Washington • When Mitt Romney announced his Senate bid, he signaled a compassionate approach to immigration.
“Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world,” Romney said in a recorded video. “Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”
Pressed further that day, Romney, a Republican, said he had opposed a law to allow immigrants brought to America as children to have some legal protection but that was “water under the bridge” because then-President Barack Obama had made “representations” that have changed the circumstances.
More than a month into his campaign, Romney now says the so-called Dreamers — named after the DREAM Act that would have protected them from deportation — should have to justify gaining any legal status, though not citizenship, by attending college or serving in the military or becoming a teacher.
President Donald Trump ended Obama-era protections for the young immigrants put in place when the act, fully known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, failed to pass Congress. Obama called his program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Trump later said he’d back a fix to help the Dreamers. Romney says that wasn’t originally his own position.
“I’m also probably more of a hawk on immigration than even the president,” Romney told a conservative Utah County audience when asked how he differs from Trump. “My view was that these DACA kids shouldn’t all be allowed to stay in the country illegally, but President [Obama] and both parties said, ‘No, we’re going to let the 1.8 million stay in the country and give them legal residence, legal status.’ That was not my posture.”
The comments were first reported by the Daily Herald of Provo.
Romney later clarified that the young immigrants should have some protection but would have to “do more to justify permanent residence here” like schooling or military service.
Romney spokeswoman MJ Henshaw said Tuesday that Romney in his Provo remarks was referring to his opposition to DACA during his 2012 presidential bid but added that “circumstances have changed.”
“President Obama enacted DACA and [former Massachusetts] Gov. Romney believes the commitment made by President Obama should be honored,” Henshaw said. “Therefore, he agrees with President Trump’s proposal to allow DACA recipients to legally stay in the country but does not support a special pathway to citizenship.”
Further, Romney’s campaign noted in his declaration as a candidate to the Utah Republican Party, Romney had stated that he disagrees with some of the party platform on DACA and that the kids should be given legal status.
Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County Council member who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat, said Tuesday she “absolutely” supports a path to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children and called Romney’s position “heartless.”
“I would say this is more gobbledygook than clarity by Mitt Romney,” Wilson said. “We’ve seen this over the past two months with Romney as a candidate. You ask me a question, I will give you a direct answer. And we have not seen that from him.”
She added that Romney’s position is “anti-Utah” because the state is welcoming to immigrants.
”We’re seeing the sloppiness of his presidential race, a lack of clarity and frankly a lack of heart right now,” Wilson said of Romney.
A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll from January showed that 69 percent of respondents favored a fix to DACA, allowing these young people to stay in the country.
Besides Romney, 11 other candidates are seeking the GOP nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Orrin Hatch, who is retiring. Besides Wilson, three other Democrats have filed, along with one candidate each from the Constitution, Libertarian and Independent American parties.