll get it done. First year . . .
OBAMA: We have not seen Republicans serious about this issue at all. And it's time for them to get serious on it.