RNC Hispanic outreach director: Romney "still deciding" immigration position

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign stop in Chantilly, Va., Wednesday, May 2, 2012.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Updated: 5:50 p.m. ET

(CBS News) A press briefing meant to promote the Republican National Committee's efforts to reach out to Hispanic voters went awry when the committee's director of Hispanic Outreach said Mitt Romney had not yet established an immigration policy.

"My understanding that he is still deciding what his position on immigration is," said Bettina Inclan, the RNC's Director of Hispanic Outreach when asked how she planned to deal with concerns from Hispanic voters that Republican policies on immigration are too restrictive.

Within an hour of the briefing's conclusion, Inclan sent a tweet from her account saying, "I misspoke, Romney's position on immigration is clear," with a link to the page on Romney's immigration policy from his website.

However, Inclan was correct in suggesting that Romney's immigration policies are somewhat in flux. During the GOP primary, Romney moved to the right of most of his rivals on immigration, espousing a policy of "self-deportation" for people in the country and saying he would veto the Democratic version of a key initiative, the Dream Act. But recently Romney said he would consider supporting a new version of the Dream Act proposed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, It would allow some children of undocumented workers to remain in the country but, unlike the Democratic proposal, would offer no path to citizenship.

The RNC episode, which occurred the same day as President Obama's campaign released its second round of Spanish-language radio and TV ads, demonstrated the fledgling nature of the GOP operation as it gears up to try to reduce Obama's huge lead among Latino voters. Aside from a pledge to contact those voters and devote resources to bilingual communication, the RNC's plans are still in the works.

The Obama campaign's spokesman for Hispanic issues, Gabriela Domenzain, said in a statement after the RNC briefing, "Over the past year Mitt Romney has proven time and time again that he is the most extreme presidential candidate in modern history on immigration. His position may be inconvenient, but it has been clear. He has promised to veto the DREAM Act, thinks all undocumented immigrants should self-deport, has called the anti-immigrant Arizona law a 'model' for the nation and has paraded around the country with the nation's leading anti-immigrant voices."

At the briefing, Inclan argued that Latino voters had suffered under President Obama's economic policies and would be drawn to Republican ideas as a result. She steered clear of immigration for most of the briefing, but criticized Obama's deportation record when asked how Republicans would talk to Hispanic voters about the president's record.

"Hispanics are incredibly disappointed in president Obama on immigration," she said. "This is a president who as a candidate promised immigration reform, promised it in his first year, three years later we still don't even have a plan. He talked about uniting families and all he's done is deport more immigrants than any president in American history."

The RNC is revamping its efforts to reach out to Hispanics after Obama won them resoundingly with 67 percent support four years ago. Within the last few weeks, the committee named state directors for Hispanic outreach in New Mexico, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia -- all battleground states. In 2008, it had no Hispanic outreach directors.

RNC officials declined to say what percentage of the Hispanic vote Romney needs to win the election. They acknowledged they need to repair relationships with the community, without specifically acknowledging that harsh Republican rhetoric on immigration during the primary may have contributed to the problem.

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, released two Spanish-language television and radio ads that will air in Colorado, Nevada and Florida. The first features Latino campaign volunteers telling personal stories, and the second touts the president's work on the health care overhaul of 2010.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.