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Some Hispanic and immigration advocates opposed the measure, which won wide public support, but Romney fought against efforts to delay implementation of the English-only classes.
He ultimately lost one battle when lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature created some exemptions to the law and later overrode Romney’s veto of those exemptions.
Romney accused lawmakers of "unfathomable arrogance" and flouting the will of voters.
Immigration advocates found a rare moment of agreement with Romney in 2004 when he signed into law the requirement that immigration judges warn non-citizen defendants that pleading guilty to certain crimes could ultimately lead to their deportation, even if they were currently in the country legally.
"That was one positive thing that happened during his term," said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
She said that victory was overshadowed by other stances, like Romney’s opposition to allowing illegal immigrants brought to the country as children to pay the same tuition rates at state colleges as legal Massachusetts residents.
"Overall he has been consistent in his misconception about immigration. We never found him to have a big vision about reform on immigration issues," she said. "He lacks understanding and focuses more on politics than policy."
Romney showed a more personal approach on immigration in 2005 after students rallied behind a beloved schoolteacher facing deportation.
Obain Attouoman, then a 42-year-old teacher at Boston’s Fenway High School, fled political persecution in the Ivory Coast in 1992 and later applied for asylum in the United States. But he missed a hearing with an immigration judge in 2001 and was ordered deported.
Romney joined a chorus of public officials — including Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry — in urging a reprise for Attouoman, who won a delay but was ultimately deported in 2008.
In a letter to then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in 2005, Romney pleaded Attouoman’s case, calling him "a teacher and role model."
"The unique and impassioned effort by these students to convey to our government the important contribution of Mr. Attouoman certainly demonstrates the impact he is having as a member of our education community," Romney wrote.
Miga reported from Washington.
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