In tonight’s GOP debate (which I did not watch), apparently Newt Gingrich took some heat from other Republicans – notably Mitt Romney – for staking out a non-rabid position on illegal immigration. According to the NY Times, Gingrich “said he supported finding a way to allow the millions of illegal immigrants to stay in this country legally – without granting amnesty.” Romney pounced: “That position was immediately jumped on by Mr. Romney and Mrs. Bachmann, both of whom decried it as amnesty, no matter what Mr. Gingrich calls it.”
And, it’s funny, because way back in, oh, 2005, Mitt Romney refused to describe as “amnesty” a proposal crafted by John McCain and Ted Kennedy, and endorsed by President Bush, that would allow illegal immigrants to stay and apply for citizenship, as long as they registered, worked, paid a fine, and caught up on their taxes. Here’s a Boston Globe story explaining what Romney used to think (the story, by Scott Helman, is dated March 16, 2007, and entitled “Romney’s words grow hard on immigration” – you need a subscription to access the full text):
In a November 2005 interview with the Globe, Romney described immigration proposals by McCain and others as “quite different” from amnesty, because they required illegal immigrants to register with the government, work for years, pay taxes, not take public benefits, and pay a fine before applying for citizenship.
“That’s very different than amnesty, where you literally say, ‘OK, everybody here gets to stay,’” Romney said in the interview. “It’s saying you could work your way into becoming a legal resident of the country by working here without taking benefits and then applying and then paying a fine.”
Romney did not specifically endorse McCain’s bill, saying he had not yet formulated a full position on immigration. But he did speak approvingly of efforts by McCain and Bush to solve the nation’s immigration crisis, calling them “reasonable proposals.”
Romney also said in the interview that it was not “practical or economic for the country” to deport the estimated 12 million immigrants living in the US illegally. “These people contribute in many cases to our economy and to our society,” he said. “In some cases, they do not. But that’s a whole group we’re going to have to determine how to deal with.”
It’s not exactly news that Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on an issue. What’s remarkable is that people seem to forget about it.