Mitt Romney is making the case that he’s more conservative than President Donald Trump on immigration.
“I’m also more of a hawk on immigration than even the president,” Romney, who announced his bid for Senate in Utah in February, said at a Republican event Monday when asked to defend his conservative credentials. “My view was these DACA kids shouldn’t all be allowed to stay in the country legally.”
It’s somewhat of an odd position for Romney to take, not because of his own immigration record (his 2012 presidential platform called for undocumented immigrants to self-deport) but because of the state he’s running in. Utah is a unique red state on immigration, with a big Mormon voter base that is traditionally more dovish than the hardliner Republicans who shaped the immigration debate in Washington.
Romney pushed back against giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship — which many of Congress’s bipartisan proposals would have done — and argued that those protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program should have to “do more” to get legal permanent residency, like get a college degree or serve in the military, according to the Daily Herald, a Utah newspaper.
“I will accept the president’s view on this, but for me, I draw the line and say, those who’ve come illegally should not be given a special path to citizenship,” Romney said.
Trump’s White House pledged to sunset the DACA program, which protected undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation, last September, and has since proposed a legislative approach that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, fund the southern border wall, eliminate the diversity visa lottery system, and ultimately cut legal immigration by half.
Utahns, while largely supportive of deporting undocumented immigrants with criminal records, have long favored legal immigration and pushed for reforms to encourage it. And most voters — nearly 75 percent — in the state actually oppose deporting DACA recipients, according to an October 2017 poll.
Romney is by far the favorite to win the Republican Utah Senate primary, and the seat in November, to take replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch. As of a February poll, Romney pulled 60 percent of the support.
And in fact, when he announced his Senate bid, he actually emphasized this difference between Trump’s White House and Utah on the issue.
“Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world, Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion,” Romney said in his announcement video in February. “And on Utah’s Capitol Hill, people treat one another with respect.”