Mitt Romney’s Views on Immigration

Léalo en español Our guest blogger is Ann Garcia, Research and Policy Associate at the Center for American Progress.

In this post we look at Mitt Romney’s stances on immigration in his own words. Find his positions on these issues based on comments he made in debates, interviews, and news stories in the chart below.

All positions current as of June 19, 2012.

Immigration reformDREAM Act and in-state tuitionMass deportationState and local immigration lawsBorder security

Mitt RomneyFormer Governor of Massachusetts

Immigration reform

“The right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn’t doing. And I will drop those lawsuits on day one. I’ll also complete the fence. I’ll make sure we have enough border patrol agents to secure the fence. And I will make sure we have an E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers.”

Source: Republican Debate, February 22, 2012.

ADAM SMITH (The Tampa Bay Times): “Governor Romney, there is one thing I’m confused about. You say you don’t want to go and round up people and deport them, but you also say that they would have to go back to their home countries and then apply for citizenship. So, if you don’t deport them, how do you send them home?”


ROMNEY:”Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so we’re not going to round people up.

…Look, people who have come here legally would, under my plan, be given a transition period and the opportunity during that transition period to work here, but when that transition period was over, they would no longer have the documentation to allow them to work in this country. At that point, they can decide whether to remain or whether to return home and to apply for legal residency in the United States, get in line with everybody else. And I know people think but that’s not fair to those that have come here illegally.”

SMITH: “Isn’t that what we have now? If somebody doesn’t feel they have the opportunity in America, they can go back any time they want to.”

ROMNEY: “Yes, we’d have a card that indicates who’s here illegally. And if people are not able to have a card, and have through an E-Verify system determine that they are here illegally, then they’re going to find they can’t get work here. And if people don’t get work here, they’re going to self-deport to a place where they can get work.

Ultimately, with this transition period in place, we would then allow people to get in line at home and to come back to this country after they have reached the front of the line. But I just don’t think it’s fair to the people who have loved ones waiting in line legally to come to America and say, guess what? We’re going to encourage a wave of illegal immigration by giving amnesty of some kind to those who have come here illegally.”

Source: Republican Debate, January 23, 2012.

“Now with regards to immigration policy, I absolutely believe that those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism or a special route to becoming permanent residents or citizens that’s not given to those people who have stayed in line legally. I just think we have to follow the law, I think that’s the right course.”


“And I have indicated I would veto the DREAM Act if provisions included in that act to say that people who are here illegally, if they go to school here long enough, get a degree here that they can become permanent residents. I think that’s a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist those who come here illegally, ultimately return home, apply, and get in line with everyone else.”

Source: Republican Debate, January 16, 2012.

“We need to provide everybody who comes here legally an identification card and then say to employers before you hire someone, if they’re not a US citizen with a valid Social Security number, you’ve got to look at that card, run in by your computer, make sure its not counterfeit and only then can you hire someone and employers who hire people who have not passed that kind of a check are going to get tough sanctions against them. You do that and people will not want to come here illegally because they can’t get work here.”

Source: KWQC News, December 28, 2011.

“Those people that are here illegally today should have the opportunity to register and to have their status identified. And those individuals should get in line with everyone else that’s in the line legally. They should not be placed ahead of the line. They should instead go at the back of the line. And they should not be allowed to stay in this country and be given permanent residency or citizenship merely because they’ve come here illegally.”

Source: Fox News, November 29, 2011.

“But in order to bring people in legally we’ve got to stop illegal immigration. That means turning off the magnets of amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, employers that knowingly hire people that have come here illegally.”

Source: Republican Debate, November 22, 2011.

“If you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart. It means that you have a heart and a brain.”

Source: Boston Globe, September 23, 2011.

“We can’t talk about amnesty, we cannot give amnesty to those who have come here illegally.”

Source: Republican Debate, September 7, 2011.

“Look, we are a nation of immigrants. We love legal immigration. But for legal immigration to work we have to secure the border and we also have to crack down on employers that hire people who are here illegally. I like legal immigration.”

Source: Republican Debate, August 11, 2011.

“The first priority, get the fence built. At the same time, have an employment verification system so that we know who’s here legally and who’s not here legally. I have personal experience with this. You don’t know who’s here illegally. You don’t have a way of telling, if someone comes and they speak with an accent do you say, well, are you here legally or illegally? And they tell you, well, how do you know. And so I want an employment verification system with a card, where it indicates that they’re here illegally, that they’re here legally, what their work status is so that you can hire them. If they’re not here legally you know you don’t hire them. And we need to have that kind of system or we’re not going to know who’s here illegally and not. So those are the first two things. And number three, for those that are here illegally today, tell them to get in line with everybody else who wants to come here. No special pathway, no special deal by virtue of having come here illegally.”

