Here is the transcript of all comments on immigration in the debates thus far and my explanation of what I think each comment meant.
The topic of immigration did not come up once in the first presidential debate or in the only debate between vice presidential candidates. Of course, the candidates have said a number of things on the campaign trail, and those are reflected in our Presidential Grid. But the transcript below is especially important because this is what the candidates wanted to say in front of 60+ million voters.
This is my second bite at the apple. Immediately after last Tuesday's debate, I post my overall analysis of the immigration part of the debate.
In this blog, however, I want to take a more leisurely and detailed stroll through the debate comments. I welcome your own comments.
2nd PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE EXCERPTS ON IMMIGRATION
OCTOBER 16, 2012, Hofstra University, New York
The moderator was Candy Crowley, veteran journalist at CNN. President Obama and Governor Romney walked around a stage speaking to a half-circle of voters, and pointing and staring at each other.
(CROWLEY) The Gallup organization chose 82 uncommitted voters from the New York area. . . . The questions are known to me and my team only. Neither the commission, nor the candidates have seen them.
In the middle of the debate, Crowley chose a question about immigration.
(CROWLEY) . . . Lorraine Osorio has a question for you . . .
(QUESTION) Mr. Romney, what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?
This was an especially tough question in that it set a trap in front of a national audience. Notice the new euphemistic way to talk about illegal aliens who have sneaked across the border or lied on their visa applications in their promise to leave United States at a designated time? Notice that illegal aliens are described as "productive" and "members of society." This is a much different way of saying that they have stolen jobs that belonged to Americans. And the phrase "immigrants without green cards" is interesting since by legal definition an "immigrant" is somebody who HAS a green card.
But for all the dishonesty in the question, it was a good trap. It was set to force Romney to show his humanity and advocate for some kind of amnesty for most illegal foreign workers or reveal himself as "harsh" if he suggested they shouldn't stay.
I held my breath because I was sure Romney was going to back-pedal from the promises he has made for six years that the officially estimated 11 million illegal aliens should not be allowed to stay in this country.
ROMNEY ON AMNESTY, 'STAPLING' GREEN CARDS, REMOVING MAGNETS
(ROMNEY) Thank you. Lorraine? Did I get that right? Good. Thank you for your question. And let me step back and tell you what I would like to do with our immigration policy broadly and include an answer to your question.
I think this was an excellent move and gave me great relief that Romney on the spur of the moment was able to get out of the trap. No need for any of us to get trapped in a very narrow specific question that lacks context. Stepping back to look at the overall immigration context is an excellent way to react in all kinds of situations.
(ROMNEY) But first of all, this is a nation of immigrants. We welcome people coming to this country as immigrants. My dad was born in Mexico of American parents; Ann's dad was born in Wales and is a first-generation American.
I wonder if any of these politicians has any idea what it means to say "we are a nation of immigrants" since every nation can say the same thing about its past. Still, I suppose politicians can use this phrase to suggest that they aren't anti-immigrant or anti-immigration.
I guess "dad" being born in Mexico is supposed to suggest that Romney has some special tie with immigrants? But "dad" was in no way an immigrant to the U.S., or even to Mexico. Anne's dad, though, was a real immigrant.
(ROMNEY) We welcome legal immigrants into this country. I want our legal system to work better. I want it to be streamlined. I want it to be clearer. I don't think you have to -- shouldn't have to hire a lawyer to figure out how to get into this country legally.
Fair enough. NumbersUSA favors efforts to make the process of obtaining a green card faster for those who meet the criteria that serve the national interest.
(ROMNEY) I also think that we should give visas to people -- green cards, rather, to people who graduate with skills that we need. People around the world with accredited degrees in science and math get a green card stapled to their diploma, come to the U.S. of A. We should make sure our legal system works.
He just won't stop talking about this terrible idea. "Stapling" permanent work permits without reservation to every diploma of foreign students with certain degrees is about as reckless with Americans' jobs as is the Visa Lottery which raffles off U.S. jobs to foreigners without much of any criteria.
It isn't that there is no argument to be made for allowing some or many of the top foreign graduates in science and math to remain in this country, but why can't Romney ever utter the phrase "for positions that can't be filled by able and willing Americans."
