During the primary, when he only needed to appeal to hard right Republican voters, Mitt Romney promised to veto the DREAM Act, which provides young people who have lived much of their lives in the United States a path to citizenship. Now that Romney needs to appeal to Latinos in order to win the general election, however, he’s already breaking out his Etch-a-Sketch. This weekend he told a crowd at a private (but very audible) fundraiser that he would support a version of the DREAM Act.
This is a significant turnaround for Romney, who was extremely anti-immigrant for the bulk of the primary season. Indeed, Romney even campaigned with an anti-immigrant leader who has ties to hate groups and helped pen Arizona’s “show us your papers” bill — on Martin Luther King Day. But now, facing abysmal poll numbers among Latinos, Romney is changing his tune. “We’re going to be able to get Hispanic voters,” he said, “We’re going to overcome the issue of immigration”:
Mr. Romney was frank in both his policy prescriptions and his obstacles as he addressed donors. He said he expected Mr. Obama to use the immigration issue against him as both sides of the aisle pursue Hispanic voters, a key demographic group in 2012. Mr. Romney said he and other Republicans will have to make the case that they are the party of “opportunity.”
He said the GOP will have to propose its own initiatives to win support from Hispanic voters, such as a Republican version of the Dream Act. As offered by Democrats, the act offers a path to permanent residency for those illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors and serve in the military or earn a college degree.
In a sense, Romney is taking the right approach if he comes out in favor of DREAM: 91 percent of Latinos support the DREAM Act. It is likely, however, that Romney will only support a pale shadow of the real DREAM Act that enjoys such widespread support.
The leading Republican alternative to DREAM is currently being crafted by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). While real DREAM provides an eventual path to citizenship to students who were brought to this country and either attended college or joined the military, Rubio says that his watered-down DREAM Act will not, in fact, provide a path to citizenship.
If the Republicans rally behind a DREAM Act that does lead to eventual citizenship, it would prove an etch-a-sketch moment not just for Romney, but for Rubio, who has said that he would not vote for a full path-to-citizenship bill. If Romney’s proposal does not include a path to citizenship, then the half-hearted appeal for the Latino vote likely won’t suffice: Latino groups have deemed the watered-down bill the “DREAM Act without a dream.”