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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gingrich Aims to Turn Immigration Issue on Foes

New York Times: Newt Gingrich sought to turn the fractious issue of illegal immigration from an Achilles’ heel of his campaign into a spear aimed at opponents. He attacked both the Obama administration for failing to control the Mexican border, then pivoted in an interview to warn his Republican rivals, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, that they would pay a price for distorting his position.

At a town-hall-style event at the College of Charleston on Monday evening, Mr. Gingrich assailed the Justice Department for filing a lawsuit against the state'’s new immigration law, which would require the police to check the legal status of people they stop.

"“Instead of coming down here and having him apologize for the absolute failure of the federal government’’ to stop illegal immigration at the border," Mr. Gingrich said, "“the Obama administration filed a lawsuit against the state."’’

Reading off a list of 16 Latin American and Caribbean countries that have filed friend of the court briefs, Mr. Gingrich questioned whose side Mr. Obama was on. "“No American president has the right to side with foreigners,"’’ he said.

The foreign countries believe that the new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, would lead to racial profiling of their citizens. The Justice Department has said the law, like those in Alabama and Arizona, undermines the federal government’s role.

Last week Mr. Gingrich’'s call for “humane” immigration policies lead Republican presidential rivals to sharply attack him and exposed his vulnerability on a visceral issue with many voters. Asked about his policies, as he invariably is at campaign stops, Mr. Gingrich says he would unceremoniously deport recent illegal immigrants. But for those who have been in the country 25 years and put down family and community roots, he favors a system of legal status, which he says is not “amnesty” because it does not include voting rights or citizenship.

Asked how many of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country would be eligible for this status, Mr. Gingrich was imprecise. “"I think the number that will affect is relatively small, but it is not nonexistent,"’’ he said Monday.

Both Mr. Romney and Mrs. Bachmann have accused Mr. Gingrich of favoring a form of amnesty that would serve as a magnet to more illegal immigrants.

Mrs. Bachmann told Fox News last week: "“He'’s saying that all people who are here as illegal workers would be given that status. That'’s over 11 million people who are here.’’ Mr. Romney used the word “amnesty” repeatedly in attacking Mr. Gingrich'’s position last week in Iowa, where the issue is playing a central role in the shifting terrain leading up to the state'’s caucus on Jan. 3."

Mr. Gingrich, who plans to visit Iowa on Thursday, said Tuesday after a fund-raising event in Hilton Head that Mr. Romney'’s and Mrs. Bachmann'’s criticism would backfire. “Candidates who decide to use things that are factually false run a real risk of being repudiated by people, because people are sick of negatives and they’'re sick of politicians who can'’t be candid,’’ he said in the parking lot of the Crazy Crab restaurant.

"“So I think they'’re both making a strategic mistake,"’’ he said. "“I'”ll be in Iowa tomorrow night. I'’m going to deal with it very directly. These things are not true. I don'’t mind debating anybody any time. Lincoln said if you can’'t get someone to agree that 2 plus 2 equals 4, you can'’t win the argument because facts have no meaning. It is impossible to look at what I’'ve said and conclude I am for amnesty for 11 million people. And anyone who says I am is simply saying something that is false.’’"

Immigration Tightrope for Gop Contenders: Tough Talk Now, but Keeping General Election in Mind

Associated Press: The Republican presidential contenders are tying themselves in knots over immigration.

Newt Gingrich is endorsing a South Carolina law that allows police to demand a person'’s immigration status — a week after taking heat for advocating a “humane” approach. Rick Perry, though defending Texas’ in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants’ kids, spent Tuesday campaigning with a hardline Arizona sheriff in New Hampshire. And Mitt Romney is talking tough on immigration in his second White House campaign, though he previously supported the idea of allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S.

Meanwhile, many voters say immigration won'’t determine which candidate they'’ll back for the GOP nomination. Instead, they say they'’re focused squarely on the economy and jobs.

"“In light of the economy, questions about immigration policy are less egregious,”" said Loras Schulte, an evangelical conservative from northeast Iowa.

So what gives?

The contortions by the Republican candidates illustrate the straddle they’'re attempting on a complex issue. In order to win the Republican nomination, they must court a GOP electorate that is largely against anything that could be called “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. But they can'’t come off as anti-immigrant, a stance that could alienate the independents and moderates — not to mention Hispanics — they'’d need to attract in a general election should they win the party'’s nod to challenge President Barack Obama.

In 2008, immigration helped shape the Republican presidential race, with John McCain bypassing the leadoff caucus state of Iowa — and planting his flag in New Hampshire — after seeing his standing tank when he backed a plan to give some illegal immigrants an eventual path to citizenship. Still, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the caucuses that year despite having backed tuition benefits in his state for children of illegal immigrants. And McCain ended up winning the nomination despite his position.

Exit polls in Iowa that year found Republican caucusgoers naming immigration their top concern.

This year, many Republican voters are focused on an unemployment rate that’s been stuck around 9 percent nationally and is even higher in some states. A poll by The Des Moines Register taken last month showed economic and fiscal concerns topping immigration.

"“Four years ago it was about who is the best person in the party. And now they are saying, ‘Who can beat Obama?"’” said Susan Geddes, a top organizer in Iowa for Huckabee last time.

But immigration as an important issue has hardly gone away. Gingrich is the latest to wrestle with it.

Enjoying a rise in national and state polls, he called in a debate last week for an approach that would grant legal status to illegal immigrants with longstanding family and community ties. Since then, he has been defending that approach from attacks by opponents who say it would amount to amnesty for millions.

“"An absolute falsehood,"” Gingrich retorted Tuesday while campaigning in Bluffton, S.C. He pressed his rivals to say how they would deal with some 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

“"What is it that you’re going to do? Are you really going to go in and advocate ripping people out of their families?"” he said.

A day earlier, however, he sounded like an immigration hardliner when he expressed support for a South Carolina law that would require law officers who make traffic stops to call federal officials if they suspect that someone is in the country illegally.

At the College of Charleston, he called the law “pretty reasonable.”

In New Hampshire, Perry looked to regain his footing on the issue that has dogged his campaign from the outset.

With Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio at his side, the Texas governor, who opposes a border fence with Mexico, defended anew his signing of legislation to allow in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants.

"“They are working toward getting citizenship, and they pay full in-state tuition,”" Perry said. “"As the sheriff knows, I’'ve been fighting this illegal immigration issue for a decade. But the people of Texas made that decision.”"

Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff known for his forceful immigration enforcement, endorsed Perry in New Hampshire, praising his experience as a border governor. But he wouldn'’t comment on Perry'’s in-state tuition position.

Perry got an earful on that from Alice Bury, a retired nurse. She told him she was “really having a problem” with his tuition policy and described it as a likely deal breaker.

