Distilling Mitt Romney's Position on Immigration

Romney seems, well, Romneyesque on immigration.

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Former Gov. Mitt Romney underwent a tough and fair interview with Fox News Channel's Bret Baier.

Romney seemed particularly, well, Romneyesque on immigration.

The confusion stems from the fact that, between 2005 and 2007, Romney gave every indication of supporting something like President Bush's reform proposal: a system whereby illegal immigrants "come out of the shadows" and to the "back of the line" of the citizenship application process.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Is Newt Gingrich Right About Immigration? ]

In 2006, the Associated Press was apparently unclear enough on Romney's position to write this:

Meantime, one of McCain's potential rivals for the GOP nomination, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has made it known that he supports the president's immigration position, saying that Republicans who have broken rank with Bush "made a big mistake."

The same year, Romney said, "I don't believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country."

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

He called elements of the Senate bill sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy "reasonable proposals."

As seems undeniable, Romney took a hard line on illegals when he decided to run for president. That much we know. But I'm still trying to suss out how, precisely, he threads the needle. In the interview with Fox's Baier, Romney insisted that illegal immigrants who come forward must park themselves in the "back of the line," behind those who've come here legally.

But this was a central feature of both the Bush plan and McCain-Kennedy plan, which was praised by business types as well as conservative activists like Linda Chavez, Grover Norquist and Jack Kemp.

[Read how the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed immigration.]

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes wrote of the Bush plan:

Earned citizenship would permit the 12 million immigrants living illegally in the Unites States to apply for citizenship. They would be required to work for six years, commit no crimes, pay back taxes, and learn English. Then and only then could they get in line to become citizens [emphasis mine], a process that takes five years.

As far as I can tell, Romney found the thinnest of the reeds on which to lean his newfound opposition to the McCain-Kennedy bill: that it would allow immigrants to collect Social Security benefits they'd amassed while working here illegally.

Does Romney really expect anybody to swallow that?

  • See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney
  • Read why Hispanics are key to a victory in the 2012 presidential race.
  • Read the U.S. News debate on whether the United States should build a fence on its southern border.