Mitt Romney’s newly unveiled Hispanic Steering Committee includes a cosponsor and at least five other supporters of the Development, Relief and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act, the proposed legislation that would pave the way to citizenship for some illegal immigrant youths, which Romney opposes.
The Romney campaign on Wednesday announced the members of the committee, called “Juntos con Romney,” which means “Together with Romney.” The formation of the committee represents one of Romney’s most concerted efforts to date to reach out to Hispanic voters, with whom he trails President Obama by 34 points, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll.
One member of the committee’s National Advisory Board is former Florida Senator Mel Martinez, who cosponsored the 2009 version of the DREAM Act.
Romney’s new committee is led by three chairmen, including former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who said in 2010 that it would be a “shame” for Congress not to pass the bill during that year’s lame-duck session.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, an advisory board member, has dubbed the DREAM Act “a fair policy.”
The Obama campaign pounced on the discord.
“Unfortunately for Governor Romney, an advisory council can’t Etch A Sketch away his extreme positions on the issues that matter to Hispanic families,” said Gabriela Domenzain, the Obama campaign’s director of Hispanic press. “Governor Romney is on the wrong side of every Hispanic voter priority. He is the most extreme presidential candidate we’ve seen on immigration, with positions so out of touch with the mainstream that even the members of his Hispanic advisory council have criticized him.”
The DREAM Act, first introduced in 2001, would provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who spend at least two years in college or the military. To be eligible, immigrants must have entered the US before age 16 and lived here for at least five years. They also must have clean criminal records and high school diplomas or GEDs.
Romney has said he would veto the DREAM Act if it were to pass when he was president but has not explained his opposition at length. During a roundtable discussion with Latino business leaders in Tempe, Ariz., in April, the presumptive Republican nominee brushed aside the topic.
“They’re bright; they can help carry this country forward,” Manuel Pacheco, former president of the University of Arizona, told Romney. “I think it would be a shame to lose that particular talent that they bring.”
Romney thanked Pacheco for his comments then turned to the next panelist without discussing the DREAM Act further, according news accounts.
A press release announcing Romney’s Hispanic Steering Committee focused on the economy and did not mention immigration. It made four references to “the American Dream” but used the phrase only in the context of Romney’s promise to outperform President Obama in job creation and personal income.
“With so many Hispanic families struggling, we need a leader who will make the American Dream a reality for all,” Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño, an honorary chairman, said in the release.
Part of Romney’s immigration strategy, however, centers on worsening the struggles of some Hispanics—those who come to the US illegally.
“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,” Romney said during a January debate in Tampa.
Romney’s plan drew criticism from New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.
“ ‘Self-deport?’ What the heck does that mean?” Martinez said in an interview with The Daily Beast last month. “I have no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign.”
Despite the clash—and the fact that Martinez supports a DREAM Act-style pathway to citizenship—Romney named her an honorary chairwoman of his committee. Martinez said in the press release that she is “proud to stand with him and look[s] forward to working to get him elected.”
Romney has a reputation, dating to his career in business, for soliciting counsel from people with whom he disagrees. The inclusion of DREAM Act backers on Romney’s committee reflects that sensibility, his campaign said.
“Governor Romney and his supporters may not always agree on every issue, but they do agree this country is heading in the wrong direction and Mitt Romney is the right candidate to get the economy back on track,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Globe in an e-mail.
The other stated supporters of the DREAM Act on Romney’s committee are representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and former Florida Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Another member, Florida state Representative Anitere Flores, voted for a state version of the DREAM Act.