Romney, meanwhile, was in Florida rolling out the endorsements of prominent Cuban-American lawmakers, including Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. They endorsed him despite misgivings about where he stands on immigration.

"“I don'’t agree with Gov. Romney’'s position on immigration, but I agree with him solidly on the economy and for me, that'’s the driving force in this election,”" Ros-Lehtinen said.

Immigration is among the several areas where the former Massachusetts governor has shifted his positions.

In the months before he formally became a 2008 presidential candidate, Romney supported the idea of allowing some illegal immigrants to remain in the country, saying: “"People who had come here illegally and are in this country, the 12 million or so that are here illegally, should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship. But they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee, that all of them get to stay here for the rest of their lives."”

In recent days, he'’s assailed Gingrich'’s position, characterizing it as “a new doorway to amnesty.”

"“It'’s a mistake as a Republican Party in trying to describe which people who’'ve come here illegally should be given amnesty, to be able to jump ahead of the line and the people who have been waiting in line,”" Romney told reporters in Des Moines last week.

And yet, all that shifting by all those candidates may not matter to the bulk of conservative Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, when the three states kick off the state-by-state march to the GOP nomination.

In interviews, several Republicans said that while the GOP nominee must be tough on sealing the border, they’ll choose the Republican who can best fix the economy, create jobs and beat Obama — and that may be good news for Gingrich in particular, given that he’'s taking the most heat on the issue lately. Few said Gingrich'’s position was a disqualifier.

“Immigration matters to me, but I didn'’t get as offended by Gingrich,” said Doug Illsley, a college student from Merrimack, N.H.

While immigration remains a GOP priority, its intensity has waned, said Chip Saltsman, Huckabee'’s national 2008 campaign manager. “The intensity this year is dominated by jobs and spending.”

Obama Has Work To Do Courting Latino Vote, Expert Says

Los Angeles Times (Article by Peter Nicholas): For President Obama, there's good and bad news when it comes to the fast-growing Latino vote and its role in the 2012 presidential race.

Obama captured two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008, but he faces a distinct enthusiasm gap heading into his re-election bid, an expert on Latino public opinion said.

Gary Segura, a principal in the polling firm Latino Decisions, said that Republicans are far more excited about the upcoming election than Latinos and Democrats more broadly.

Segura and two advocates for overhauling the nation's immigration system spoke to reporters Tuesday about the immigration issue and how it may influence the presidential contest.

Another trouble spot for Obama is that that most people "have no idea what the Obama administration has done to improve circumstances" for Latinos, Segura added.

For example, Latinos are largely unaware that the Obama administration filed suit in 2010 to block implementation of a strict new immigration law in Arizona, he said. Nor do they know that the administration announced in August that it would relax its deportation policies, making more of an effort to target criminals who are living in the U.S. illegally, as opposed to students or those who were brought to the U.S. as children.

In that sense, Obama's political troubles flow from a "communication problem" with respect to a "core constituency," Segura added.

Then there's the matter of an unfulfilled campaign promise. Obama has made little progress in passing a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants.

"We think he didn't put enough muscle into comprehensive immigration reform, as he famously promised before a Latino audience in the run-up to the 2008 election," said Frank Sharry, founder of America's Voice.

But Obama isn't in horrible shape. At some point he'll be running against a flesh-and-blood Republican opponent. And many of the GOP candidates, while courting conservative primary voters, have made statements about illegal immigration that will be tough to walk back in a general election, when the focus turns to independent voters who tend to be more centrist.

As Romney "lurches further to the right on this," Sharry said, Obama "will be able to rock and roll the Latino vote" should Romney go on to win the Republican nomination.

It's no accident that the Republicans have yet to take part in a debate on Spanish-language television, Segura said.

"They don't want to say the things they have to say in a primary election in front of a Spanish-speaking audience," he said. "Look for this pattern to continue."

Newt Gingrich deviated from Republican orthodoxy in a debate last week. He espoused a more nuanced view than that of his Republican opponents, suggesting that it is a mistake to deport people who have lived in the U.S. for many years, separating them from their families.

Romney countered that such a move would only encourage more people to come to the U.S. illegally.

But Gingrich's position may be a smart play should he emerge as the Republican nominee. He signaled to Latino voters that he opposes mass deportations. Yet, he stopped short of calling for a policy that gives undocumented immigrants what he called "a pass to citizenship" – meaning they wouldn't be able to vote even if they gain legal status.

"Gingrich is threading the needle," Segura said, by trying to "send a positive message on immigration and at the same time making sure that these people never enter the electorate. That's a strategic play."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Justice Department: Alabama Immigration Law Complicating Enforcement

Associated Press: Alabama's new law against illegal immigration may hamper enforcement rather than being the tough crackdown sought by its supporters -- by taking officers away from the vital job of prosecuting and deporting immigrants with criminal records, Justice Department lawyers said Monday.

The president of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police, Boaz Police Chief Terry Davis, agreed that officers are stretched by multiple duties, particularly with tight budgets. But, he said, enforcing the state law should not conflict with the broader federal goal of nabbing criminals who are in the country illegally.

"I can see where they're coming from ... but I think it's just another tool to use in doing our job," Davis said of Alabama's tough, new law. "We're going to get the federal folks involved just like we always have. I would hope it doesn't cause a conflict because we're all in this together."

U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, the top federal prosecutor for 31 counties in north Alabama, said local agencies already strapped for money and manpower are been forced to develop their own plans for enforcing the state law rather than concentrating on prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records, the priority set by the Obama administration.

Vance said she and the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, Tom Perez, have met with local authorities to discuss what she called a "significant problem" of both enforcing the state law and tracking down criminal immigrants with only limited resources.

"Rather than strengthening immigration enforcement opportunities at a time, quite frankly, there are fewer resources than we have had in the past, this had made a more difficult environment for us to work in," Vance said.

Press aides to Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the bill into law, and Attorney General Luther Strange, who is defending it in court challenges, didn't return messages seeking comment.

Vance commented during a news briefing with Perez and Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West. West was in Birmingham for a private meeting with business leaders, members of the state's immigrant community and others to discuss the law, which the Obama administration has filed suit to block.

While the administration has filed suit to block similar laws in Arizona, South Carolina and Utah, West said the situation in Alabama is different than anywhere else.

"We have a unique situation in this state because portions of the law have gone into effect, which we have not seen in other states," he said.

The department said it has received more than 1,000 telephone calls and emails to a hotline established for people to report possible abuses under the law, which supporters say is meant to make it impossible for illegal immigrants to live in Alabama.

