I read Mitt Romney's address to elected Latino leaders in Florida and watched some of it on television. And I've listened and read a lot of analysis. If Romney's goal was to leave people scratching their heads, he succeeded. Here's a few things he had to say:
1. Obama had "huge" majorities in both the House and Senate and failed to pass immigration reform.
2. Obama could have issued his order 3 1/2 years ago and only did it now because he's desperate in his re-election bid.
3. I will replace the President's order with my own long-term solution worked out with Congress.
4. I'll increase the number of border patrol agents, crack down on visa overstayers, complete a high tech fence and implement an exit verification system.
5. Family-based green cards will be allocated with keeping families together under one roof. Children and spouses of permanent residents will be considered immediate relatives not subject to quotas.
6. I will eliminate "red tape".
7. I will update the non-immigrant work visa programs to meet our economic needs.
8. I'll staple green cards to the diplomas of people who get advanced degrees in STEM fields in the US.
9. I'll support something like the DREAM Act for people who join the military.
And that's basically it. A few observations and then I'll mention what others are saying.
First, it's incredibly disingenous to say that the President had the ability to easily get immigration legislation passed. Perhaps Mr. Romney doesn't want to admit that a majority in this Congress means 60% since the Republicans have used what used to be invoked rarely to one that is invoked routinely. And the White House did try to pass the DREAM Act in 2010 and it failed because the Republicans uniformly lined up against it. President Bush had no better luck dealing with his own party so why should we believe you'll do better.It's not enough to say you're the anti-Obama and will be able to work with Congress on immigration. Explain how you'll do it better than the last two Presidents, not just the last one.
It's also almost comical to talk as if you have a secret plan for the DREAMers you're only going to reveal after you get elected. It reminds of Richard Nixon's 1968 reference to his secret plan to end the Vietnam War. How did that work out? I don't think anyone is buying this. And what are your plans while you're waiting on Congress. Will you continue the program in the mean time? These are crucial questions.
Regarding the timing of Obama's order, the President has said over and over again that Congress should take the primary responsibility for solving our immigration problems by updating a terribly broken system. But we're even further away from this than we were when he took office. At some point, you have to accept that the legislative branch of government is paralyzed and you go with less perfect solutions like prosecutorial discretion, entrepreneur initiatives, deferred action, etc. We have a Congress that has failed to pass virtually any significant immigration legislation in more than 10 years. The reason why the public overwhelmingly supports what the President has done is because they appreciate that he's finally acting on issues where Congress has failed.
More border patrol agents and completing the fence? These solutions are almost throw away lines now. Illegal immigrant numbers have been dropping on their own and if we should finally realize that the numbers are a direct reflection of the state of the economy. It's fine to talk about these things, but where were the remarks from Romney on creating a workable guest worker program that would allow employers of lower skilled workers to bring in the people they need?
I was pleased to see Romney mention a few pro-immigration measures like freeing spouses and children of green card holders from the quotas and pushing STEM green card measures. Both are desperately needed. It would have also been nice to have gotten specific on what he would do to improve the H-1B and L-1 programs. But we've never really been worried about Romney's bona fides on business and employment immigration policy for these types of workers.
Finally, saying you support creating a path to citizenship for people who serve in the military is good, but it's a fraction of what was contained in comprehensive immigration reform plans. As far as we can tell, you're still committed to vetoing the DREAM Act and pushing people to self-deport. Or perhaps he's dropped these ideas as part of your "secret plan".
The pundits seems to be all over the place in reviewing the speech. Some have focused on Romney's softer tone. Others have noted the lack of specificity. Some, like Fox News, have wondered how Romney would actually get anything done in Congress. One of the more interesting negative reviews came from Dan Stein at the Federation for American Immigration Reform who actually took the view that Romney was hinting he was planning on going a lot further than Obama.
And that's what happens when you want to be all things to all people. No one really knows what you stand for.
Greg Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.