MILFORD, N.H. -- Softening his rhetoric on immigration, likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Friday that the status of younger illegal immigrants is important and should be addressed with legislation. He would not say if he would reverse President Barack Obama's decision to stop deporting some who came to the U.S. as children.
The former Massachusetts governor's statement echoed the tempered reaction of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American who is working on a bill that would allow some illegal immigrants a way to get some form of legal status. Rubio, seen as a top contender for running mate on a Romney ticket, also referred to the decision as a short-term answer and criticized the policy as ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress.
Romney's reaction to Obama's announcement was significantly softer in tone than his rhetoric during the contentious GOP primary campaign. Ahead of January's Iowa caucuses, when he faced the challenge of winning over the right-wing base of the GOP, he vowed to veto the so-called DREAM Act, a bill backed by Democrats that would have created a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Instead of emphasizing the plight of illegal immigrants, Romney focused on the consequences illegal immigration has for U.S. jobs.
On Friday, Romney spoke to reporters outside his campaign bus on the opening day of a six-state tour and a few hours after Obama's announcement.
"It's an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term bias so they know what their future would be in this country," Romney said. Obama's executive order was problematic, he said, because "an executive order, of course, is a short-term matter. It can be reversed by subsequent presidents."
The changed tone reflects the demands of the general election. Republicans are working to woo Hispanic voters who have supported Democrats in previous presidential elections. They're particularly important, advisers say, in states like Nevada and Colorado, where significant Mexican and Central American populations are especially worried about immigration policy.