Federal courts ruling in lawsuits filed by the Obama administration and other opponents of the law have temporarily blocked some of its provisions, but police are still required to ask for proof of citizenship and detain people who can't provide it. The administration contends federal law prohibits states from enacting immigration laws, but Republican supporters argue the federal government has failed to enforce immigration statutes for years.

Family: Illegal-Immigrant Student Martyred Himself for Dream Act

Washington Times (Article by Stephen Dinan): An illegal-immigrant student in Texas who committed suicide the day after Thanksgiving left letters saying he felt trapped by his lack of opportunities and, according to his family, he “decided to sacrifice himself for the cause.”

High school senior Joaquin Luna, 18, put on a suit, kissed family members, went into the bathroom and shot himself Friday, according to his brother, Diyer Mendoza. In the letters he left, his brother said, Luna expressed despair at the chances for the federal Dream Act, which would legalize illegal-immigrant students and young adults.

Congress blocked the legislation last year.

“He was actually doing this for the cause, mainly the Dream Act,” Mr. Mendoza said. “He was doing this to show politicians, to show that something had to be done because there are a lot of kids out there in the same situation.”

The case casts a dramatic spotlight on the hundreds of thousands of illegal-immigrant students who are caught between a decision their parents made when they were young and the realities of U.S. immigration law.

Immigrant rights advocates said politicians in Washington should take notice of Luna’s act.

“His death is an indictment on the failure of this administration to move an inch forward on fixing a broken immigration system,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, communications director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which has planned a commemoration on Friday for Luna.

“I certainly don’t want to give you the impression that we’re going to use his death as a football or anything like that. We need to honor his memory, and we need to remind other Americans what this young man was about - because that’s the kind of people we’re talking about,” Mr. Cabrera said.

A local news report said the letters were turned over to the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Department.

That office did not return a message Monday seeking information.

Luna was a student at Benito Juarez-Abraham Lincoln High School in Mission, Texas, where he earned A and B grades, and was a regular worshipper at a Baptist church, his brother said.

Mr. Mendoza said the rest of the family has legal status but not all are citizens. His mother went into labor while she was in Reynosa, Mexico, which meant her Luna was not a U.S. citizen.

Luna applied to colleges. Although some showed interest, Mr. Mendoza said, his brother’s legal status made him ineligible for some scholarships and meant he wouldn’t be able to work legally once his schooling was finished.

“His world just closed,” Mr. Mendoza said. “He saw that there was everything he was doing was just for nothing. He was never going to be able to succeed.”

Students in Luna’s position are among the most difficult of immigration cases. In most instances, they were brought to the U.S. by parents when they were young and have grown up in the U.S. without ties to any other country.

Congressional Democrats tried to push through the Dream Act during the lame-duck session last year. Although the legislation was approved in the House, it was blocked in the Senate after falling five votes shy of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. President Obama backed the legislation.

Opponents said the legislation was too broad, applying to illegal immigrants well past their days as students, and argued that the requirements on those who were eligible weren’t strict enough.

Under a Supreme Court ruling, illegal immigrants are entitled to public education at the primary and secondary levels.

Alabama this year enacted a law that requires public school students and their parents to disclose their legal status, though the law doesn’t bar those students from attending school. A federal court has blocked that provision from being implemented.

Decisions on public higher education, however, are left to the states, which have differed on whether to charge illegal immigrant students in-state or out-of-state tuition. Many states argue that illegal immigrants can’t be legal state residents and must pay out-of-state rates, but Texas and California have gone the other direction.

With Texas Gov. Rick Perry running for the GOP’s presidential nomination, his state’s stance has drawn national attention.

“In the state of Texas where Mexico has a clear and a long relationship with this state, we decided it was in the best interest of those young people to give them the opportunity to go on to college and to have the opportunity,” Mr. Perry said at a debate in September. “They’re pursuing citizenship in this country rather than saying, ‘You know, we’re going to put you over here and put you on the government dole for the rest of your life.’”

In a comment that infuriated some conservative groups, Mr. Perry said critics of the Texas law did not “have a heart,” although he later tempered his criticism.

Other candidates said the favorable treatment in Texas and other states effectively rewards illegal behavior.

“The American way is not to give taxpayer-subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican.

In the absence of the Dream Act, Mr. Obama has tried to take administrative action. The Homeland Security Department has issued a memo to its immigration services saying those who would have qualified for the Dream Act should be low on the priority list for deportation. It also listed other factors, such as caring for a family, that would lower the risk of deportation.

Immigrant rights groups say the administration could go further and issue a blanket stay of deportations for illegal immigrant students. Mr. Obama said he does not have the authority to take such action.

Sailing Round Immigration Laws

Wall Street Journal (Blog): The use of ships in international waters outside national jurisdictions has a long and often ignominious history. What has generally been on offer has been booze, prostitution, gambling or some combination of all three.

In the 1960s off the coast of Britain pirate radio ships provided a commercial alternative to the B.B.C’s legal monopoly. They were eventually forced off the air by a law which made it illegal to supply or advertise with the stations.

Now, a couple of entrepreneurs are planning to apply the same strategy to beat U.S. immigration laws which which prevent would-be start-up owners heading for Silicon Valley. However, although their intention of setting up a floating incubator might generally be seen as more virtuous than many of its precursors, the challenges often sound familiar.

Ars Technica talked with Max Marty one of the founders of Blueseed which is hoping to raise a venture capital round large enough to buy or lease a ship with room for a thousand passengers. It will be anchored 12 miles off the Californian coast, close to Silicon Valley.

The aim is to get round the shortage of H1-B visas which allow skilled workers to be employed in the U.S.A. The idea is that B-1 visas are easier to get hold of and mean holders can travel in and out of the country for meetings. conferences and training seminars.

As with previous off-shore activities there is a reliance on a degree of on-shore hospitality. The ship’s resident entrepreneurs would, it is intended, be able to take a ferry back and forth for regular meetings. Ars Technica asked Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney with a national employment practice, to evaluate Blueseed’s legal strategy.

There will be “a little bit of uncertainty every time they come in,” Siskind said. Each trip to the mainland would require an inspection by an immigration official who would have discretion to decide who to let into the country. “Depending on what that person had for breakfast may determine the future of your business,” he said.

Residence on the start-up ship is only supposed to be short-term anyway.

Marty tells us that getting permission to enter the United States permanently becomes much easier once a firm grows. “If you have a $5 million-10 million company, there are several avenues and channels you can use to be in the country,” he said. So the Blueseed ship would provide temporary lodgings until a startup grew large enough to move to the mainland.

If the grandiose scheme does come to fruition:

Blueseed estimates that rents will range from $1,200 per month for the smallest rooms to $3,000 for the largest—figures Marty says are comparable to what entrepreneurs would pay for an apartment and office in Silicon Valley.

