“There’s a great interest on the part of some to talk about what we do with the 11 million. My interest is saying let’s make sure that we secure the border. And we don’t do anything that talks about bringing in a new wave of those — or attracting a new wave of people into the country illegally. The right course for us is to secure the border and say nothing about amnesty … [E.A.]
Finally! Saying we shouldn’t even talk about legalization (i.e. amnesty) certainly distinguishes Romney from Newt, who at times seems to want to talk about it at every occasion. You can argue it doesn’t matter that much whether we talk about amnesty. You can argue that it’s hard not to talk about amnesty, especially when the press keeps bugging you about your plans for the “11 million.” But you can’t say that “I don’t think we should talk about it” is the same position as talking about it. There are lots of situations in politics and life where not talking about something is the least bad course.
The problem is that Romney’s distinct position on amnesty pretty much stops there. It would help Romney stave off Baier-like questions if he put a hard time limit on his policy of omerta–four years, say, or eight years, of actual secure borders before he has to unveil his plan. But he doesn’t. It would be clearer if he’d just say “these people are going to have to stay in the shadows where they are now for a while, OK?” It would help if he refused to indulge in the time-honored scam of pretending that sending illegals to the “back of the line” doesn’t in fact give them a “special pathway” to legality– namely the special privilege of waiting out “the line” for citizenship while living in the United States. (If they really went to the actual back of the line, the line in their home countries to get green cards to legally come here–as Lawrence Lindsey has noted–many would never get to the front.)
Why doesn’t Romney do these things? It’s obvious: He’s trying to preserve (or his strategists are trying to preserve) some Gingrich-like ability to appeal to Latinos in the general election by–when the time comes–dangling some sort of “humane” amnesty. He can’t talk about a four- or eight-year limit because that will turn off the bloc he’s trying to capture, which has been primed to hope for something a lot sooner. It’s good policy but bad pander. He can’t tell largely Latino immigrants they’ll have to stay “in the shadows”–that’s not what they want to hear.
They want to hear about the near-term legalization that Romney will undoubtedly hint at in a Meg Whitman-like, post-nomination pivot: some sort of permit that allows lots of current illegals to “register” and “get in line” without leaving the country.
Unfortunately for Romney, the sort of weaselly locutions required to hide and preserve this option muddle his attempt to clarify the difference between himself and Newt. It’s the price of having pander in his heart.
P.S.: The other difference between the two candidates is that Newt explicitly embraces the open bordersy Krieble plan, which would guarantee a massive flow of new immigrants in the future, almost irrespective of what we do about the illegals who are already here.