WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign enlisted two Hispanic lawmakers on Wednesday to blast Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney over his tough talk against undocumented immigrants.
The assault underlined how the Obama camp sees Romney as its most likely opponent in the November 2012 elections and highlighted the importance of Latino voters in what promises to be a hard-fought national battle.
Romney “feels that he needs to oppose any kind of humane policy no matter how it betrays the legacy of our nation — we were created by immigrants,” Democratic Representative Silvestre Reyes told reporters on a conference call organized by the Obama campaign.
The former Massachusetts governor has espoused an “anything short of deportation is not a solution, anything short of deportation is amnesty” approach, charged Democratic Representative Charles Gonzalez.
“We know that is not a workable solution,” Gonzalez, who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said on the same call as the Obama camp bludgeoned the Republican with his own words in a debate a day earlier.
Romney broke sharply Tuesday with former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who set himself apart from party hardliners to advocate a plan to allow some undocumented immigrants to stay on US soil — notably to avoid breaking up families.
“I’m prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families,” said Gingrich.
But Romney scolded that “amnesty is a magnet.”
“We’ve got to stop illegal immigration. That means turning off the magnets of amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, employers that knowingly hire people that have come here illegally,” he said.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt charged Romney had “demagogued the issue of immigration in a politically craven way” and called him “the most right-wing presidential candidate in recent presidential history on this issue.”
And Reyes told reporters it was “incredibly perplexing” for Romney, a Mormon, to adopt such a hardline stance given “attacks on his religion” from conservatives who regard it as an un-Christian cult.
“Being subjected to intolerance like that about his own religion, to me you would think that he would be, in terms of his policies and in terms of his positions, would take a more tolerant view,” said Reyes.
Obama himself has yet to make a major push behind a comprehensive immigration policy overhaul, and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency deported a record 396,906 individuals over the past year.
That figure brought to more than one million the number of immigrants deported under Obama.
Some 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, according to official government statistics.