In other words, it is as cheap to go on a cruise as to rent in the Valley.

Legal Immigrants Join Fight Against Dream Act

Washington Post: The 62-year-old Wheaton barber had earned a law degree in his native Thailand and waited eight years for a visa so he could move to the United States and begin a new life.

When he heard this year about the Maryland Dream Act, which would grant in-state college tuition discounts to illegal immigrants, he was outraged.

“I did the full legal process,” Anuchit Washirapunya, who is deaf and cannot speak English, wrote on a notepad as he hunched in his barber’s chair. “The illegal students have no right to work or stay here.”

Until recently, Maryland’s legal and political battle over in-state tuition has been seen as pitting young illegal immigrants against native residents. But in the past few months, a petition drive by opponents of the measure has attracted a small but growing number of legal immigrants, who say that they, too, are being cheated.

The issue of what to do about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States has roiled Republican presidential debates. In recent years, it has spawned national movements that advocate a range of solutions, including forcing all illegal immigrants to return home and granting them all legal amnesty.

The Dream Act, which was passed by both houses of the Maryland legislature in April, was about to become law when an advocacy group called Help Save Maryland, working with Republican lawmakers, launched an online campaign to try to prevent it from being enacted. The drive garnered more than 100,000 electronic signatures, resulting in the suspension of the law until a statewide public referendum can be held next year.

One Marylander who clicked on the petition was Shakil Hamid, 44, an accountant in Gaithersburg who emigrated legally from Bangladesh in 1977. He is an enthusiastic member of Help Save Maryland, which opposes allowing illegal immigrants to work, drive or receive a variety of public benefits.

“These people are taking seats in college away from our kids,” Hamid said. “Why should we reward their dishonest behavior?”

The issue upset him when he was a student at the University of Maryland in the 1980s, he said: “I have been looking for 25 years for someone to be on my side.”

Such views are a minority among Maryland’s immigrant population, which is predominantly Hispanic and of Central American origin. Many such families include both legal and illegal immigrants, depending on when and how they arrived and whether they found a way to apply for residency. Often, illegal immigrants arrived as children and grew up in the state. Their communities tend to judge them on grounds other than legal status and wish them success.

Jesus Alberto Martinez, 55, is an ophthalmologist and U.S. Navy veteran in Rockville who came from Colombia as a teenager, overstayed his tourist visa and eventually became a U.S. citizen. He is an impassioned supporter of the Maryland Dream Act and a plaintiff in a lawsuit, filed by immigrant advocacy groups including Casa de Maryland, challenging the petition drive that halted the law’s enactment about four months ago.

“We need every immigrant kid in Maryland to be educated. If they go to college, they earn more, pay more taxes and become better citizens,” Martinez said. “If promising high school students are denied the chance to continue, it is like cutting off their wings. If we punish kids to pay for the sins of their parents, we are only mortgaging our future as a competitive society.”

The stalled measure would make illegal immigrants eligible for the lowest possible tuition fees at all community colleges and universities in Maryland, provided that they have graduated recently from high schools in the state and that their families have paid taxes for three years. Supporters say that foreign-born students with no hope beyond high school may drift into dead-end jobs, crime or addiction.

Ricardo Alfaro, 22, an immigrant from El Salvador, recently graduated from Montgomery College. His father, once a hospital administrator back home, works in a meat-packing plant. Alfaro, who received treatment for bone cancer after reaching the United States as a child, hopes to study medicine at the University of Maryland but says that his family cannot afford to pay full tuition and that his application for permanent residency is pending.

“I owe a lot to this country, which saved my life, and I want to become a doctor so I can give something back,” said Alfaro, who is also an activist in immigrant student groups. “I am applying for scholarships, but I don’t know what will happen. I am not asking for a privilege that I didn’t earn,” he said. “I am asking for a chance to give something back to this country.”

Montgomery College, which has about 37,000 students from 170 countries, is at the epicenter of the tuition battle. Unlike other two-year county colleges, it offers all Montgomery County high school graduates the minimum tuition rate of about $1,200 per semester, regardless of legal status. Out-of-state and visiting foreign students pay up to $4,000. At the four-year state universities, tuition is much higher, and the difference between in-state and out-of-state rates is even greater.

Critics say that policies like Montgomery’s drain state coffers and displace legal students from other states who could pay more, but officials at the college estimate that fewer than 1,000 of their students are in the United States illegally, and they are more concerned about reducing the rate of pre-graduation dropouts.

Legal immigrants and visiting foreign students at Montgomery, many of whom come from Asia and Africa, expressed a combination of sympathy and resentment toward illegal immigrants in their midst. Some said their determination should be rewarded; others said they should have to pay the same as those who come from other states and nations.

“Everyone wants to get an education, but you can’t just come to this country illegally and think everything is free. You have to be patient and legalize yourself,” said Josephine Beyam, 33, a nursing student. She arrived from the Philippines in 2008 as a full-fledged resident after waiting at home for four years, apart from her American husband, as the law required. Since enrolling, she said, she has been paying off her student loans every month.

“We have been through thick and thin,” Beyam said of her reunited family. “This country is a blessing, and the government is very generous. If you are not born here, you have to start from the beginning, but I accept that, because you can still pursue your dreams.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Price of Intolerance

New York Times (Editorial): It's early yet for a full accounting of the economic damage Alabama has done to itself with its radical new immigration law.

Farmers can tally the cost of crops left to rot as workers flee. Governments can calculate the loss of revenues when taxpayers flee. It's harder to measure the price of a ruined business reputation or the value of investments lost or productivity lost as Alabamians stand in line for hours to prove their citizenship in any transaction with the government. Or what the state will ultimately spend fighting off an onslaught of lawsuits, or training and deploying police officers in the widening immigrant dragnet, or paying the cost of diverting scarce resources away from fighting real crimes.

A growing number of Alabamians say the price will be too high, and there is compelling evidence that they are right. Alabama is already at the low end of states in employment and economic vitality. It has long struggled to lure good jobs and shed a history of racial intolerance.

That was turning around and many foreign manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Honda, have set up there. Its business-friendly reputation took a serious blow with the arrest in Tuscaloosa of a visiting Mercedes manager who was caught driving without his license and taken to jail as a potential illegal immigrant.

Sheldon Day, the mayor of Thomasville, has aggressively recruited foreign companies to his town, including a Chinese company -- Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group -- that plans to build a $100 million plant there, with more than 300 jobs.

Mayor Day is now worried about that project and future prospects. He was quoted by The Press-Register in Mobile as saying business inquiries had dried up since the law was passed. I know the immigration issue is being used against us.

