Obama vs. Romney: Arizona's Anti-Immigration Law Gets Mention During Second Presidential Debate

Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama during contentious second debate.
Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama during contentious second debate.

Arizona's anti-immigration laws and policies were center stage during part of the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York.

President Barack Obama criticized Governor Mitt Romney for pledging to veto the DREAM Act and saying that "self deportation" was his plan to address the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

"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. 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," Obama said.

See also: DREAM Act Lite: DHS Releases Deferred Action Forms for Undocumented Immigrants

Romney corrected the president on his comment about Arizona's law being a model for the nation:

"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."

Obama came back to reiterate that Romney -- even if he wasn't referring to SB 1070 as a model for the nation, one of Romney's advisers is the author of that law, which mandates that local cops act as immigration-enforcement officials and question individuals they suspect are undocumented about their immigration status.

"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," he said.

Several media and political fact checks found that Romney was correct in that his reference to E-verify, but also noted that Romney widely supports Arizona's SB 1070 and said during his primary campaign that he would drop the federal lawsuits against it from "day one."

The Romney campaign also has tried to distance itself from Kris Kobach, who helped draft the SB 1070 law and filed suit to stop Obama's administrative action.

From ABC News:

In April, the Romney campaign described Kobach as a "supporter" rather than an adviser to Politico's Glenn Thrush, but Kobach then told ThinkProgress he was communicating regularly with senior Romney advisers.

Kobach still was "providing advice on immigration policy," he told ThinkProgress. "I don't want to go into great detail, but I communicate regularly with senior members of Romney's team."

Romney repeatedly criticized Obama for not even trying to fulfill his promise to pass comprehensive-immigration reform during his first year in office.

Obama said that wasn't 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."

The moderator asked Romney about his ideas on "self deportation," a comment he made during a primary debate against fellow Republicans vying for their party's nomination.

"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," Romney said. "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."

After questions about job growth, tax policies, gas prices, and workplace equity for women, a young woman asked Romney what he plans on "doing with immigrants without their green cards who are currently living here as productive members of society."

Romney says no amnesty, no driver's license -- that the priority is that the U.S must stop illegal immigration.

"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," he says.

Romney's plan includes putting in place sanctions for employers who "hire people who have come here illegally ... 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."

  And despite Romney's previous opposition to the DREAM Act, he said during the Tuesday town-hall style debate that 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."

Then, Romney mentioned again that "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."

Obama fired back by pointing out that "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."

At the debate, Obama also talked about adding more Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexican border, noting that "anytime in history, the flow of undocumented workers across the border is actually lower than it's been in 40 years."

Obama's most recent administrative policies direct immigration-enforcement officials to focus deportations on illegal immigrants who are dangerous criminals and grant temporary relief from deportation for young undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. as children, and giving them a permit to work.

"If we're going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gangbangers, 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," Obama told the audience.

"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."

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