DETROIT—Mitt Romney is expected to outline new proposals on immigration during a speech Thursday before a group of Latino elected officials as he seeks to navigate what has been a tricky policy issue for his campaign.
But it's unclear how specific Romney will get—or if it will be enough to satisfy critics who say he hasn't talked enough about how he would handle the issue.
A Romney adviser, who declined to be named, told Yahoo News the former Massachusetts governor will offer "new language" on immigration going beyond what he has said on the stump so far. But Romney also will focus on how the economy has affected Hispanics, including the high rate of unemployment among Latinos, suggesting immigration won't be the entire focus of his speech.
Romney aides indicated the GOP nominee will talk about the executive order President Obama approved last week that offers work permits and temporary legal status to roughly 800,000 children of illegal immigrants.
Romney has criticized the Obama policy, noting the executive order is only temporary and could be overturned by future presidents. But while he has called for a "long-term solution" on the issue, he has repeatedly declined to say if he would overturn Obama's executive order.
Many Republicans have suggested Obama's executive order was motivated more by politics than by policy. Romney has stopped short of saying politics played a role, but at a rally in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday, the GOP candidate criticized Obama for not tackling immigration policy until now.
"He was going to deal with immigration, he said, in his first year," Romney said. "Did he do anything on immigration while he had a Democratic House and Senate?"
As the crowd responded in the negative, Romney continued, "This is a president who's said one thing and done another. And I've gotta tell you, we're going to have a very different course."
Immigration has been a tricky issue for Romney. On one hand, his campaign is aiming to make in-roads with Latino voters amid national polls that show Obama with a commanding lead among Hispanics. Yet Romney is trying not to alienate conservative Republicans who are pushing for strict enforcement of existing immigration laws and new tougher restrictions on offering amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country.
Until recently, Romney tried to stick with his game plan of talking only about the economy—tweaking his message before Latino groups to highlight statistics showing that Hispanics have been hurt the most by the nation's high unemployment. As Romney often notes on the stump, 11 percent of Latinos are unemployed—roughly three points higher than the overall national average.
But Obama's executive order has put pressure on Romney to talk more specifically about how he would handle immigration as president. The big unknown is whether Romney will use his speech as an opportunity to do that—or if he will continue to focus primarily on the economy in hopes that concern over jobs will trump other issues.