Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Romney, on immigration, rewrites some history

By Bob Egelko
It was only a couple of months ago that Mitt Romney told a Republican debate audience in Arizona that the state was a “model” for the nation on immigration. If elected president, he said, he would immediately drop the lawsuits that the Obama administration has filed “against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn’t doing.”
That was then. This is now.

Romney, who has all but wrapped up the Republican nomination, told supporters recently that the party’s hopes in November were doomed unless it increased its appeal to Latinos.
Right away, campaign aides told the New York Times that Romney hadn’t been referring to Arizona’s groundbreaking immigration law — the one allowing police to demand identification from anyone they detain and suspect of being illegal immigrants — as a model for the nation. They said he actually meant the state’s requirement that employers check the legal status of job applicants on the federal government’s E-Verify computer database, something he’d also discussed in the debate.

In January, Romney had welcomed the endorsement of Kris Kobach, draftsman of the Arizona immigration law, and described Kobach as a member of his “team” that would “take forceful steps to curtail illegal immigration” and support the efforts of states like Arizona. Last week, the Romney campaign described Kobach as merely a “supporter.”

An Etch A Sketch moment, where the candidate recasts his views in hopes of appealing to a wider electorate? This bit of spin looks like it goes a step further, into the terrain of trying to rewrite the candidate’s own history.

First of all, the E-Verify requirement isn’t part of Arizona’s “show us your papers” immigration law, SB1070, which was the subject of a hearing Wednesday in the Supreme Court. E-Verify was part of a different law that the high court upheld in a separate case last year. And the suit challenging that law wasn’t filed by the Obama administration, but by business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which particularly objected to provisions revoking the licenses of companies that repeatedly hired illegal immigrants.

So when Romney in February denounced Obama’s suit against the Arizona law and promised to drop the case if elected president, he could only have been referring to the law that the administration is actually challenging before the Supreme Court, SB1070. That’s also the law that’s been a model for Alabama, Georgia and other states, and the one that Romney’s Arizona audience heard him proclaim as a model for the nation. Even if his campaign now denies it.
Bob Egelko is the San Francisco Chronicle’s legal affairs writer.

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