NumbersUSA supports a fairly open immigration of foreigners with extraordinary skills that are in demonstrably short supply among our own population. But that requires a rigorous system to ensure that people getting these permanent work permits have truly extraordinary skills and that Americans with similar skills do not see their wages depressed or their job prospects diminished by giving out these green cards.
Neither Romney nor Obama in talking about these foreign college students ever says one word to reassure American grads that their interests will be considered in any way.
Later in this blog, I will take you through some of the very first part of the debate in which Romney and Obama displayed great concern for the 50% of recent college grads who have no job at all or can't find a degree job. Those earlier comments make me even more distressed that they both failed to show any sign of wanting to protect those very same American grads from unfair immigration policies.
(ROMNEY) Number two, we're going to have to stop illegal immigration.
Wow! What a great pivot from promoting himself as pro-legal-immigration and then raising the contrasting issue of "illegal" immigration. The woman asking the question was talking about "productive" immigrants without green cards but Romney here touched what nearly every American probably understood -- that the question was about "illegal" immigration. And he said we have to "stop" it.
(ROMNEY) There are 4 million people who are waiting in line to get here legally. Those who've come here illegally take their place. So I will not grant amnesty to those who have come here illegally.
I have such mixed feelings. When oh when are these politicians going to understand that the reason for enforcing immigration laws is not primarily about helping foreigners who want to come here legally but about protecting vulnerable American workers?
On the other hand, I have to give Romney credit for repeating what he has said for six years and what most of the mainstream media condemns him for saying -- that he won't grant amnesty.
However, he later indicated that he actually supports some kind of amnesty for younger illegal aliens. Nonetheless, I take his statement at this part of the debate to mean that he rejects a near-blanket amnesty of the type that Pres. Bush, 2008 Republican candidate John McCain and now Pres. Obama advocate for nearly all illegal foreign workers who are keeping millions of Americans unemployed.
(ROMNEY) What I will do is I'll put in place an employment verification system and make sure that employers that hire people who have come here illegally are sanctioned for doing so.
Yet another statement to show that the Romney of the Primaries is the Romney of the General Election. The most consistent element of Romney's statements about immigration has been the removal of the jobs magnet for illegal immigration, primarily through mandatory E-Verify. Here, Romney fails to use the word "mandatory" or the name "E-Verify," but I'm inclined to attribute that to the heat and pressure of the moment.
(ROMNEY) I won't put in place magnets for people coming here illegally. So for instance, I would not give driver's licenses to those that have come here illegally as the president would.
This is an abbreviated reference to Romney's long-standing opposition to any magnets of jobs or public benefits that both attract illegal foreign workers and that help them stay in this country.
(ROMNEY) The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids, I think, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States and military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident.
Whoa! what was he saying here? Despite his rejection of amnesty for all the illegal workers just a few minutes ago, he certainly seems to be saying he is favoring giving green cards to the younger illegal aliens who are -- in the words of the woman with the question -- productive members of society.
But wait, he immediately mentions military service as a way for some to get the green cards. That would affect only a tiny number of illegal aliens and also is something Romney already announced during the Florida Primary. Still, he says military service is "one way," suggesting that he also favors other ways for the younger illegal aliens to get permanent work permits.
Romney's answer could mean that he is favorable to an amnesty for up to 2 million of the 11 million illegal aliens, or perhaps only a fraction of the 2 million who are under age 31 and who were brought here illegally as children.
The question I am getting from lots of reporters is whether this means Romney has abandoned his promise during the Primaries that he would veto the DREAM Act amnesty.
My answer is that I don't think it violates the promise. The DREAM Act is all amnesty with no enforcement to prevent parents in the future from bringing their kids here for long periods of illegal residency. Because Romney has been so firm about mandatory E-Verify, and because of other comments he has made the last few months, I believe Romney is contemplating an amnesty for some portion of the DREAM Act beneficiaries but only when combined with other conditions such as mandatory E-Verify. That may or may not be a consolation to opponents of amnesty.
