Leave it to an undecided U.S. voter to force Mitt Romney to do what journalists the country over have been largely struggling to do for months—pin the GOP presidential hopeful down on his immigration agenda. Romney again reminded voters, despite his smooth talking, that he would pursue a plan even more aggressively anti-immigrant and hawkish than President Obama, who has deported a record-breaking 1.4 million immigrants during his presidency.
For starters, if elected president, Romney would support a federal military-only DREAM Act law which gives immigrant youth at most a green card. Such a move is in line with the Republican Party’s narrowing of the decade-old legalization bill for undocumented youth. But it’s a sharp departure from the DREAM Act’s long history as a bipartisan bill which would allow undocumented youth who commit two years to the military or higher education and clear a host of other prerequisites to be eligible for eventual citizenship. Romney’s plan would gut the DREAM Act. But furthermore, in Romney’s vision immigrant youth would have to put their lives at risk to fight for the country, but ought not to be given the right to vote in exchange.
Perhaps the biggest whammy of the night on immigration came when Romney interrupted President Obama, who was in the middle of describing Republican obstruction of any effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform that extended beyond enforcement-only policies. He talked over the president, claiming with what sounded like a retort and a move of uncalculated desperation at the same time, “I’ll get it done. I’ll get it done. First year.” As in, Romney pledged to get comprehensive immigration reform, a task that’s proven too difficult for the last two presidents, done in the first year. It was a bold statement. But, as Obama well knows, hardly the kind of thing worth throwing out casually. Obama made that same promise while he was campaigning in 2008, but repeatedly, and as a pledge to immigrant communities. It’s something immigrant communities won’t soon forget.