Haley Barbour chides Mitt Romney on immigration stance

While arguing that Romney was not as hard on immigrants as is claimed, former Mississippi Governor Barbour said at a Monitor breakfast that 'I would have a different policy' on immigration.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Resurgent Republic Honorary Chairman and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters in Washington D.C. on Friday.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney faces increasing pressure on the immigration issue – not only from the Obama administration’s announcement Friday that it will not deport certain younger illegal immigrants, but also from key players within his own party.

The latest criticism from within Republican ranks came Friday from Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor who chairs the conservative think tank Resurgent Republic and is raising money for the American Crossroads "super political-action committee." He told a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters, “I would just have a different policy from what he has espoused,” on immigration.

Governor Barbour, who has served as Republican Party chairman and as Ronald Reagan’s White House political director, was quick to note that “I don’t think [Romney] has been as hard over as he will be described as having been [on immigration]. But I think the Democrats and the left will try to make him sound like he is anti-immigrant, which he is not.”

But Barbour made it clear that he disagreed with the statement on immigration that Romney delivered at a Republican primary debate in January.  Romney told the Tampa audience, “The answer is self-deportation, which is [where] 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 added, “We’re not going to round them up.”

Barbour said he favors “secure borders for lots of reasons [but] then we need to recognize we are not going to deport 12 million people and ... we shouldn’t.”

Barbour said that for workers who had been in the US “for any length of time” there should be “a path not to citizenship, but a secure knowledge that they will be able to continue to work.”

An approach very much like that is what White House officials told the Associated Press the Obama administration would begin adopting. It is targeted at younger illegal immigrants who came to the country before they turned 16, are under 30 now, have stayed out of trouble, and have a high school education or served in the military.  The approach does not lead to citizenship but does allow those covered by it to get a two year work permit that can be renewed indefinitely. The new Obama approach is similar to a plan offered by Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida.

Romney’s immigration policy came in for criticism earlier this week by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose wife is Hispanic. At a meeting with journalists hosted by Bloomberg View on June 11 in New York, Mr. Bush noted that in Republican primary debates, candidate Romney focused on border control when talking about immigration. 

“The focus has been on that in these debates, and Governor Romney has used this as a means to connect with a group of voters that were quite angry, and it was effective,” Bush said. “But now he’s in this, somewhat of a box. So I think the broader message is how you get out of it.”

Bush’s definition of broadening the debate included making immigration "an economic issue as much as it is a question of the rule of law,” Bush said. He called on Romney to “have a broader message and have a more intense message.”

At this writing, the Romney campaign has not released a statement on the president’s new immigration policy, which was formally announced at a Rose Garden announcement Friday afternoon.

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