Alabama's competitors certainly won't waste any time. After the Tuscaloosa incident, the editorial page of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch invited Mercedes to Missouri. "We are the Show-Me State," it said, "not the Show me your papers state."

Undocumented immigrants make up about 4.2 percent of Alabama's work force, or 95,000 people in a state of 4.8 million. For all of the talk about clearing the way for unemployed Americans, there is no evidence that Alabamians in any significant numbers are rushing to fill the gap left by missing farm laborers and other low-wage immigrant workers.

The loss of job-filling, tax-paying workers may get even worse if Alabama is allowed to enforce a law requiring people who own or rent a trailer home to obtain an annual registration sticker. This puts the undocumented in a Catch-22 -- criminals if they don't have a sticker, criminals if they try to get one. For now, a judge has issued an order blocking enforcement. But if the state wins, many thousands may simply join the exodus, tearing more shreds in the economy.

The laws damage is particularly heartbreaking in poor towns across the state, where small businesses are the economic lifeblood. We've spoken with Latino shopkeepers and restaurant owners in places like Albertville who say business is catastrophically down, with customers in hiding or flight. The situation isn't much better in Huntsville and Birmingham.

There should be no doubt about the moral repugnance of Alabama's law, which seeks to deny hardworking families the means to live. But even some of the laws most enthusiastic supporters are beginning to acknowledge the laws high economic cost. There is growing talk of revising or repealing the legislation. The sooner Alabama does so and other states learn the better.

A Small Piece of Immigration Reform

Los Angeles Times (Editorial): Next week, the Department of Homeland Security will roll out a pilot program intended to speed up the deportation of immigrants with criminal records by weeding out low-priority cases. It's a sensible plan, and one that could restore some sanity to a deportation system that wastes time with harmless immigrants and thereby allows dangerous ones to escape its attention.

Under the pilot program, teams of prosecutors in Baltimore and Denver will review all pending immigration cases in those cities and then decide whether to issue temporary reprieves to the elderly, students, children, victims of domestic crimes and those with a close relative who is a U.S. citizen. Reprieves would be limited to those without criminal convictions. If all goes well, the program would be expanded nationwide in January.

Until recently, government attorneys were required, with rare exceptions, to treat immigrants convicted of serious crimes with the same urgency as those who are merely here illegally. The new guidelines will allow them to place the high-priority cases those involving criminals on a fast track for a hearing before a judge. At the same time, this could help free up overburdened immigration courts by reducing dockets.

This isn't the first time the Obama administration has promised to implement reviews and prioritize. Last summer, Homeland Security officials pledged to evaluate about 300,000 deportation cases already filed in immigration court. So far, the results have been less than stellar. The American Immigration Lawyers Assn. released a report that found the new rules were applied unevenly. In San Francisco, for example, a 14-year-old boy facing deportation to Mexico because he brought a pellet gun to school received a last-minute reprieve, yet an undocumented immigrant with no criminal history was deported even though he too qualified for a stay because he had spent 22 years here and had a U.S.-born child.

Federal officials have shrugged off the results, saying the new rules are a work in progress. That's a weak excuse, and one that could do more harm than good. Dithering encourages some critics to imagine that the administration is bent on amnesty and others to conclude that prioritization is a hollow undertaking intended chiefly to placate Latino voters.

The new deportation policy is not a real solution. Only Congress can provide that, by enacting legislation that both secures borders and offers a path to legalization for those already here. But the policy, if evenly and thoughtfully implemented, could introduce reason and proportion into a system too often lacking in both.

Gingrich's Note of Reason on Immigration

CNN (Opinion) by Ruben Navarrette: Is the border between the United States and Mexico, as some claim, a war zone that calls out for heavy-duty military hardware? Or is it simply, as others insist, a gateway between two countries that are friends and neighbors?

The answer, in large part, depends on whether Americans think the drug violence that has been erupting within Mexico is likely to stay "within Mexico."

This brings us to the question that Phil Truluck, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Heritage Foundation, asked the GOP presidential hopefuls in Tuesday's debate on national security. Truluck wanted to know whether the candidates considered the Mexican drug war a threat to our country's national interest, and what they would do to help the Mexican government fight the cartels.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said it was time for "a 21st century Monroe Doctrine" to increase cooperation between nations in the Western Hemisphere, put more "boots on the ground" and use "aviation assets" (read: predator drones) -- all to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul seized the opportunity to declare the drug war a failure, state his opposition to giving citizenship to illegal immigrants and declare that instead of focusing so much attention on Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S. government should worry more about its southern border.

Businessman Herman Cain insisted that "an insecure border is a national security threat" because of the death toll in Mexico (more than 30,000 since December 2006), because an even higher number of Mexicans consider their country a failed state and because "terrorists" have come to the United States by way of Mexico.

From these responses, we learned ... nothing.

For a more substantive, honest and mature discussion of border security -- and the larger immigration issue that has been bound to it -- you had to turn to Newt Gingrich. The former House speaker, in pointed language, challenged the idea that the United States should be in the business of destroying families and uprooting people who have lived here, albeit illegally, for a quarter century or longer.

"If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church," Gingrich said, "I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out."

Think again, Mr. Speaker. Separating families is exactly what President Barack Obama has been doing with a deportation juggernaut that has removed more than 1.2 million people in less than three years.

A new report by the Applied Research Center found that from January to June 2011, the Obama administration deported more than 46,000 parents with U.S.-born children. That figure represents 22% of all people deported in the first half of this year. Between 1998 and 2007, the last period for which similar figures are available, about 8% of those deported were parents of U.S.-citizen children.

According to the report, at least 5,100 U.S.-born children are stuck in the foster care system because their illegal immigrant parents were detained or deported.

When challenged by some of his debate opponents -- namely Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney, who are busy pandering to the right-wing fringe of their party -- Gingrich doubled down.

"I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century," he said. "And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, 'Let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.' "

Gingrich will get plenty of heat from conservative voters in the coming days. You can count on it. He must stand behind his comments. If he does that, maybe he can help Republicans see that they're not doing themselves, their party or their country any favors by trying to substitute pandering for a more meaningful discussion of how you secure the border.

Don't count on this happening in Congress, where Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, has proposed a dangerous and detrimental piece of legislation called "The Send Equipment for National Defense Act." The bill, according to The New York Times, "would require that 10% of certain equipment returned from Iraq -- like Humvees, night-vision equipment and unmanned aerial surveillance craft -- be made available to state and local agencies for border-security operations."

The proposed legislation is backed by the mayors of some cities on the border but opposed by others. It is another big step toward militarizing the region and blurring the line between civilian agencies and the military.

Poe insists that, even if his bill passed, the localities wouldn't have to accept the equipment.