Source: BuzzFeed Politics, December 4, 2007.

“I don’t believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country. With these 11 million people, let’s have them registered, know who they are. Those who’ve been arrested or convicted of crimes shouldn’t be here; those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process towards application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.”

Source: The Lowell Sun, March 30, 2006.

“What the president has opposed and what Senator McCain and Cornyn proposed are quite different than that [amnesty]. They require people signing up for a…registration number, then working here for six years and paying taxes, not taking benefits…then at the end of that period registering to become a citizen or applying to become a citizen and paying a fee… those are reasonable proposals.”


“But my view is that those 12 million who have come here illegally should be given the opportunity to sign up to stay here; that they should not be given any advantage in becoming a permanent resident or a citizen by virtue of simply coming here illegally. And, likewise, if they brought a child to this country or they’ve had a child in this country, that’s wonderful that they’re growing their families, but that doesn’t mean that they all get to stay here indefinitely.”

Source: Boston Globe, November 30, 2005.

DREAM Act and in-state tuition

“Look these people [DREAMers] deserve to understand what their status will be long-term, not just for four and a half months. And that’s why I think it’s important for me and for Congress to come together to put together a plan that secures the border, that insists that we have an employment verification system, and that deals with the children of those that come here illegally on a long-term basis not in a stop-gap measure…and with regard to those who have served in the military, absolutely, I think those individuals should be able to become permanent residents of the United States.”

Source: Fox News, June 19, 2012.

BOB SCHIEFFER (host, CBS News): “The President said Friday that the government will no longer seek to deport 800,000 of these young illegal immigrants who were brought into this country by their parents. I think you said that this is just a short-term solution to a long-term problem. But would you repeal this order if you became President?”

ROMNEY: “Well, let’s step back and look at the issue. I mean first of all, we have to secure the border, we need to have an employment verification system, to make sure that those that are working here in this country are here legally. And then, with regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is. This is something Congress has been working on, and I thought we were about to see some proposals brought forward by Senator Marco Rubio and by Democrat Senators, but the President jumped in and said I’m going to take this action, he called it a stop-gap measure. I don’t know why he feels stop-gap measures are the right way to go.”

SCHIEFFER: “But what would you do about it?”

ROMNEY: “Well, as you know, he was President for the last three and a half years and did nothing on immigration. Two years he had a Democrat House and Senate, did nothing of a permanent or long-term basis. What I would do, is I’d make sure that by coming into office I would work with Congress to put in place a long-term solution for the children of those that have come here illegally and…”

SCHIEFFER: “Would you…”

ROMNEY: “I’ve said, for instance, that for those who serve in the military I would give permanentresidence to…”

Source: CBS, June 17, 2012.

“I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis, so they know what their future would be in this country. I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive order is, of course, just a short-term matter — it can be reversed by subsequent presidents. I’d like to see legislation that deals with this issue, and I happen to agree with Marco Rubio as he looked at this issue. He said that this is an important matter, that we have to find a long-term solution, but that the president’s action makes reaching a long-term solution more difficult. If I’m president, we’ll do our very best to have that kind of long-term solution that provides certainty and clarity for the people who come into this country through no fault of their own by virtue of the action of their parents.”

Source: Fox News, June 15, 2012.

“I would not sign the Dream Act as it currently exists, but I would sign the Dream Act if it were focused on military service.”

Source: CNN, January 23, 2012.

LUCY (Student eligible for relief under the DREAM Act): “Are you going to support the DREAM Act?”

ROMNEY: “I already said, across the country, I would veto the Dream Act.”

LUCY: “I’m undocumented. I want to know then, why are you not supporting my dream?”

ROMNEY: “Because if someone comes here illegally…”

LUCY: “But I didn’t come here illegally, and I have a 4.0 GPA.”

ROMNEY: “That’s wonderful.”

Source: DRM Capitol Group, January 17, 2012.

“You know, the Hispanic-American voters I speak with are overwhelmingly concerned with opportunity. They want good jobs in America and rising incomes. If they want a president who is going to talk to them about a handout or more benefits for free, they got that guy. If they, instead, want a president who understands the economy who has lived in the economy and understands what it takes to help people get jobs, again, then I’m that person.”

Source: CNN, January 4, 2012.

“The question is: If I were elected and Congress were to pass the DREAM Act, would I veto it. And the answer is yes.”

“I’m delighted with the idea that people who come to this country and wish to serve in the military can be given a path to become permanent residents of this country.”

Source: Think Progress, December 31, 2011.

