Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says that if he is elected, he will not deport those granted protected status under President Obama's deferred action program.
Romney's words are significant because thus far has been vague about how he would handle young undocumented immigrants granted a temporary reprieve from deportation under the Obama administration program. The candidate said he would not revoke "visas" granted to immigrants who receive deferred action.
"The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I'm not going to take something that they've purchased," Romney said in an interview with the Denver Post. "Before those visas have expired we will have the full immigration reform plan that I've proposed."
At a Univision event last month, Romney said he would not use government resources to aggressively pursue undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., but defended his plan to put in place tough enforcement measures that would nudge them to leave the country on their own (aka self-deport).
"I am not going to be going around the country and rounding them up," he said.
He also recited his oft-repeated line about finding a "permanent solution" for DREAMers, or people brought to the U.S. by their parents at a young age without documents (and the same people who are eligible for deferred action).
But Romney has not defined what that permanent solution would look like, beyond granting a pathway to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who serve in the military.
The Obama campaign criticized Romney's remarks as vague.
"He still has not said whether he would continue the Administration's policy that provides a temporary reprieve from deportation for young people who were brought here through no fault of their own," Obama for America spokeswoman Gabriela Domenzain said in a statement. "Would he side with his extreme anti-immigration advisors and repeal this measure? What would he do with those who qualify for deferred action but haven't received it? Would he deport those who have received a deferment when the program expires after two years?"
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a vocal advocate of the DREAM Act, issued his own statement slamming the Republican candidate for pandering for votes.
"Protecting these young immigrants from being deported sounds no more important to Mitt Romney than protecting someone who bought a sweater at the mall," he said in a statement. " I have news for Mitt Romney: you don't 'purchase' fairness, you earn it, and these young people earn it every day of their lives."
Even Romney's top aides have professed not to know how he would handle the recipients of deferred action.
"I don't know the answer or that, I haven't heard him speak about it one way or the other," former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said at the Republican National Convention in August.
Under the Obama administration program, certain young undocumented immigrants who have a clean record andare seeking a college degree or military service can receive a two-year reprieve from deportation and also apply for a work permit.
While Romney now says he will not deport those granted a reprieve under deferred action, it's not known what he would do with the program, or the undocumented students, should his immigration plan fail to advance in Congress. He criticized the president's program when it was announced in June as a temporary measure that would make it harder to achieve a long-term immigration overhaul.
"I actually will propose a piece of legislation which will reform our immigration system to improve legal immigration so people don't have to hire lawyers to figure out how to get here legally," Romney told the Denver Post Monday. "The president promised in his first year, his highest priority, that he would reform immigration and he didn't. And I will."