In that case, cities and states should -- to borrow a phrase -- just say no. This isn't the right course of action. Protecting the border is a federal responsibility, and it ought to stay that way.

Deploying military equipment to the border won't do much in terms of bolstering security, but it will do a lot of harm. It'll hurt U.S.-Mexico relations and feed the narrative that the two countries are at war. Nativists already use that language when they talk about how the country is being "invaded."

Invaded by whom? By an army of Mexican workers clamoring to do our chores for us -- mow our lawns, clean our homes, raise our kids, etc.? That is an example of supply and demand, not an act of war.

Phoenix Federal Office Designed to Better Serve Legal Immigrants

The Arizona Republic: A new federal office in Phoenix provides green cards and similar services without the presence of immigration-enforcement operations, eliminating what officials say had been an uncomfortable atmosphere for legal immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security has been slowly opening such stand-alone immigration offices since 2003, when the former Immigration and Naturalization Service was dissolved. The services and enforcement duties of the former INS were divided into separate agencies, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency now responsible for processing immigration applications for green cards and naturalization, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for arresting and deporting illegal immigrants.

Because of the divergent missions, housing the two agencies in the same building creates an awkward atmosphere and sends a "mixed message," said John Kramar, a CIS district director.

In Arizona and Nevada, CIS has opened offices in Reno and now Phoenix, said Kramar, who oversees the agency's operations in the two states. The agency also is in the process of opening new offices in Las Vegas and Tucson.

So far, Citizenship and Immigration Services has opened new or renovated offices in 27 of the 80 cities nationwide that have agency field or district offices, said Marie Sebrechts, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The agency plans to open seven more this fiscal year.


'No more confusion'

CIS had a $2.8 billion budget last year. Almost all of the agency's budget is generated from fees the agency charges for immigration benefits. In 2007, the agency significantly raised fees, including a 70 percent hike in the citizenship-application fees to $675. The fee increases, however, went to cover the rising cost of processing benefits, not the opening of new offices, Sebrechts said.

The Phoenix CIS office is in the former Smitty's grocery store on 16th Street south of downtown. The office officially opened this month after the building underwent a $13 million renovation.

Previously, the Phoenix CIS headquarters shared office space with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a building on Central Avenue north of downtown.

The building housed CIS information counters on the second floor and ICE detention facilities in the basement. In the morning, people waiting for appointments with immigration officers often stood outside in the security line with people arriving to post bail for immigrants arrested by ICE agents. It was usually easy to tell the difference. Those meeting with CIS officers typically carried an appointment slip in hand, while those there to post bail clutched stacks of cash.

But those scenarios are a thing of the past.

"There will be no confusion in this location," said Kramar, standing outside the 50,000-square-foot immigration office.

The benefits of the new office go beyond separating immigration services from immigration enforcement. The new office also consolidates services in one location. Citizenship interviews, green-card interviews, and fingerprinting, photographs and electronic signatures known as biometrics are now all under one roof, said Charles Harrell, the branch chief in charge of the Phoenix CIS field office.


Convenient location

Kattia Luevano, 35, a Phoenix resident originally from Peru, recalled how difficult it was for her to apply for a green card and then citizenship. To have her fingerprints taken, Luevano had to drive to a CIS building on Thomas Road near 25th Street. Her green card interview was held at the office on Central Avenue. Five years later, when Luevano was eligible to apply for citizenship, her naturalization interview was held at another CIS office inside the Park Central Mall on Central Avenue and Earll.

The new office has a 180-seat waiting area and eight information counters, which serve people who have made appointments online to talk to an immigration officer about their case. The counters also will accept some walk-in appointments.

The building opened as Smitty's grocery store in 1961, said Lynn Newhall, a spokeswoman for DOXA Central, the Phoenix real-estate company that now owns the building.

The building later became a Southwest Supermarket, but it had been vacant for eight years after the supermarket closed, Newhall said.

DOXA Central, which specializes in developing office space for state and federal government agencies, spent $13 million rehabilitating the building into the new immigration office, Newhall said. The company has signed a 10-year lease with CIS.

CIS pays $1.7 million a year to lease the Phoenix building, according to the Government Services Administration.

Gingrich's Words on Immigration Become a Target

New York Times: An intense debate over immigration flared among the Republican presidential candidates on Wednesday as Mitt Romney declared that Newt Gingrich offered a new doorway to amnesty when he called for a humane immigration policy to avoid deportation for people who are deeply rooted in their churches and communities.

Mr. Romney, who is eager to stop the rise of Mr. Gingrich with the Iowa caucuses only six weeks away, signaled that he intended to go after his rival with the same vigor he used against Gov. Rick Perry of Texas two months ago when he said Republicans were heartless for standing in the way of offering education to children of illegal immigrants.

With the controversy likely to shape the next phase of the nominating fight, Mr. Romney repeatedly used the word amnesty during a campaign visit here to describe the position Mr. Gingrich outlined at a debate Tuesday night. While aides to Mr. Gingrich forcefully refuted the characterization of his plan as amnesty, a swift backlash erupted among conservative activists that could present the biggest test of his resurgent candidacy.

Representative Steve King of Iowa, a leading voice against illegal immigration, said he was puzzled that Mr. Gingrich had suddenly injected such a red-hot issue into his campaign. He said it was difficult to overstate how potent of a problem it could be for Mr. Gingrich, saying it set off a viral discussion among activists.

"When you have a campaign that's ascending and you make a statement like that, it's like you're backing off on the throttle and diminishing yourself," Mr. King said in an interview. "It's the same philosophy as the Dream Act. How many politicians have seen their campaigns end because of that?"

But Mr. Gingrich stood his ground and fired back at Mr. Romney in a message on Twitter, saying, "So what's your position on citizenship for illegals again?"

His retort was a reference to a 2007 interview when Mr. Romney spoke favorably of creating a path toward citizenship for many of the 12 million people living here illegally. Asked about that on Wednesday, Mr. Romney said that there was no discrepancy and added that he does not favor a special deal for anyone.

Mr. Gingrich's advisers said that he did not misspeak at the debate and pointed out that his comments were in line with decades of positioning on the subject, including his support for the 1986 immigration overhaul signed by President Ronald Reagan that extended amnesty to about three million illegal immigrants. And he backed a less extensive overhaul in the 1990s as House speaker.

Mr. Gingrich, who takes Spanish classes and has started a bilingual Web site, The Americano, was not offering a new position. But his long-held view was suddenly receiving scrutiny because he has emerged as a leading candidate for the nomination.

But the strategy sensible as it seems during a general election with independents to be courted faces far different prospects in a Republican primary season, particularly in Iowa and other early-voting, conservative states.

