Romney again backpedals on immigration

Six months ago, Mitt Romney was denying he’d ever endorsed Arizona’s immigration law and its “show-me-your-papers” requirement for suspected illegal immigrants.

The evidence to the contrary seemed conclusive. A few months earlier, at the height of the Republican primaries, Romney had described Arizona’s approach to illegal immigration as a model for the nation and referred to the law’s chief draftsman, Kris Kobach, as a member of his team. And he’d criticized President Obama for challenging the law in court.

When immigration came up at last week’s presidential debate, Obama said Romney had supported the Arizona law and Romney promptly denied it. The only Arizona immigration law he’d ever backed, he said, was one requiring employers to use a federal database called E-Verify to check their employees’ legal status.

It was the same claim that Romney’s campaign had made in April, when the former Massachusetts governor had wrapped up the Republican nomination and was re-framing his position for the November election. So let’s take another look at the facts.

In January, when he was criticizing rivals like Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich as too soft on illegal migrants, Romney  welcomed the endorsement of Kobach.

In February, during a debate in Arizona, Romney referred to the state as a “model” for the nation on immigration and said that if elected, he would immediately drop the lawsuits the Obama administration had filed “against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn’t doing.”

During that debate, Romney also praised Arizona’s E-Verify requirement, part of a separate law that the Supreme Court had already upheld. But the Obama administration hadn’t challenged that law in court. Its only legal action was against the state’s broader immigration law, SB1070, largely written by Kobach.

The law made it a crime to be in the state without legal documents, prohibited sheltering, transporting or hiring illegal immigrants, and required police, during any lawful stop, to demand proof of lawful residency from anyone they reasonably suspected of being present illegally. The Supreme Court has allowed Arizona to enforce the proof-of-residency requirement, now undergoing further legal challenges, but found that other provisions conflicted with federal authority over immigration.

And then there’s Romney’s continued reference to his policy of ”self-deportation.” It’s a term that supporters of SB1070 have long used, along with “attrition through enforcement,” to explain how the law is supposed to work: Although a state can’t deport illegal immigrants, it can ratchet up its other laws, like bans on employment and driving and the new police detention powers, to pressure them to leave.

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