ROMNEY TAUNTS OBAMA FOR NOT TRYING TO PASS AMNESTY
(ROMNEY) Now when the president ran for office, he said that he'd put in place, in his first year, a piece of legislation -- he'd file a bill in his first year that would reform our -- our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration. He didn't do it. He had a Democrat House, a Democrat Senate, super majority in both Houses. Why did he fail to even promote legislation that would have provided an answer for those that want to come legally and for those that are here illegally today? That's a question I think the -- the president will have a chance to answer right now.
This last comment adds further weight to the sense that Romney in this debate was promising some kind of amnesty for at least some of the younger illegal aliens. He taunted the President for not trying to pass immigration reform legislation when he had a super majority of his Party in Congress.
I think he is right to seem to suggest that Obama probably could have gotten immigration legislation passed if he had brought it up in the first year before his political capital had been so drained by other policy battles.
But I hate this line of argument that he has been using since he sewed up the GOP nomination and got additional advisors who are re-treads from the open-borders Bush Administration.
OBAMA TALKS BORDER, AMNESTY & SELF-DEPORTATION
(OBAMA) We are a nation of immigrants. I mean we're just a few miles away from Ellis Island. We all understand what this country has become because talent from all around the world wants to come here. People are willing to take risks. People who want to build on their dreams and make sure their kids have an even bigger dreams than they have.
I laughed when I heard Obama sound like he had to at least match Romney's pandering to the immigration mythology of the country. But I will cut him slack on this; it is like kissing babies -- just something most politicians have to do.
(OBAMA) But we're also a nation of laws. So what I've said is we need to fix a broken immigration system and I've done everything that I can on my own and sought cooperation from Congress to make sure that we fix the system. The first thing we did was to streamline the legal immigration system, to reduce the backlog, make it easier, simpler and cheaper for people who are waiting in line, obeying the law to make sure that they can come here and contribute to our country and that's good for our economic growth.
They'll start new businesses. They'll make things happen to create jobs here in the United States.
This segment is basically a point by point agreement with Romney in backing the ideas of streamlining the immigration process and in praising immigrants as holding the key to the country's economic growth.
Like Romney, he showed no sign of recognition that immigrants taking U.S. jobs might not be the best thing for unemployed Americans. Instead, he bought into Romney's earlier suggestion that immigrants can create jobs in ways that Americans can't.
(OBAMA) Number two, we do have to deal with our border so we put more border patrol on the -- any time in history and the flow of undocumented works across the border is actually lower than it's been in 40 years.
I find this to be quite encouraging. Rather than pander to the woman with the question designed to help a candidate supporting amnesty, Obama apparently felt he needed first to show that he is pro-enforcement. And he wanted to brag about the low flow of illegal immigrants -- although most experts on both sides of our issue believe that is more the result of the bad U.S. economy rather than improved enforcement.
Obama could have pushed his enforcement credentials further by talking about the relatively high level of deportations under his Administration. But he didn't, perhaps fearing a backlash among the open-borders wing of his Party which earlier in the year threatened to depress the vote if he didn't slow down deportations.
(OBAMA) What I've also said is if we're going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families. And that's what we've done.
This is where it got ugly, although Obama cleverly may have said things in a way that weren't clear to the average voter.
What he essentially said is that he doesn't believe immigration laws should be enforced against illegal aliens who aren't gang bangers and aren't otherwise violent threats to "the community."
That means non-violent illegal workers are free to continue to take jobs from unemployed Americans. It would seem to mean that the some 45 million legal visitors to the U.S. each year should feel free to over-stay their visas and take as many jobs from Americans as they can -- and depress wages down to the minimum legal level -- as long as they don't behave violently toward our community. Obama sent the word to the whole world at this part of the debate that he doesn't believe in the deterrent effect of threatening non-violent visa-overstayers with potential detainment and deportation.
(OBAMA) And what I've also said is for young people who come here, brought here often times by their parents. Had gone to school here, pledged allegiance to the flag. Think of this as their country. Understand themselves as Americans in every way except having papers. And we should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship.
And that's what I've done administratively.