"Iowa caucusgoers want a solution that does not include amnesty, and if they can paint Newt with an amnesty brush it will be toxic for his campaign," said Tim Albrecht, a top aide to Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa.

While Mr. Gingrich said he supported securing the border and proposed creating an anti-fraud application system for immigrants, his plan to deal with those who entered the country illegally drew fresh notice. He suggested turning cases over to local citizen's boards that could weigh whether residents could be allowed stay in the country.

"If you've been here 25 years, and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church," Mr. Gingrich said, "I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out."

His comments touched off a torrent of criticism. Still, he took a reprieve from campaigning on the day before Thanksgiving, a sign that he was not worried.

But Mr. Romney, who is intensifying his efforts to win the Iowa caucuses, raised several questions about the plan put forward by Mr. Gingrich. He said Mr. Gingrich did not draw a distinction between someone who had been here for 25 years or had arrived illegally only recently.

"How about someone who has been here 20 years? How about 12 years? How about 10? Five? Three?" Mr. Romney said. "The real issue is, are we going to spend our time talking about how extensive we have amnesty?"

Mr. Gingrich's spokesman, R. C. Hammond, pushed back against Mr. Romney, who also has vulnerabilities of his own on immigration. "It isn't hard to figure out what Mitt Romney is shoveling," Mr. Hammond said. "The facts show Newt's plan is the opposite of amnesty."

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota pressed a similar line of attack in television interviews and in a statement from her campaign titled Newt Gingrich's Open Door to Illegal Immigrant Amnesty. While she and other rivals have limited resources to spend on advertising campaigns, Mr. Romney has showed a willingness to play aggressively.

To respond to Mr. Perry's support for a Texas law allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, Mr. Romney sent sharply worded fliers across Iowa and organized teleconferences for voters with Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Ariz., who has criticized Mr. Perry's opposition to building a fence along the Mexican border.

While aides to Mr. Gingrich said that he would be able to explain his position, several Republican activists in Iowa said it could be an uphill battle.

Some of the candidates will treat it like its an amnesty-type issue, which is a buzzword a very negative word to a lot of conservatives, said Mark Lundberg, chairman of the Republican Party of Sioux County, one of the states most Republican regions.

Mr. Gingrich does not have an active campaign organization here, which complicated efforts to respond to criticism. His supporters pointed voters to his Web site, where a 10-point plan on immigration policy has been posted for some time.

He said security at the borders took priority, followed by a path to legality, which stops short of citizenship with the right to vote. He proposes that illegal immigrants who have lived for years in the United States could remain, if they show a proficiency in English and buy health insurance. They would be approved by local citizens committees something like a World War II Selective Service board.

Dr. Greg Ganske, a former congressman and a co-chairman of the Gingrich campaign in Iowa, said he did not think the issue would be damaging.

"The fact he spoke honestly about this and wasn't willing to pander or just give a stock answer," he said, "I think a lot of people in Iowa will see that as a positive."

Jeff Zeleny reported from Des Moines, and Trip Gabriel from New York.

Will Romney's Immigration Stance Become His Latino Problem?

Washington Post: In dealing with the issue of immigration, Mitt Romney's 2012 strategy is exactly like his 2008 strategy run to the right, liberally use the words "amnesty and magnet," and occasionally refer to illegal immigrants as simply illegals.

The issue has emerged as one of the few where Romney has tried to credibly claim to be the most conservative candidate and where he has seemed to lose sight of the general election, where Latino voters will be crucial.

So far, the strategy worked well with Rick Perry, whom Romney went after in an October 8 debate with this line:

"You put in place a magnet to draw illegals into the state, which was giving $100,000 of tuition credit to illegals that come into this country," Romney said, criticizing Perry's support of a Texas law that grants in-state tuition to the students who were brought here illegally as children.

Now, with the rise of Newt Gingrich, who has staked out a position on immigration that the former Speaker of the House said would likely bring some heat, Romney is going to the same playbook he used against Perry, and the same one he used in 2008 against Sen. John McCain.

"Amnesty is a magnet," Romney said in last week's CNN national security debate, criticizing Gingrich's approach to immigration, which would allow millions of undocumented immigrants who have settled for decades in America to become legal residents.

"People respond to incentives, and if you can become a permanent resident of the United States by coming here illegally, you'll do so."

Clearly sensing that he had an opening, Romney repeated the same attack in Iowa last week, saying that Gingrich's approach was the wrong course for a Republican debate.

He has also started sending out mailers in Iowa, saying that he is the strongest Republican to beat Barack Obama and illegal immigration, according to the Des Moines Register.

Yet, if recent editorials are any judge -- one from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and another from the Union Leader -- at least a certain segment of conservatives haven't been turned off by Gingrich's approach to immigration.

And it isn't clear that Romney can do to Gingrich what he did to Perry.

"Unfortunately Romney has a history of throwing around the a-word, as in amnesty, without defining what it means. It is still toxic among Republican voters, including Hispanic Republican voters, but none of the Republican primary candidates support amnesty or a full pardon," said Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist who worked on the McCain campaign. "In this case Romney is trying to quickly neutralize Gingrich on immigration during his ascension. But there are problems with this: For one: It's Newt and two, Hispanics have long memories."

Aides to Gingrich, who is campaigning in South Carolina Monday, said that the former Georgia congressman is looking for ways in a GOP primary to expand the coalition that supports Republicans, and that includes Hispanics and Latino Americans.

"We were concerned for five seconds but then we realized it is not 2006 and not 2008 when these types of strategies of using code words and politically charged words yielded some short term results," R.C. Hammond, a Gingrich spokesman said. "Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney can go out and say this sounds like amnesty, but to voters, they sound like they are pandering."

Gingrich aides, who said that the Gingrich is actively courting Latino leaders and is nearly fluent in Spanish, also point out that Romney's 2007 position seemed to be not far off from what Gingrich outlined in a 10-point plan on his Web site in a 2007 Meet the Press interview, Romney said, "Those people who had come here illegally and are in this country, the 12 million or so that are here illegally, should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship, but they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to stay here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally."

The conventional wisdom is that a candidate has to win at least 40 percent of the Latino vote to win the White House Bush won 44 percent, which helped bolster what was largely a get-out-the-base strategy.

Bush, and McCain, who won 31 percent of the Latino vote in 2008 and took heat for backing comprehensive immigration reform, both came from states with high Latino populations, an advantage that Romney, if he is the nominee, won't have.

"Romney is not going to win 40 percent of the Latino vote, the way he is looking now," said Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, a polling firm, which recently found that Republican candidates aren't resonating with Latinos yet. "He is moving far to the right. He doesn't understand that the rhetoric turns people off, it just sounds like they are hating on people's parents or grandparents."

