Will Romney get more specific on immigration?

Romney: Politics "a big part" of Obama immigration policy
Mitt Romney told CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer that politics was "a big part of the equation" in President Obama's executive order on illegal immigration.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has followed a winding road on the issue of immigration. During the primaries he struck a tough tone, saying he supports the concept of self-deportation - tough enforcement mechanisms and employment verification systems that will prompt undocumented immigrants to return to their country of origin. But since he became the presumptive nominee, Romney has not uttered the term "self-deportation". He has also distanced himself from one of the people who coined the term, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, downgrading him from an "immigration adviser" to a "supporter." 

President Obama's announcement that his administration has moved to allow up to 1.4 million children of illegal immigrants apply for work visas, meanwhile, has put Romney in a box. On Sunday, in an interview with CBS News' "Face the Nation," Romney would not be specificabout whether he would reverse the president's action.

During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Romney policy director Lanhee Chen said he "will have a few more things to say there about immigration" when he speaks to the annual conference of the nonpartisan National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Orlando on Thursday.

But there are indications that the economy, not immigration, is going to be Romney's main focus before the Latino audience. Speaking to reporters, Chen pivoted from questions about immigration to the economy, saying the economy has "really failed the Latino community," as The Hill reported.

Comments by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also suggest a focus on the economy.  During an interview on Fox News' "Hannity" program on Monday, Rubio said that Hispanics care about more than immigration.

"The economy and economy downturn under Barack Obama has especially hurt Americans of Hispanic descent," he said, adding, the president is "changing the narrative on this issue because he has a propensity problem."

According to Republican strategist Terry Nelson, it makes sense for Romney to play down immigration and play up the nation's economic struggles.

"I think it's smart for them to be focused on the economy," he said. "It's a smart strategy."

Romney himself has acknowledged that he may well be doomed if he cannot at least somewhat shrink the president's large lead among the fast-growing Latino population. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Republican nominee in 2008, received only 31 percent of the Latino vote.

"Republicans have to do better with Latino voters than they have been doing," said Nelson, who worked on McCain's campaign in 2007 and on President George W. Bush's 2004 campaign in which Mr. Bush received 44 percent of the Latino vote.

Jill Wilson, senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution, said that Romney "can't just say the economy's number one" and win Latinos. She argued that many Latinos don't see immigration and the economy as mutually exclusive.

Twenty-five year old undocumented Arizona resident Erika Andiola, who holds a psychology degree from Arizona State University, made that very connection, telling CBS News she was unable to find a job in her field because of her immigration status.

"As soon as we can start using our degrees we can start contributing to the economy," Andiola said.

Wilson said the president's recent immigration action puts more pressure on the federal government to pass a more permanent solution. It also means more pressure on Romney to clearly define a position despite being boxed in between a Republican base largely hostile to illegal immigration and a Latino population that is far more sympathetic.

"I don't think they can ignore it. It brings it to the fore," Wilson said.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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