HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney both claimed to support comprehensive immigration reform during the second presidential debate Tuesday, but differed in their definitions of what the term meant.
Romney argued in favor of welcoming immigrants into the country, and said visas should be made more readily available for people who graduate with needed skills. He also called for pathways for immigrants to become permanent residents, including military service.
He accused Obama of failing to take action on immigration reform.
"When President Obama came into office, he filed a bill in his first year to reform immigration," Romney said, but despite a Democratic House and Senate with a supermajority in the latter, "he didn't do it."
Obama agreed that legal immigration should be encouraged, and the law needs to be respected, but he argued that authorities should not come after students or people trying to better their lives, but rather after criminals and people "who are hurting the community."
He reiterated his support of the DREAM Act, in which some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors could obtain temporary residency through attending college or going through military service.
Obama accused Romney of saying: "'I will veto the DREAM Act that will allow these young people to have access.' His main strategy during the Republican primary was, 'We're going to create self-deportation,' making life so miserable for these folks that they'll leave."
Obama also accused Romney of calling the Arizona immigration law "a model for the nation." Arizona SB 1080 requires police officers in that state to demand proof of legal residence during traffic stops on a standard of reasonable suspicion, and has been called a form of racial profiling.
As quoted by the Washington Post, Romney said during the Republican presidential primary debate in February, "I think you see a model in Arizona." But at the debate Tuesday, he said he had never meant that the entire Arizona law was a model for the nation, but rather just the E-verify employment verification system.
He also defended the self-deportation policy, calling it a better option than mass-arrests and deportations.
"We're not going to round up 12 million people – undocumented illegals – out of the nation," Romney said. "Instead, they'll make their own choice. If they find they can't get the benefits they want, that they can't get the jobs they want, they'll go elsewhere and make their own opportunities."
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