Twelve times. When asked what he would do about undocumented immigrants without green cards who were otherwise living here as productive members of society, Governor Romney said the word “illegal” in one variation or another twelve times. By contrast, President Obama used the word once.
The words we use when speaking about a topic are a powerful expression of the sentiments we associate with that subject, and when the Presidential candidates were asked to clarify their commitments on immigration, there could not be a clearer contrast between the sentiments of the President and Governor Romney.
At one point, Romney described undocumented immigrants as “undocumented illegals”. Who knows what he was trying to say, but it seems clear that in his mind he has framed undocumented immigrants around a narrative of illegitimacy, despite his failed attempt to use softer language.
When Mitt Romney thinks of Latinos, he does not speak to them, he speaks at them as outsiders. In his mind, despite the precursor in the question by the young lady that the undocumented immigrants were otherwise productive members of society, Romney could not help but discuss them as illegitimate objects.
This is a bad sign for Latinos who were listening to Governor Romney’s immigration answer, because from this perspective Latinos are not people with social problems that requires attention, but they are the social problem.
After weeks of campaigning for a general election, there had been rumblings that both candidates had so far failed to address the immigration issue. It was a foreseeable topic that would arise in the last debate on domestic issues before the election. Yet despite this, Mitt Romney still has not learned that what Latinos are most looking for in a President they can vote for is someone who sees them through a lens of respect. His answer was loud and clear that he does not, twelve times.