Sanchez added that because of the ascension of Latino independents and Republicans, candidates have to be very sensitive as to how they talk about this issues.

"They can't use the term illegals," Sanchez said. "At best its undocumented immigrant, at worst it's illegals and illegal aliens, and both are pejorative and condescending."

Democrats have slammed Romney, and on this topic seem to be siding with Gingrich, who called for a more humane approach to immigration policy.

Asked in November what his strategy would be in drawing contrasts between his administration and a Republican nominee on issues like immigration, President Obama suggested it wouldn't be hard.

"We may just run clips of the Republican debates verbatim," Obama said in a interview with Univision News. "We won't even comment on them, we'll just run those in a loop on Univision and Telemundo, and people can make up their own minds."

Romney in 2006 Backed Immigration Stance; He Now Deems Amnesty

Bloomberg: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who charged Republican presidential primary rival Newt Gingrich with proposing amnesty for certain illegal immigrants, took a nearly identical position in a 2006 Bloomberg interview, saying some foreigners who entered the U.S. illegally should be allowed to remain and gain legal status.

Romney, who at the time hadn't yet declared his first presidential candidacy for 2008, told reporters and editors in Bloomberg News's Washington bureau that the 11 million immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally are not going to be rounded up and box-carred out. Law-abiding people who pay taxes, learn English and don't rely on government benefits should be allowed to get in line to apply for citizenship, he said.

"We need to begin a process of registering those people, some being returned, and some beginning the process of applying for citizenship and establishing legal status," Romney said during the March 29, 2006, session.

The comments contrast with the position Romney took last week when he challenged Gingrich's assertion during a televised debate that the U.S. should have a humane immigration policy that allows some people who entered the country illegally long ago, have no criminal record, and have family, civic and religious ties to stay and get legal status. Romney called the approach "amnesty and a magnet for illegality."


Not Moving Them Out

In 2006, Romney said regarding undocumented immigrants in this country: "We're not going to go through a process of tracking them all down and moving them out."

He suggested that some could stay and pursue legal status while others are deported. "We should have those individuals who are here illegally begin a process either of returning to their homes -- particularly those that are unable to be here without government support or those who are involved in crime --or beginning a process of registering for a citizenship, applying for citizenship and then carrying out the process necessary to get there," Romney said.

While Romney and his campaign say there has been no change in his position on immigration, some strategists close to him say Romney did switch stances in 2007, after traveling to Iowa and hearing the depth of anti-immigration sentiment there. The chief of Romney's 2008 Iowa campaign, Doug Gross, called the shift a direct result of Romney grasping the political implications of his immigration stance.


Rift Over Immigration

Last week's exchange between Romney and Gingrich highlighted Republican rifts over immigration, an issue that can drive votes in the early contest states. Bloomberg News polls conducted Nov. 10-12 found that more than one- third of likely Republican caucus and primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire said illegal immigration was a critical factor as they evaluated the presidential candidates. In Iowa, 73 percent said the issue was critical or important, about the same as in New Hampshire, where 72 percent said so.

Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker from Georgia whose recent poll surge has him competing with Romney for front-runner status, bucked what has become Republican orthodoxy on the issue and said he was prepared to take the heat for doing so.

"If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period. If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out," Gingrich said.


Amnesty an Incentive

"Amnesty is a magnet," Romney said during the Nov. 22 foreign-policy debate in Washington. "People respond to incentives. And if you could become a permanent resident of the United States by coming here illegally, you'll do so."

Lanhee Chen, Romney's policy director, said Romney believes that illegal immigrants who apply for legal status should not be given any advantage over those who are following the law and waiting their turn. In a statement to Bloomberg News, Chen said Romney absolutely opposes allowing illegal immigrants to cut in line.

Gingrich's campaign said Romney was trying to obfuscate his stance on immigration.

"Intentionally misleading the same people you're running to lead and represent isn't exactly the best quality for the next leader of the free world," said R.C. Hammond, a Gingrich spokesman. "Newt is being forthright on this. We refer to it as leadership, and we think it's what voters are actually looking for."


Previous Support

In a 2006 interview with the Boston Globe, Romney backed the approach in legislation crafted by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and the late Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts that would have created a path to legal status for illegal immigrants. Then-President George W. Bush, a Republican, also championed the approach.

"After Romney detected the potency of the issue in Iowa, he changed course and began criticizing McCain during the 2008 presidential primary for pressing such a plan," one strategist close to his campaign said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid publicly disputing the candidate.

Gross of Iowa, who was chairman of Romney's 2008 presidential campaign in the state and is neutral this year, gave the same account. "Four years ago, you were coming right off the defeat of the Bush bill that people called amnesty, so a lot of the Republican base was red-hot over the issue -- it came up at every event here," Gross said.


Political Implications

Romney's decision to attack McCain on immigration, he added, was in direct contrast to a lot of the statements he had made. He sensed the political implications of it, and that's why he was doing it.

Gross said he counseled Romney's aides at the time against making a tough anti-immigration stance a central theme of his campaign. "I thought it would make him look like he was flip-flopping and sort of feed the narrative that he would do or say anything to get elected," Gross said.

Gingrich revived that story line by taking to the social networking Web site Twitter last week to post a clip of a 2007 television interview in which Romney said illegal immigrants should be allowed to sign up for legal status.

Romney told Iowa voters during a Nov. 23 telephone call organized by his campaign that he has always believed that illegal immigrants should be sent back to their countries of origin to apply for such status. "I just don't think that those who have come here illegally should be given a special pathway, a special deal," Romney told a voter who questioned him on the issue.


Another Immigration Skirmish

The Romney and Gingrich skirmish isn't the first time the immigration issue has flared during the 2012 primary.

Texas Governor Rick Perry sparked a backlash among Republican activists when he said during a Sept. 22 debate that those who opposed allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates -- a policy he has championed as governor -- didn't have a heart. His opponents, particularly Romney, criticized him for the statement, and he ultimately retracted it. Perry still hasn't recovered from his drop in the polls following that episode and other debate gaffes.

A Bloomberg News poll released Nov. 15 found that 42 percent of likely Iowa Republican caucus attendees said past support for a law like the one Perry signed allowing in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants would be a disqualifier for a presidential candidate. In New Hampshire, 51 percent said it would be grounds for ruling out a candidate.


Defining Issues

Gross said while Romney likely benefited from his strong criticism of Perry on that issue, he faces risks in making a hard-line stance on immigration a hallmark of his campaign given that jobs and the economy are the defining issues on voters minds.

What he needs to be careful about is, 2012 is not 2008. "Immigration and social issues are not the defining issues for Republican caucus-goers," Gross said. To the extent that he appears to pander on immigration issues, I think it will hurt.