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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Romney’s Immigration Exaggeration

Mitt Romney exaggerates when he says President Obama “did nothing on immigration” for three and a half years, even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Obama supported and lobbied for the DREAM Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The bill passed the House in December 2010, but failed in the Senate largely because of Republican opposition.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and presumptive Republican presidential nominee, discussed immigration during a June 17 appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He was asked about the Obama administration’s new policy to allow certain illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to remain and work in the country for two years (subject to renewal) without fear of deportation. The policy is designed to help those who would have been eligible for the path to citizenship under the DREAM Act. In announcing his decision, the president urged Congress to once again pass the DREAM Act “precisely because this is temporary.”

When asked by host Bob Schieffer if he would repeal the new policy, Romney criticized the president for not seeking a long-term solution for those covered by the policy:

Romney, June 17: … with regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is. This is something Congress has been working on, and I thought we are about to see some proposals brought forward by Senator Marco Rubio and by Democrat senators, but the President jumped in and said I’m going to take this action. He called it a stopgap measure. I– I don’t know why he feels stopgap measures are the right way to go and he–

Schieffer: Well, what would you do about it?

Romney: Well, as– as you know, he was– he was President for the last three and a half years, did nothing on immigration. Two years, he had a Democrats’ House in Senate, did nothing of permanent or– or long-term basis. What I would do is I’d make sure that by coming into office I would work with Congress to put in place a long-term solution for the– for the children of those that– that have come here illegally.

Asked again if he would repeal the new policy, Romney again stressed the need for a long-term solution and said the president “should have worked on this years ago.”

Schieffer: I won’t keep on about this but just to– to make sure I understand, would you leave this in place while you worked out a long-term solution or would you just repeal it?

Romney: We’ll– we’ll look at that– we’ll look at that setting as we– as we reach that. But my anticipation is, I’d come into office and say we need to get this done on a long-term basis, not this kind of a stopgap measure. What– what the President did, he– he should have worked on this years ago. If he felt seriously about this, he should have taken action when he had a Democrat House and Senate, but he didn’t.

It’s true that the president failed to deliver on his promise to introduce comprehensive immigration legislation. But the president has a long track record on this particular issue of illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children.

The president supported and lobbied for the DREAM Act when the Democrats controlled a majority of votes in both houses of Congress. The House passed the legislation Dec. 8, 2010, 216 to 198, with 208 Democrats and eight Republicans voting for it. He congratulated the House for passing the bill, urged the Senate to pass it and promised to sign it. The bill failed, however, to receive enough support in the Senate to end debate and advance to a final vote.

In the Senate, a cloture motion to end debate received 55 votes — a clear majority and enough to assure passage had the bill been allowed to come to a straight up-or-down vote. But the measure failed because it takes 60 votes for such a motion to pass. The vote was mostly along party lines: Three Senate Republicans voted for the motion, and five Democrats were among the 41 senators who opposed it.

The president then exercised the administration’s executive powers to provide limited relief to the young adults who would have benefited from the failed legislation.

In June 2011, the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a memo providing ICE agents and officials with “guidance on the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.” It gave guidelines for who should not be detained and deported, and it listed 19 factors to be considered, including if the person is in “pursuit of education” in the U.S. It also listed eight “classes of individuals that warrant particular care,” including “individuals present in the United States since childhood.”

The administration has now taken it one step further, deferring deportation proceedings for certain illegal immigrants and allowing them to work here legally. The new policy applies to those who are 30 or younger and who came to the United States before the age of 16. They must be in school or have graduated from high school or have a high-school equivalency degree or have served in the military. They cannot have a criminal record.

Romney simply goes too far when he says Obama “did nothing,” and he glosses over the role of his own party in blocking the legislation the president proposed.

— Eugene Kiely