Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney brought his presidential campaign back to Arizona for a quick news conference and a fundraiser Tuesday. The Republican with the Ted Danson looks told reporters during a 14-minute question-and-answer session that he wants to secure the border and require illegal immigrants already living in this country to register with the U.S. government.
“I would suggest or would recommend that the first thing we do with those that are here is require them to register. And when we learn how many people there are and what their individual circumstances are, then we could decide how to proceed with each individual,” he said.
One of Romney’s advisers, Phoenix attorney Paul Gilbert, said Romney has no intention of conceding Arizona to Sen. John McCain, the home state Republican seeking the nation’s top office in 2008.
Romney said that his read of the immigration bill offered last year by McCain and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would have created “virtual amnesty” for illegal immigrants already living in the United States.
“There should not be an advantage given to people who are here illegally to do so,” Romney said. “So, whether somebody is in, let’s say, Argentina, that wants to apply for citizenship or a green card, or somebody who’s in New Bedford, who’s not legal today, they get in the same line—no advantage towards a path toward citizenship.”
Romney said the McCain-Kennedy bill, which passed in the Senate and failed in the House, would have provided an advantage to those living here illegally, providing them certain Social Security benefits, plus a pathway to citizenship for those entering with temporary worker status.
Romney offered no immediate alternative plan for the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. He said officials must determine how many there are and who they are.
“We don’t know what that number is. We don’t know their individual circumstances,” he said. “Some have family members who are U.S. citizens. Some have been here a long time. Some have been here a very short period of time. Some are gainfully employed. Some are receiving government benefits,” he said.
Romney continues to poll in the single digits both nationally and in Arizona, but poll results 20 months before the election are hard to gauge, national pollster Michael Gross said in an interview.