In an appearance in New Hampshire on Monday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reminded voters that he has “personal experience” in hiring undocumented immigrants.
And if that weren’t strange enough, Romney then immediately suggested that he wonders about immigration status every time he hears someone speaking with “an accent.”
“The first priority: get the fence built,” he said, responding to a woman’s question about immigration policy. “At the same time, have an employment verification system so that we know who’s here legally and who’s not here legally. I have personal experience with this. You don’t know who is here legally. You don’t have a way of telling. If someone comes and they, they speak with an accent, you say, ‘Well, are you here legally or illegally?’ And they tell ya — well, how do you know?
“So, I want an employment verification system with a card where it indicates if they’re here legally, if they’re here illegally, what their work status is so you can hire them. If they’re not here legally, you know you don’t hire them. And we need to have that kind of system or we don’t know who’s here legally or not. So, those are the first few things.”
One key problem with Romney’s answer: his handlers probably don’t want him reminding voters that he had a team of undocumented immigrant workers taking care of his lawn for over a year, even after a reporter notified him of their status.
But Romney’s “personal experience” in paying undocumented immigrants didn’t stop there.
When Romney was CEO of Bain Capital, a venture firm best known for buying up large businesses, selling off their most valuable assets and firing all their workers, he found his company paying illegal workers at a subsidiary in Providence, Rhode Island. Bain-owned Waters Corps. had been employing the services of Aid-Maintenance Co. for cleaning services — and Aid-Maintenance Co. had a long history of hiring undocumented immigrants.
Luckily for Romney, Bain did not own Aid-Maintenance Co., it was merely paying them. Much like his scrape with The Boston Globe, in this case too he claims ignorance, even though the CEO of Aid-Maintenance Co. was fined over $130,000 in the years before he accepted a contract with the Bain-owned firm.
Another basic issue with Romney’s response: the program he proposed already exists.
It’s called E-Verify, and it works by cross-referencing the Social Security and Homeland Security databases for basic employment information workers are required to submit before they can be put on payroll. The system serves the dual purpose of validating an individual’s citizenship and eligibility to work if they’re not a citizen, meaning there is already a card that signifies one’s legal work status.
If an employer doesn’t use that, then they’re probably not interested in knowing their employees’ citizenship status and could be held accountable by the federal government for hiring ineligible workers. First time offenders can be fined up to $2,000 per worker, and the fee doubles on second offense.
If Romney did know of this program and is actually calling for another one that’s similar or larger, it’s not clear what that might be. Either he’s proposing that the federal government begin issuing special identification cards to each citizen qualifying them to work in the U.S., or he’s proposing a federal mandate to the states, which would seem to go against his closely held views on states’ rights.
Problem is, Romney doesn’t elaborate on his official campaign website, and the only mentions of immigration to be found on his “jobs” page are references to “human capital” and the importance of attracting immigrants with advanced degrees. The only other mention of immigration, in his foreign policy plan, simply states that Romney would build a border fence and use the military in tandem with Mexican troops to escalate prosecution of the U.S. drug war.
This video was published to YouTube on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012.
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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