Obama repeats what he has always said about his support for an amnesty for younger illegal aliens, including his admission that he has given the amnesty administratively.
Interestingly, though, he limited his call for amnesty to these potentially 2 million illegal aliens rather than call for a path to citizenship for all 11 million. I have no reason to believe he has backed off his desire for a blanket amnesty, but the fact he didn't mention it suggests that his campaign team feels that only the younger illegal aliens are sympathetic to the general voting public.
(OBAMA) Now, Governor Romney just said, you know he wants to help those young people too, but during the Republican primary, he said, "I will veto the DREAM Act", that would allow these young people to have access."
Obama understandably wasn't going to let Romney get away with appealing to pro-amnesty voters, even though he should have been pleased to get Romney's support for the amnesty for younger illegal aliens.
Nonetheless, as I noted earlier, Romney has room to oppose the DREAM Act -- which has no improved enforcement in it -- and still favor some amnesty for younger illegal aliens if it is acompanied by mandatory E-Verify and perhaps some off-sets in the importation of immigrants whose skills are not needed.
(OBAMA) His main strategy during the Republican primary was to say, "We're going to encourage self-deportation." Making life so miserable on folks that they'll leave.
It is truly amazing to me that so many people -- including the President of the Untied States -- consider it draconian to have a policy that encourages illegal aliens to go home on their own without U.S. taxpayers having to pay the costs of deporting them. THAT is what "self-deportation" is.
Frankly, I'm outraged that a President of the United States would make this statement in the debate.
What was Obama trying to tell the hundreds of millions of workers around the world who would like the higher wages of a U.S. job? Was he telling them that the policy of the U.S. is to make life COMFORTABLE for those who overstay their visas and illegally take jobs from vulnerable Americans?
Does the President not understand that the basis of nearly every federal law is to make law-breaking so uncomfortable that most people will voluntarily obey the law?
Earlier, the President already said he doesn't want to deport any illegal foreign worker except those who are violent. Now he ridicules and demonizes the idea of encouraging illegal aliens to go home on their own because they are prevented from getting jobs. (which is the foundation of all of Romney's comments on self-deportation).
After ruling out those two forms of government deterrence to illegal aliens taking U.S. jobs, what's left to protect American workers? Precious little!
(OBAMA) He called the Arizona law a model for the nation. Part of the Arizona law said that law enforcement officers could stop folks because they suspected maybe they looked like they might be undocumented workers and check their papers.
You know what? If my daughter or yours looks to somebody like they're not a citizen, I don't want -- I don't want to empower somebody like that.
There were some nasty and totally unsubstantiated things said by both candidates during this pugnacious debate. But this descent into race-baiting based on a widely disproved description of Romney's position on Arizona law competes for some kind of prize.
First, Obama was describing an Airzona legal provision that the U.S. Supreme Court this year refused to over-turn because it does NOT do the things that Obama said it does.
Secondly, he repeats a fabrication that the open-borders crowd has been pushing for months despite confirmation by every mainstream media fact-checker that Romney never called that provision of the Arizona law a model for the nation.
(OBAMA) So, we can fix this system in a comprehensive way. And when Governor Romney says, the challenge is, "Well Obama didn't try." That's not true. I have sat down with Democrats and Republicans at the beginning of my term. And I said, let's fix this system. Including Senators previously who had supported it on the Republican side. But it's very hard for Republicans in Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform, if their standard bearer has said that this is not something I'm interested in supporting.
I don't blame Obama for being ticked at Romney's repeated charges of failure to act. The Romney campaign's repetition of this charge is certainly disingenuous when one considers that Romney opposes the legislation he taunts Obama for not pushing to a vote in Congress.
On the other hand, Obama seems to be saying that the only way he would bring his amnesty bills to a vote is if he were assured of winning and of having the political cover of a bunch of Republicans voting for it. That certainly wasn't his stance on other controversial issues. I think Obama didn't bring his amnesty wishes to a vote in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress because he felt it would hurt his re-election bid in 2012. And the American people can be most thankful to him for making that assessment and decision.
(CROWLEY) Let me get the governor in here, Mr. President. Let's speak to, if you could. to the idea of self-deportation?
