On Thursday afternoon Mitt Romney told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials that he would support allowing young illegal immigrants a “path to legal status” if they serve in the United States military.
Romney’s remarks amounted to the campaign’s first fully-formed response to President Obama’s new deportation policies since he announced them last Friday.
“Some people have asked if I will let stand the President's executive action,” Romney told the conference. “The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President's temporary measure.”
That solution includes a reform that looks very similar to President Obama’s new policy. But where Obama would allow young illegal immigrants to stay in the country if they’ve lived in the United States for a certain amount of time, avoided trouble with the law, and are working towards a degree or serving in the military, Romney’s policy appears to apply only to those young illegal immigrants who serve in the military.
“As President, I will stand for a path to legal status for anyone who is willing to stand up and defend this great nation through military service,” Romney said. “Those who have risked their lives in defense of America have earned the right to make their life in America.”
Romney also used the familiar line about how he'd "staple a green card" to every advanced degree in math, science, and technology, but was less clear about whether that offer extended to young undocumented immigrants, or just legal residents.
Minutes before Romney took the stage on Thursday, his campaign sent out an e-mail in Spanish laying out his proposals for immigration reform. The section about a path to legal status in exchange for military service appeared toward the very bottom of the e-mail, and an English-language version of the e-mail was never received by WNYC.
Strangely, the Spanish e-mail mentions "la oportunidad de hacerse residentes permanentes, y eventualmente ciudadanos"—the opportunity to become permanent residents, and eventually citizens. However, in Mitt Romney's remarks to NALEO, the promise of citizenship was not explicit.
The only time citizenship is mentioned in the speech is right before the line about a "path to legal status."
"Since September 11, 2001, the United States has naturalized almost 75,000 members of the Armed Forces," Romney said. "Too many of these patriots died on distant battlefields for our freedom before receiving full citizenship here in the country they called 'home.'"
That endorsement of citizenship, not just permanent residency or some other legal status, in exchange for military service is only clear in the Spanish e-mail.
For the last week the Romney campaign had been mostly mum on the details of how a President Romney would deal with the executive order issued by Obama last week. The candidate gave evasive answers to outlets like CBS and Fox News earlier in the week.
During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning, journalists refused to stay on the topic of the call, which was "Obama's Continuing Record of Failure on the Economy." The campaign allowed three questions from reporters—all were about immigration, and all were deflected with the promise that the campaign would deliver more information in the run-up to Thursday's announcement.
In his speech to NALEO, Romney saved the point about military service until near the end of his remarks—just like in the e-mail. When he finally got to it during the speech, the audience cheered.