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Romney a hypocrite on amnesty for immigrants

Updated: January 1, 2012 8:13AM

‘I don’t believe in amnesty,” Mitt Romney said in 2006, but “I don’t believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country.” Although Romney is loath to admit it, the underlying reality remains the same.

While mass deportation of everyone illegally residing in the United States is unacceptable for both practical and humanitarian reasons, Republicans are afraid to suggest an alternative, lest it be tagged with the a-word. Last week Romney’s campaign highlighted that danger by pouncing on New Gingrich for taking essentially the same position Romney himself has enunciated.

During last week’s GOP presidential debate, Gingrich suggested appointing local review boards to decide which illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay. “If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, [and] 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,” he said. “I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, ‘Let’s be humane.’ ”

Unlike many other self-aggrandizing pronouncements by Gingrich, that one, sadly, had an element of truth, as Romney promptly proved. “Newt Gingrich made it very clear he was for amnesty,” Romney’s spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, told reporters after the debate.

Yet back in 2006, when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney said “those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process toward application for citizenship.” During his campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, he criticized the 2007 immigration reform bill, co-sponsored by his rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), saying “people should have no advantage by having come here illegally.” But he continued to support the general idea of letting illegal immigrants apply for citizenship or legal residency — a policy that the Romney of 2011 presumably would condemn as “amnesty.”

We can’t say for sure, because he refuses to address the issue. After the debate, The Examiner’s Philip Klein repeatedly pressed Fehrnstrom to say how Romney would handle the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. Fehrnstrom would go no further than declaring that Romney “would not grant them amnesty.”

This dodge precludes the possibility of reconciling U.S. policy with the reality that, as Gingrich put it in 2006, “millions of illegal immigrants are here because Americans are hiring them. They have jobs in your neighborhood and you know it.”

As Gingrich further pointed out, “Keeping these hard-working people illegal makes them vulnerable to criminals and keeps them from playing responsible roles in our communities.”

Romney’s chief complaint about the 2007 immigration bill was that it would have let illegal immigrants “jump ahead of the line” to become permanent residents or citizens. He made a similar point at a debate last September.

But if the U.S. government were prepared to let eager workers connect with desperate employers, 4.7 million people would not be “waiting in line.” And if that line moved at a reasonable pace, 12 million people would not be living here illegally.

At last week’s debate there was general agreement that it should be easier for high-skilled foreign nationals to take jobs in the United States.

The same thing is glaringly true for people who work on farms, in restaurants and in politicians’ yards. Just don’t call it amnesty.

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