President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney sparred over immigration policy on Tuesday for the first time during the course of their debates, and the sparks did fly.
Obama raked Romney over the coals for the tough positions he adopted earlier in the campaign. Romney tried to soften his hardliner image, but stuck to many of the conservative policies he adopted during the primaries. He also tried holding the president to account over his pledge to pass a comprehensive reform bill in his first term.
Obama reiterated his support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. That’s something Romney made clear he does not support when he said he doesn’t favor “amnesty” for those in the country illegally. Obama lamented that he was not able to pass a bill during his first term due to resistance from Republicans in Congress.
Romney’s vision of “comprehensive immigration reform” differs significantly from what Obama supports. The president, for example, called out Romney for backing “self-deportation,” a philosophy that involves passing tough immigration enforcement laws that would in turn push undocumented immigrants to leave the country on their own.
Romney meanwhile sought to soften the blow of his “self-deportation” policy (albeit with an unfortunate use of the *i-word*) without walking away from it.
But Obama would not let him go. Romney (rightly) corrected Obama for saying that he described Arizona’s tough SB 1070 immigration law as a “model” for the nation. But Obama (also rightly) fired back that Romney supports national “self-deportation” policies that serve as the basis of the Arizona law.
Another notable exchange came over the DREAM Act, the long-stalled bill that would grant a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought here at a young age.
Romney appeared to back a modified version of the DREAM Act that would include a path to permanent residency – not a special path to citizenship – for DREAMers. The Republican candidate has voiced support for such a proposal for youth who join the military. But tonight, he used even more general language.
But again, Obama resurfaced Romney’s past position on the DREAM Act: That he would veto the current version.
At the end of the day, Romney was at his strongest when holding Obama accountable for his promise that he would bring up a comprehensive immigration reform bill in his first year.
But time and again, Obama was able to diffuse Romney’s arguments. Essentially the president constantly asked Romney this: How could you criticize me for not passing policies that you do not support?