“I fundamentally believe that it doesn’t make sense for American taxpayers to pay for the college education of illegal aliens, particularly at a time when American taxpayers are having a hard time financing education for their own children…From a policy standpoint, if we’re going to give benefits that are worth $100,000 to illegal aliens to come here and get a higher education degree, then people are going to try and get into the country illegally. That’s the kind of magnet that draws people into the country.”

Source: Jordan Sekulow Show, September 27, 2011.

CHRIS WALLACE (host, FOX News): “In Massachusetts, you vetoed legislation to provide interstate tuition rates to the children of illegals. Governor Perry of course signed the Texas Dream Act to do exactly that. But what about Governor Perry’s argument that it’s better to get these kids an education and to get them jobs than to consign them just to being a burden on the state?”

ROMNEY: “It’s an argument I just can’t follow. I’ve got be honest with you, I don’t see how it is that a state like Texas — to go to the University of Texas, if you’re an illegal alien, you get an in-state tuition discount. You know how much that is? That’s $22,000 a year. Four years of college, almost $100,000 discount if you are an illegal alien go to the University of Texas. If you are a United States citizen from any one of the other 49 states, you have to pay $100,000 more. That doesn’t make sense to me. And that kind of magnet — That kind of magnet draws people into this country to get that education, to get the $100,000 break. It makes no sense.”

Source: Fox News-Google Debate, September 22, 2011.

Border security

“What I support is focusing on securing the border and when we secure the border and have convinced the American people that we do not have a flow of illegal aliens coming into the country, then we can address what we’re going to do with the 11 or 15 million that are here.”

Source: Washington Examiner, December 7, 2011.

“As President, I will work with leaders like Sheriff Babeu to protect our Southern border, provide the required assistance from the federal government, and put an end to the magnets that cause illegal immigration.”

Source: Believe in America, October 13, 2011.

“Let’s build a fence first, and let’s have sufficient border patrol agents to protect it.”

Source: Union Leader, October 5, 2011.

“But the third thing, and I learned this when I was with border patrol agents in San Diego, and they said, look, they can always get a ladder to go over the fence. And people will always run to the country. The reason they come in such great numbers is because we’ve left the magnet on.”

Source: Republican Debate, September 7, 2011.

ROMNEY: “Well, first, we ought to have a fence. Secondly…”

DIAZ-BALART (anchor, Noticiero Telemundo): “The whole fence, 2,600 miles?”

ROMNEY: “Yes. We got to — we got to have a fence, or the technologically approved system to make sure that we know who’s coming into the country, number one.”

Source: Republican Debate, September 7, 2011.

“But you look at some of the legislation that’s passed over the past couple of years, and you’re talking about legislation of a couple thousand pages or more. I find that very difficult to deal with, both as a person who is supposed to read something like that and express an opinion on it or vote on it, but also as somebody who’s being regulated or being affected by the legislation. Let’s look at things piece by piece. That’s the approach that I prefer, which would suggest let’s go after securing the border and making sure that those who come here legally are able to work here and those that come here illegally are no longer able to.”

Source: Think Progress, April 26, 2011.

Mass deportation

“The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so we’re not going to round people up.”

Source: Republican Debate, January 23, 2012.

“My own view is those 11 million people should register the fact that they’re here in the country. They should be given some transition period of time to allow them to settle their affairs and then return home and get…in line at the back of the line with everybody else that wants to come here.”

“I want to bring people into this country who have skill, experience, family here who want to draw them in…I do not want to do something which encourages another wave of illegal immigration. So, from my view…the key measure is this: No favoritism for permanent residency or citizenship for those that have come here illegally.”

Source: Republican Debate, December 10, 2011.

“I don’t think that there is a call for rounding people up and taking them out of the country. I don’t think that that’s the process that’s necessary to maintain our system.”

Source: Washington Examiner, December 7, 2011.

“My plan is this, which is for those that have come here illegally and are here illegally today, no amnesty. Now, how do people return home? Under the ideal setting, at least in my view, you say to those who have just come in recently, we’re going to send you back home immediately, we’re not going to let you stay here. You just go back home. For those that have been here, let’s say, five years, and have kids in school, you allow kids to complete the school year, you allow people to make their arrangements, and allow them to return back home. Those that have been here a long time, with kids that have responsibilities here and so forth, you let stay enough time to organize their affairs and go home.”

Source: Republican Debate, January 30, 2008.

“I don’t believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country. With these 11 million people, let’s have them registered, know who they are. Those who’ve been arrested or convicted of crimes shouldn’t be here; those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process towards application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.”

Source: The Lowell Sun, March 30, 2006.

State and local immigration laws

“I’m so proud to earn Kris [Kobach]’s support…Kris has been a true leader on securing our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration into this country. We need more conservative leaders like Kris willing to stand up for the rule of law. With Kris on the team, I look forward to working with him to take forceful steps to curtail illegal immigration and to support states like South Carolina and Arizona that are stepping forward to address this problem.”

