Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pounced on Mitt Romney’s immigration stance Wednesday night before a crowd of Washington, D.C., lawmakers and officials honoring the mayor for his public service.
“For the first time in modern memory, a major political party is poised to nominate a presidential candidate who has abandoned immigration reform and instead advocates self-deportation,” he said.
Villaraigosa, who was presented with the 2012 Edward R. Roybal Award for Outstanding Public Service by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, didn’t mention Romney by name, but called out the GOP front-runner for rejecting past bipartisan efforts on immigration reform.
“Democrats and Republicans have recognized that our immigration system is broken and that it needs to be fixed. Now they haven’t always agreed on the route but they’ve agreed on the destination. He added, “Unfortunately, now the likely Republican nominee for president has clearly rejected this rough consensus.”
As immigration reform continues to be a hot-button issue on and off the campaign trail, Villaraigosa reminded the crowd that the country was built by immigrants.
“We know that the reason we came here was because this was the place that embraced us. This was the place that said, ‘If you work hard, and you play by the rules and believe in this great country, you will be rewarded.’ We love that America,” the California-born Democrat said.
Villaraigosa, 59, also used the stage to call for the passage of the DREAM Act and the payroll-tax cut. While honored that he was awarded for his public service, he noted that there was still much work to do.
“We can’t let every proposal for a path to citizenship be drowned out by a knee-jerk chorus of opposition,” he said. “We can’t be a country where ‘show me your papers’ is routinely heard on our sidewalks and in our streets.”
Romney wasn’t the only person taken to task on immigration. Villaraigosa also called on the White House for action. “I’m going to work hard to re-elect President Obama, but then I’m going to be real clear there are only two terms, not three,” he said. “We’ve got to get comprehensive immigration reform in the second term.”
UPDATE: Ryan Williams, a spokesman for the Romney campaign, responded with this statement: “This is a dishonest smear from President Obama’s liberal allies and a desperate attempt to distract from his abysmal record. It will do nothing to help the millions of Hispanics who have been hit especially hard as a result of the Obama economy. Hispanics are supporting Mitt Romney because they know he has a proven record as a conservative businessman, and is the best person to rebuild the economy that President Obama has spent three and half years destroying.”
Romney has said he supports legal immigration, but he staked out one of the more conservative positions on the issue of immigration during the ongoing GOP primary. He has criticized Newt Gingrich, for instance, for supporting a pathway to legal residency for illegal immigrants who have long been inside the U.S..
“In order to bring people in legally, we’ve got to stop illegal immigration,” said Romney at a November GOP presidential debate. “That means turning off the magnets of amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, employers that knowingly hire people that have come here illegally. We welcome legal immigration. This is a party — this is a party that loves legal immigration. But we have to stop illegal immigration for all the reasons the questioner raised, which is it is bringing in people who, in some cases, can be terrorists. In other cases, they become burden on our society. And we have to finally have immigration laws that protect our border. Secure the border, turn off the magnets and make sure that we have people that come to this country legally to build our economy.”