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The One Mexican Border-Crossing Immigrant Family That Tancredo Likes? The Romneys

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"The One Mexican Border-Crossing Immigrant Family That Tancredo Likes? The Romneys"

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Our guest blogger is Henry Fernandez, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress focusing on state and municipal policy.

romneyTom Tancredo, the only candidate for president from either party to declare himself in opposition to legal immigration, and to have a specific aversion to Mexican immigration, dropped out of the presidential race last week. Then he did something quite odd — he endorsed Mitt Romney, the only candidate whose father was born in Mexico and whose family made use of the porous border to immigrate between Mexico and the United States.

Tancredo made his endorsement because he was enamored by Romney’s recent — apparently hypocritical — conversion on immigration. Romney has been running ads across Iowa decrying what he now believes is the horrible impact of “illegal immigrants.”

Well here’s a little fact check for Tancredo.

Mitt Romney’s father George was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1907, the son of Gaskell Romney and Anna Amelia Pratt. Three generations of Romneys lived in Mexico because Miles Park Romney, a polygamist, moved the family there in 1884 as it became increasingly clear that the U.S. government would not tolerate polygamy in the Utah Territory. The 1882 Edmunds Act stripped polygamists of the basic rights of U.S. citizenship, denying them the right to vote, serve on juries or hold office. Not dissimilar to current immigration raids, U.S. federal agents hunted and arrested polygamists. Polygamists were forced to leave the country or risk jail.

Miles chose to leave the country, bringing his multiple wives and children with him across the southern border. In his 1902 book The Story of the Mormons, author William Alexander Linn states that the “Secretario de Fomento of Mexico” related that “The laws of this country [Mexico] do not permit polygamy,” and that the contracts for the establishment of Mormon colonies in Mexico required the same. If true, Miles Romney then knowingly arrived in direct violation of Mexican immigration law.

Utah became a state in 1896, only after laws were passed there prohibiting polygamy. While polygamy may have been illegal in both countries, the Romneys still found Mexico more to their liking. All four of George’s grandparents would live out their days in Mexico, with Anna’s mother Dorsey being the last to die — in Chihuahua in 1929.

Gaskell and Anna (who were monogamous) were married in 1895, and according to George’s biographer Tom Mahoney, lived in Chihuahua until the height of the Mexican Revolution in 1912. Relative Junius Romney negotiated with rebel leaders to get women and children out of the colony for their safety. Anna, with Mitt’s father George in tow, fled across the U.S. border by train (with no apparent delay or search at the border). A short time later Gaskell, like many Mexican immigrants before and since, covered hundreds of miles under a hot sun, crossing by land into New Mexico.

As a Mexican born immigrant, George would do quite honorably, becoming Governor of Michigan and running for the Republican nomination for President in 1968. His support for civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War resulted in his loss to Richard Nixon. His son Mitt is of course where this post began.

Perhaps it’s not just Tancredo who needs a quick reminder of the Romney family history?

Henry Fernandez

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