Romney’s public immigration stand calls for a new ‘merit-based’ system favoring those with skills and money

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Republican Senate candidate Mitt Romney speaks and answers questions at an informal breakfast with state delegates Wednesday, March 28, 2018, in Salt Lake City.

GOP Senate candidate Mitt Romney fleshed out his public stand on U.S. immigration policy Wednesday — this time suggesting a “merit-based” system to favor those who have the skills and resources most likely to help build the country.

He told a group of Utah Republican convention delegates that he supports President Donald Trump’s proposals for such a change. Romney said would-be immigrants would earn points for such things as speaking English, having needed job skills, or building up savings that “would keep them from being a burden on society.”

That led Jenny Wilson, the leading Democrat challenging Romney, to say, “You would get points for speaking English? You would get points for being wealthy? That is another discriminatory and confusing Romneyism.”

The talk about merit-based immigration comes after Romney attracted attention earlier this week by opposing any special pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” the people brought illegally into the country as children by their parents, and said he is “more of a hawk on immigration” than even Trump.

Such new public stands appear to contrast with the video Romney used to launch his campaign where he praised how Utah “welcomes legal immigrants” while “Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”

The latest twist came as Romney fielded questions Wednesday in Salt Lake City at the Marriott City Center from a group of about 150 GOP delegates — who tend to be more conservative than other Republicans — and several asked about immigration.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Republican Senate candidate Mitt Romney speaks and answers questions at an informal breakfast with state delegates Wednesday, March 28, 2018, in Salt Lake City.

“I also support the president’s view of a merit-based immigration approach,” Romney said. Trump, for example, tweeted in January, “I, as president, want people coming into are country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on merit. No more lotteries! America first.”

Trump tweeted that in the wake of controversy resulting from reports that he called Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations ”s---hole” countries and questioned why America allows their migrants. Romney at the time attacked the vulgar comment in a tweet saying it was “inconsistent w/ America’s history and antithetical to American values.”

Romney’s endorsement of a “merit-based” system appears on his campaign website, though it provides little detail. The one-sentence position reads “The legal immigration system should be merit based, giving applicants credit for such things as English fluency, having a trade or technical skill, personal savings, and advanced degrees so these individuals may become assets to their communities and prosper in our country.”

“I don’t know that I’m ready to define it in great detail,” Romney said Wednesday, but he offered some examples of what might be included.

Would-be immigrants would register and earn points toward legal immigration based on several questions.

“Are they fluent in English? Do they have skills or education that we would find valuable in our economy? Perhaps, do they have savings that would keep them from being a burden on society?” he said. “Each year you are on the list you would get more points.”

Also, especially for Dreamers who already are in the country, he said serving in the military “is going to move you up to the top of the list, and perhaps teaching in Teach for America [a nonprofit attracting more teachers especially to low-income areas] and other programs would move you to the top of the list.”

Wilson said Romney is “doubling down” on murky proposals by Trump. “I think this on-the-fly approach is not helping” to solve immigration issues, including how to deal with Dreamers — for whom she favors a direct path to citizenship.

Romney told delegates on Wednesday that when he was the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, he opposed giving Dreamers legal status. But he said President Barack Obama gave it to them through an executive order, called DACA, and Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress also favor allowing them to stay.

FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2018, file photo, demonstrators rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) outside the Capitol in Washington. An effort to protect young Dreamer immigrants from deportation never really had much chance of squeezing into the last bill Congress must pass this election year. That’s why bargainers from both parties were surprised when the White House tried anyway. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

“So I will support the posture of our president and leaders of both our parties that DACA individuals should be granted legal status,” he said.

In fact, he added, “I’m frustrated that we can’t get it done” legislatively.

If elected, he said he would like to sit down with Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer “and say, ‘Come on. We’ve got some common ground here. Let’s get this done at least.’”

Romney added, “I realize we are so divided as a nation that the Democrats are afraid to do anything that might upset them in their base, and they might lose their primary, and Republicans feel the same way. … But at some point, country has to come before getting re-elected.”

Still, he said he wants no special pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. “I think they ought to get in line with other people who want to become citizens,” even if they have continuing legal status to be in the country.

Romney outlined other stands including favoring allowing temporary immigration for agricultural workers — saying Utah could not harvest its crops without that — and opposing any government benefits to illegal immigrants. He called for strengthening borders, but restated strong support for legal immigrants.

“I salute people who get in line and get here legally,” he said. “That, in my opinion, is a good thing for our country. I think it makes us more competitive.”

He added, “I want to stop illegal immigration. That means, yes, a secure border, but also a verification system that employers can use easily to determine if someone is here illegally, and if they are they can’t hire them.”

While such systems now exist, Romney said, “It’s not enforced as well as I think it ought to be. It’s not as easy as I think it ought to be.”

State Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, who is challenging Romney for the GOP Senate nomination, also took a swipe at his stands.

“The problems we’re facing with immigration and DACA are shining examples of a government-created crisis made by establishment politicians who are refusing to enforce current laws or lack the backbone to create new policies to address issues,” he said.

“A lot of Utahns are passionate about this issue, and they deserve better than a political sound bite and a politician who changes with the wind,” he said. “They need a leader to stand firm, take action and get something done. In the coming weeks, my campaign will be releasing more information on these issues. ”