"Immigration reform is not just a moral imperative, it's also an economic necessity," Romney said. "Immigrants with advanced degrees start companies, create jobs, and they drive innovation at a very high rate. Immigrants founded or co-founded nearly half of our 50 top venture-backed companies in this country – nearly half. They are nearly 30 percent more likely to start a business. And that kind of risk-taking is something we need more than ever because new business start-ups in America are at a 30-year low. I will work with states and employers to update our temporary worker visa program so that it meets our economic needs. And if you get an advanced degree here, we want you to stay here – so I'd staple a green card to the diploma of someone who gets an advanced degree in America. We want the best and brightest to enrich the nation through the jobs and technologies they're going to create."
Another potential boost for Romney's chances with the Hispanic community is the fact that Latino turnout this fall may not meet initially high expectations. While NALEO last year predicted that as many as 12.2 million Latinos would vote this fall, a recent projection by the William C. Velasquez Institute said the eventual number may be "no higher than 10.5 million votes cast." In recent years, the number of registered Latino voters has dropped significantly, from 11.6 million in 2008 to 10.9 million in 2010. If Latinos do not head to the polls in droves come November, that would hurt Obama, who enjoys greater support among the country's largest ethnic minority.
If Romney is to cut into Obama's advantage with Latinos, the former Massachusetts governor will have to overcome some criticism stemming from comments he made during the GOP primary. Over the course of the battle for his party's nomination earlier this year, Romney vowed to veto the DREAM Act, praised Arizona's controversial new anti-immigrant law, and touted the endorsement of controversial anti-immigration activist Kris Kobach.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, said in an interview with ABC News in April that during the primary he found many comments "offensive" and called it the worst rhetoric he had heard "in the last 40 years." Even Latino Republicans criticized some of Romney's comments: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, said she had "no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign."
The DREAM Act, for instance, is a Democratic measure – rejected by Congress in late 2010 – that would provide a path to citizenship for some children of illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military. Romney has previously stated that he supported the military aspect of the bill, a stance he reiterated Thursday. But if anyone in the crowd was hoping for Romney to back the academic portion of the bill or offer a more specific immigration plan, they would have left disappointed.
Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum Action Fund, voiced dissatisfaction with Romney's address.
"At his NALEO speech, Mitt Romney fell short," he said. "American voters want – and the Republican Party needs – visionary plans to fix the immigration system, not tweaks around the margin where the only path to legal status for grandmothers is to enlist in the military. For the leader of the Republican Party to ignore the obstructions of his colleagues in the Senate to pass the DREAM Act in 2010 is revisionist history."