MIAMI — President Obama’s nondeportation policy continued to tie Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in knots Wednesday as he struggled to find a stance that can appeal to Hispanic voters while not angering his own conservative base.
Asked four separate times at a “Meet the Candidate” forum hosted by Spanish-language network Univision at the University of Miami, Mr. Romney danced around the question. He told forum cohost Maria Elena Salinas that he would seek a permanent solution to immigration, and would legalize young illegal immigrants who join the military, but he wouldn’t commit to keeping in place Mr. Obama’s nondeportation policy, which would apply to more than 1 million illegal immigrants 30 and under.
“So, the answer is yes you will allow them to stay?” Ms. Salinas asked.
“I’m not going to be rounding people up and deporting them from the country,” he replied, though he again wouldn’t commit to keeping the president’s orders in place.
Instead, he blamed Mr. Obama for not trying to work with Congress.
“What the president did was he took no action when he had a Democratic House and Senate, even though he said he would. Then he put in place something he called a ‘stopgap measure’ — temporary. These kids deserve something better than temporary, they deserve a permanent solution,” he said.
The back-and-forth follows an interview with Telemundo earlier this week, when Mr. Romney was asked five times but would not say whether he would cancel Mr. Obama’s policy.
If he did cancel the policy, those to whom Mr. Obama granted tentative legal status would again be eligible for deportation.
The issue has dogged Mr. Romney all week, with young adults who stand to gain from the policy, known as Dreamers after the Dream Act legislation that would have granted them a full path to citizenship, protesting outside of Mr. Romney’s events.
More than 80,000 illegal immigrants have already applied for Mr. Obama’s policy, which began taken applications Aug. 15.
Under the policy, those who say they are taking classes or who have completed some education and who don’t have major criminal records can be given papers saying they will not be deported. They will also be issued work permits.
The policy, known as deferred action, cannot put them on the path to citizenship, however.
Mr. Romney has advocated increasing legal immigration for both business and relatives of current green card holders living in the United States. He also has vowed to increase border enforcement and complete “a high-tech fence” along the U.S.-Mexican border.
But his silence on the nondeportation policy could spell trouble for Mr. Romney, who has struggled to make inroads with Hispanic voters, the fastest growing demographic of the electorate, after he staked out a harder line on enforcement than of any other major political party nominee in history — vowing to veto the Democratic-written Dream Act along the way.
“I think not answering the question as to what he plans to do with the directive, is not helpful,” said Ana Navarro, who worked on Hispanic outreach for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008. “Many of us want a real answer.”
“He’s obviously dancing around the issue trying to avoid getting pinned down and that game of dodge and weave hat looks blatantly political,” she said. “Clearly, he’s trying to avoid antagonizing the right and Hispanics. It doesn’t help establish a relationship of trust between him and Hispanics. That’s his biggest challenge. Hispanics don’t know him and thus, don’t trust him.”
The latest tracking polls from ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions shows Mr. Obama holding a 68 percent to 26 percent lead among the nation’s fastest growing voting bloc, which also prefers Democrats in Congress over Republicans by a wide-margin.
The poll also showed that Hispanic women prefer Mr. Obama by a whopping 53-point gap — and that creating jobs and fixing the economy remain the top issues, with immigration reform and the Dream act coming in a close second.
Mr. Romney laid out vision for the immigration system in a June speech before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) annual meeting at Disney World.
He proposed expanding legal immigration for children and spouses of current holders of green cards. He also would grant a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who agree to join the U.S. military and has called for a streamlined temporary-worker program and efforts to keep highly skilled immigrants in the U.S.
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