Source: Mitt Romney, January 11, 2012.

“My view is that states have the responsibility to care for the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of their citizens, and if the federal government is failing to fulfill its responsibility to enforce immigration laws, then states should have to take action. In my state, when I was governor, I took action. There was an effort on the part of the legislature to provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, I vetoed that. There was a discussion on drivers licenses, and I said, ‘No way.’ I actually empowered our state police to work with ICE to carry out federal immigration laws.”

Source: Fox News, September 12, 2011.

“One of the things I did in my state was to say, look, I’m going to get my state police authorized to be able to enforce immigration laws and make sure those people who we arrest are put in jail, to find out they’re here illegally, we’re going to get them out of here.”

Source: Republican Debate, September 12, 2011.

“The reason they come in such great numbers is because we’ve left the magnet on. And I said, what do you mean, the magnet? …And we went in and talked about sanctuary cities, giving tuition breaks to the kids of illegal aliens, employers that, employers that knowingly hire people who are here illegally. Those things also have to be stopped.”

Source: The Republican Debate at the Reagan Library, September 7, 2011.

“As you know, I opposed sanctuary cities as the governor of my state. And the idea that a city would determine that it’s not going to follow the U.S. law is unacceptable and immigration law is federal law.Immigration laws are the responsibility of the federal government. The fact that you’re seeing states come up with various programs to try and secure their border is simply an indication that the federal government has failed in doing its job. And I need some lawyers to tell me how to go about doing it, but I would end sanctuary cities, if it’s legally possible.”

Source: NBC News, August 24, 2011.

“Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law is the direct result of Washington’s failure to secure the border and to protect the lives and liberties of our citizens. It is my hope that the law will be implemented with care and caution not to single out individuals based upon their ethnicity.”

Source: Politico, April 28, 2011.

“Let me tell you what I did as governor. I said no to driver’s licenses for illegals. I said, number two, we’re going to make sure that those that come here don’t get a tuition break in our schools, which I disagree with other folks on that one. Number three, I applied to have our state police enforce the immigration laws in May, seven months before I was out of office.”

Source: Republican Debate, November 28, 2007.


JORGE RAMOS (Univision): “How would you convince millions of undocumented immigrants to go back to their country of origin?”

ROMNEY: “Well, very simply, which is that you have identification for those people who come here legally, which allows them to work in the United States and to get jobs from employers here. Then you have in place a very effective E-Verify system that allows employers to check that documentation immediately, see if it’s legitimate or whether it’s been falsified. And you severely sanction employers that hire people who have not legal documentation and legal authorization to work here. On that basis, over time, people will find it less attractive to be here if they can’t find work here. Some refer to that as self-deportation.”

Source: Univision, January 25, 2012.

“If I’m president, we’ll put in an E-Verify system, which you [Rick Perry] have opposed…to make sure that we can find out who’s here illegally and not, and crack down on people who come here illegally.”

Source: CNN Western Republican Presidential Debate, October 18, 2011.

“…We have to have a system like E-Verify that employers can use to identify who is here legally and illegally. We have to crackdown on employers that hire people that are here illegally.”

Source: Republican Debate, September 22, 2011.

“We need an employment verification system to identify the fact that legal aliens that come here are legal, are entitled to work. And that’s something I’m going to get done so our employers know who’s here legally and we welcome people who want to come work in this country.”

Source: Republican Debate, December 9, 2007.

Birthright citizenship

“The Constitution…indicates that those that are born here do become U.S. citizens by virtue of being born here. But if they’re born here from parents who come across the border illegally and bring them here illegally, in my view, we should not adopt, then, these chain migration policies that say, you’ve got a child here that’s a US citizen, and the whole family can come in. That, in my opinion, is a mistake.”

Source: Republican Debate, December 9, 2007.

High-skilled immigration

“But to make sure we’re able to bring in the best and brightest — and, by the way, I agree with the speaker in terms of — I’d staple a green card to the diploma of anybody who’s got a degree of math, science, a Masters degree, Ph.D. We want those brains in our country.”

Source: Republican Debate, November 22, 2011.

“I want people coming into the country with skills and experience, speaking English, with degrees and contributing to our culture and the capacity of our nation.”

Source: Associated Press, September 15, 2011.

“As President, [I] will also work to establish a policy that staples a green card to the diploma of every eligible student visa holder who graduates from one of our universities with an advanced degree in math, science, or engineering.”“As President, a first step that [I] will take is to raise the ceiling on the number of visas issued to holders of advanced degrees in Math, Science, and engineering who have job offers in those fields from US companies.”

Source: Believe in America, September 6, 2011.