(ROMNEY) No, let -- let -- let me go back and speak to the points that the president made and -- and -- and let's get them correct.
I did not say that the Arizona law was a model for the nation in that aspect. I said that the E-Verify portion of the Arizona law, which is -- which is the portion of the law which says that employers could be able to determine whether someone is here illegally or not illegally, that that was a model for the nation. That's number one.
The fact that Romney went out of his way to make it clear that the model he wants the nation to follow is Arizona's mandatory E-Verify for all employer is one of the most reassuring things to come out of this debate.
(ROMNEY) Number two, I asked the president a question I think Hispanics and immigrants all over the nation have asked. He was asked this on Univision the other day. Why, when you said you'd filed legislation in your first year didn't you do it? And he didn't answer. He -- he doesn't answer that question. He said the standard bearer wasn't for it. I'm glad you thought I was a standard bearer four years ago, but I wasn't.
Four years ago you said in your first year you would file legislation.
In his first year, I was just getting -- licking my wounds from having been beaten by John McCain, all right. I was not the standard bearer.
My -- my view is that this president should have honored his promise to do as he said.
What? This is Romney trying to score some political points that are totally divorced from and contradictory to the policies he has advocated. Why in the world would a person who opposes a blanket amnesty and supports mandatory E-Verify wish that Obama had used his political capital in his first year to push through blanket amnesty that also didn't include mandatory E-Verify?
Also, Romney misunderstood what Obama was saying about "the standard bearer" not supporting "comprehensive immigration reform" in private meetings after the election. Obama wasn't referring to Romney but to John McCain who had been the chief Republican champion for amnesty until the 2008 Primaries forced him to change his position. I can understand Obama's frustration with McCain and I also am overjoyed with that frustration that protected millions of American workers from a massive new amnesty and increase in green cards, represented by the legislation that Obama says he still wants.
(ROMNEY) Now, let me mention one other thing, and that is self-deportation says let people make their own choice. What I was saying is, we're not going to round up 12 million people, undocumented illegals, and take them out of the nation. Instead let people make their own choice. And if they -- if they find that -- that they can't get the benefits here that they want and they can't -- and they can't find the job they want, then they'll make a decision to go a place where -- where they have better opportunities.
But I'm not in favor of rounding up people and -- and -- and taking them out of this country. I am in favor, as the president has said, and I agree with him, which is that if people have committed crimes we got to get them out of this country.
With most of the nation's editorial writers treating the concept of self-deportation as harsh or laughable, and with the Bush wing of the Republican Party begging him to abandon the concept, Romney's answer here is a sign of both great political courage and conviction. Or maybe it isn't courage if he simply believes in the intelligence of the majority of the American people to understand that self-deportation is the only real alternative to mass roundups -- and a less costly and more humane one at that.
Romney has been given several chances to back away from what we prefer to call "Attrition Through Enforcement," but has always stood by his position. While he has given Americans very little reassurance that he would protect vulnerable workers from mass legal immigration, he has been steadfast in insistence on measures against illegal immigrant workers holding jobs.
OBAMA TRIES THE ARIZONA ATTACK AGAIN
After Romney tried to engage in another topic and with Crowley, Romney and Obama talking over each other, Obama got in some final words on the immigration issue.
OBAMA: I do want to make sure that -- I do want to make sure that we just understand something. Governor Romney says he wasn't referring to Arizona as a model for the nation. His top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the entirety of it; not E-Verify, the whole thing. That's his policy. And it's a bad policy. And it won't help us grow.
As if to underscore everything negative I said about Obama on this point earlier, he came back to try to make his fabrication stick. And he misquotes what Romney just said. Romney said that he DOES think Arizona is a model for the nation, but on the E-Verify law.
Obama then engaged in a logical fallacy by seeming to suggest that because the author of the other Arizona law is an advisor (informal and certainly not the top one) of Romney's that Romney is responsible for that other law.
(OBAMA) Look, when we think about immigration, we have to understand there are folks all around the world who still see America as the land of promise. And they provide us energy and they provide us innovation and they start companies like Intel and Google. And we want to encourage that.
