By Bill Boyarsky
Mitt Romney’s hypocrisy has no limits. Now, the Supreme Court decision on the Arizona immigration law has shown him for what he is—a contortionist twisting and turning to coddle the Republicans’ right-wing base while not overly offending Latinos, who may decide the presidential election.
Remember Romney campaigning against rights for undocumented immigrants in the primaries?
He ridiculed Gov. Rick Perry for Texas’ policy of allowing in-state tuition for undocumented college students there. And he steadfastly supported Arizona’s fight against the federal lawsuit to overturn its immigration law, which sought to impose police state restrictions on undocumented immigrants. He said, “The right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn’t doing. And I will drop those lawsuits on day one.”
But after President Obama moved this month to halt the deportation of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, Romney changed his tone.
On June 21, before the Supreme Court ruling, he spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and promised to “staple a green card to your diploma” for undocumented immigrants who earned advanced degrees.
He changed course again Monday when the Supreme Court ruled on the Arizona law, throwing out much of it. The decision seemed to put the Romney campaign into a state of confusion. On a chartered media plane heading to a Romney fundraiser in Arizona, traveling press secretary Rick Gorka was asked 21 times by reporters where Romney stood on the issue. He remained elusive.
At the fundraiser, Romney reverted to the Mitt of the primary campaign, strongly supporting Arizona. “You probably heard today there was a Supreme Court decision relating to immigration, and given the failure of the immigration policy in this country, I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to the states, not less,” Romney said. “And there are states now under this decision that have less authority, less latitude to enforce immigration laws.”
Unfortunately, the court retained the infamous “show me your papers” provision: When police stop someone for jaywalking, drunken driving, disorderly conduct or any other offense big or small, the officers are required to check immigration status if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is undocumented.
Obama saw the dangers of racial profiling in enforcing the law. “I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law,” he said. “At the same time, I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally. No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.”
But the Supreme Court threw out the rest of the law, including provisions in which Arizona was imposing laws and penalties tougher than federal statutes.
“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion. And in words that could draw many boos at a tea party rally, he also said, “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”
Since the Supreme Court has disposed of the lawsuit, there is no need for Romney to order his attorney general to drop it on his hoped-for day one in the White House. But if he is so supportive of Arizona, will he try to undo the Supreme Court decision? Specifically, will he press for a federal law to replace the dismissed Arizona statute imposing stiff penalties for failing to carry documents proving legal immigration status?
And what about the Arizona provision making it a crime for an undocumented immigrant “to knowingly apply for work, solicit work in a public place or perform work as an employee or independent contractor”? The Supreme Court threw it out. If Romney truly loves the Arizona law and copycat statutes proposed in other states, will he ask Congress to criminalize such work applications? And if the Republicans win the Senate and retain control of the House in November, won’t they go along?
Don’t expect Romney to answer such questions while running for president. He fears antagonizing Latino voters. A total of 67 percent of Latinos supported Obama over Sen. John McCain in 2008. If the vote goes the same way this year, Romney could lose.
But he can’t lose his right-wing base, those Republicans who reluctantly backed him after the primary campaign.
Pundits and political reporters treat this as a matter of strategy, as they do with most campaign developments. But this is much more important. The immigration issue is about Romney’s character.
He embraces the Arizona law and the right of other states to pass similar legislation. But he doesn’t have the guts to say what he’d do as president. He wants to coast into the White House on a wave of anti-Obama feeling, saying as little as possible. Once there, especially with a Republican Senate and House at his back, he’ll begin his cruel version of immigration reform. Perhaps it will erase those sensible words of Justice Kennedy: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”
Mitt Romney addresses the Latino Coalition’s 2012 Small Business Summit in Washington in May.