Romney “Walks the Line” on Immigration

Last weekend, Mitt Romney criticized President Obama’s DREAM Act-style executive order ending deportations of young people between the ages of 18 and 30 who immigrated when they were young children, calling the measure a “stop-gap” but also declining to commit to repealing it. This leaves Romney in a position Rick Santorum described Sunday as “walk[ing] the line so as not to sound like he’s hostile to Latinos—and swing [voters].”  

Romney himself has advocated “self-deportation” and has voiced support for the Arizona-style SB 1070 approach designed to goad immigrants to self-deport. At the same time, his continued flirtation with Marco Rubio as running mate shows that he knows that the GOP long game—and maybe its swing state short game too—depends on appearing…at least appearing…to be Latino-friendly.

In fact, the choreography of “walking the line” (and fomenting outrage among base conservatives about Obama’s use of executive order—never mind the Bush administration’s use of the same) is meant to distract from the fact that the GOP does not have a viable, reasonable strategy for addressing the broken immigration system in a way that balances even the interests of its own stakeholders.  

Yes, immigration is one of those big-time challenges that requires an everyone-at-the-table solution. An approach that is both principled and pragmatic. “Walking the line” is not a substitute.

Given the outsized significance Romney’s faith threatens to assume in this election cycle, it’s worth remembering that religious voices are among the strongest advocates of a just and principled solution to immigration challenges. The LDS Church played a quiet but significant role in the development of the Utah Compact, a November 2010 agreement between Utah legislators that expressed support for federal immigration reform, a “welcoming” environment for immigrants, and opposed the “unnecessary separation of families.”

The Church’s own November 2010 statement on immigration advocated a balance of “love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws.” Immigration has been one of a very few places, besides same-sex marriage (Sarah Posner commented last week on the intersection of these issues among evangelical Christians), where the LDS Church has gone on record with a formal political stance, and it’s significant that by stressing the separation of families, the perspective on immigration adopted by the LDS Church is one aligned with the experiences of immigrants themselves.

If anyone wonders what kind of influence the LDS Church would have on a Romney presidency, it’s also worth noting the places where Romney’s own position “walks the line” and diverges from that of his Church. What if faith were mobilized effectively not only to address issues like same-sex marriage, but to drive stakeholders towards humane, substantive movement on immigration reform?

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