Now, we've got to make sure that we do it in a smart way and a comprehensive way, and we make the legal system better. But when we make this into a divisive political issue, and when we don't have bipartisan support -- I can deliver, Governor, a whole bunch of Democrats to get comprehensive immigration reform done, and we can't...
ROMNEY: I'll get it done. I'll get it done. First year...
OBAMA: ... we can't -- we have not seen Republicans serious about this issue at all. And it's time for them to get serious on it.
Oh, boy. So, we have Romney at the end promising to do what? Pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill that is a blanket amnesty and includes big increases in green cards for even more foreign workers than a million a year?
We can only hope that Romney was referring to the immigration reform he had been outlining throughout the debate and not that he would pass Obama's immigration agenda in the first year.
And sadly we had the President of the United States seeming to suggest that 310 million Americans don't contain enough brains and creativity to provide the "energy" and "innovation" that our economy needs.
I have to conclude that if Obama is re-elected we will have to mobilize as never before to stop his dreams of overwhelming the American worker with both legal and illegal foreign labor competition, and that if Romney is elected we will have to mobilize at the same level to try to keep him focused on his "self-deportation" agenda and afraid to carry out the wishes of his advisors from the Bush Administration who want the part of Obama's agenda of overwhelming the labor supply with legal foreign workers.
RESPONSES TO THE JOBS QUESTION AT THE FIRST THAT MISSED THE IMMIGRATION ANGLE
Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of this debate was the fact that it began with a clear question about the terrible jobs prospects for so many Americans. It was a perfect opening for a candidate to explain why immigration policies should be set based on helping and not hurting the most vulnerable of our fellow Americans.
(CROWLEY) . . . Governor Romney, as you know, you won the coin toss, so the first question will go to you. And I want to turn to a first-time voter, Jeremy Epstein, who has a question for you.
(QUESTION) Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?
Hats off to Crowley for apparently choosing this as the first question. She tried to get the candidates focused on what both have said for four years should be "Job No. 1" but it took them little time to get off the topic and never really come back to it. Still, notice how later comments by Romney and Obama seem to show amnesia about the concern they show here for young Jeremy.
(ROMNEY) . . . Your question -- your question is one that's being asked by college kids all over this country. . . . But the key thing is to make sure you can get a job when you get out of school. And what's happened over the last four years has been very, very hard for America's young people. I want you to be able to get a job. . . . With half of college kids graduating this year without a . . . college level job, that's just unacceptable.
Hooray. Romney stated the fact that we use all the time to call for restraint in importing even college-educated immigrants. He talked about the half of all recent college graduates who have no job at all or a job that doesn't require a degree. Unfortunately when he talked about immigration later, he seemed to have lost all sight of all the jobless and underemployed American college grads, showing not one ounce of interest in having immigration rules that protect Americans' ability to get jobs ahead of bringing in new immigrant workers.
(OBAMA) Jeremy, first of all, your future is bright. And the fact that you're making an investment in higher education is critical. Not just to you, but to the entire nation. Now, the most important thing we can do is to make sure that we are creating jobs in this country. But not just jobs, good paying jobs. Ones that can support a family. . . . I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again.
I can't help but comment that Obama's commitment to creating manufacturing jobs is not the same as a commitment to put Americans IN those jobs. For four years, he has resisted both federal and state efforts to mandate E-Verify so that manufacturing jobs will go to Americans who want them, instead of to citizens of other countries who break our immigration and visa laws.
(OBAMA) Number two, we've got to make sure that we have the best education system in the world. And the fact that you're going to college is great, but I want everybody to get a great education and we've worked hard to make sure that student loans are available for folks like you, but I also want to make sure that community colleges are offering slots for workers to get retrained for the jobs that are out there right now and the jobs of the future.
The President has presided for four years over a system that gives a million permanent work permits to immigrants each year at every skill level to compete with Americans who have elevated unemployment rates at every one of those skill levels. No doubt, there are some skills in short supply. But the President and his Administration have shown no inclination that they are interested in knowing whether an immigrant's skill is in short supply before giving out the green card.
ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Oct 23rd 2012 @ 11:10am EDT