Romney calls immigration reform ‘moral imperative’

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Mitt Romney called immigration reform a “moral imperative” Thursday, laying out his vision for a broad increase in legal immigration for both business and family reunification and vowing to complete what he called “a high-tech fence” along the border.

But Mr. Romney again refused to say whether he will allow President Obama’s recent order halting deportations of young illegal immigrants to remain in place while he works on that longer-term solution.

In a major speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), holding their annual conference at Disney World, Mr. Romney, Republicans’ presumptive presidential nominee, said Mr. Obama has had three years to work on a bill and instead settled for last week’s stopgap deportation decision — which Mr. Romney implied was done just to win over votes.

“He’s taking your vote for granted. I’ve come here today with a very simple message: you do have an alternative. Your vote should be respected,” Mr. Romney said.

Mr. Romney’s plan calls for expanded immigration for immediate relatives of current green card holders; a streamlined temporary worker program that is easier for businesses to use; and efforts to attract and keep high-skilled workers.

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets attendees June 21, 2012, at the NALEO (National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials) conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Associated Press)

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets attendees June ... more >

On border security, he promised to complete what he called “a high-tech fence” and said he’ll complete an exit verification system to cut down on the large percentage of illegal immigrants who arrived legally but stayed past their visas.

He also said he will support legalizing illegal immigrants who agree to join the U.S. military — a small part of the Dream Act, which would legalize most illegal immigrant young adults.

But Mr. Romney did not offer any broad plan for legalizing most illegal immigrants. Instead, Mr. Romney said only that he will “address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner.”

“We may not always agree, but when I make a promise to you, I will keep it,” he told NALEO.

Mr. Obama, by contrast, has called for a broad bill that would legalize most illegal immigrants now in the country, and has twice voted for that kind of legislation when he was a senator.

Most congressional Republicans say that amounts to amnesty, but for many Hispanic voters, support for a broad immigration plan that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is a threshold issue heading into November’s elections.

Mr. Romney’s speech comes less than a week after Mr. Obama announced he would stop deporting illegal immigrants under 30 who were brought here as children and who have completed high school or earned a GED.

Early polling shows that move is popular among most voters, though Mr. Romney said it was a stop-gap measure done more for election-year politics than because it was good policy.

“After three-and-a-half years of putting every issue from loan guarantees for his donors to Cash For Clunkers before immigration, now the president has been seized by an overwhelming need to do what he could have done on Day One. I think you deserve better,” Mr. Romney said.

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