May 18, 2007 — -- Provisions in the recently proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill amount to a "form of amnesty," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told ABC News Friday, explaining his strong opposition to the legislation.
The proposed bill "gives people who are here illegally a very substantial advantage over those who've been standing in line in their home country," the presidential hopeful said.
"It's really unfair to those that play by the rules," Romney added, "the millions of people around the world that want to come to this country who have skill and experience and perhaps speak English, they're told 'No, the 12 million who are here all get to stay.'"
Romney's comments came as part of a freewheeling interview for the ABC News shuffle podcast on a host of topics including abortion, Iraq and evangelical Christians calling Mormonism "a cult."
Much of Romney's objection to the immigration bill -- backed by GOP primary rival Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and President Bush -- focuses on the creation of the so-called Z visa.
"I don't know whether the conferees in this discussion really focused on the fact that, at least as we understand it today, that we are authorizing a new visa class, the Z visa which would say to everybody who's here illegally that they can stay indefinitely," Romney told ABC News.
Last December, the one-term governor of Massachusetts was criticized for hypocrisy when his strong opposition to illegal immigration was seen in light of the disclosure that his estate uses a landscaping company that employed illegal immigrants.
Romney dismissed the controversy, saying, "When you hire companies to work at your home or to build your home, you're actually prohibited by law from going to the companies employees and asking to see their documents."
Romney also addressed the continuing question of his Mormon faith and its role in the election.
Romney -- who is trying to win support among conservative Christians despite their wariness of Mormonism -- recently delivered the commencement address at the Rev. Pat Robertson's Regent University.
On the Web site of Robertson's Christian Broadcasting News, Mormonism is repeatedly described as "a cult."
Asked why he didn't attempt to refute that rhetorical assault on his faith, Romney pushed back.
"I'm not running for pastor in chief and I'm not running as someone who defends my religion or explains my religion," he said. "I'm running for a secular office, the presidency of the United States."
In terms of actually addressing the Christian Broadcasting Network and Regent University, Romney said, "You know if my church wants to respond, they're certainly welcome to. But that's not what I'm doing."
In the past, Romney declared himself to be "pro-choice" and supportive of abortion rights, but he says he changed his mind on the issue.
Romney said he now believes that life begins at conception.
"Pretty clearly you have human life at conception," he said. "Now I know there are some who are interested in the religious element of when does the soul come into the body. I'm not getting into that issue. I don't pretend to suggest that that should be the debate in the public sphere. But I do believe that you have human life…at conception."
The former Massachusetts governor continued, "And I believe that a civilized society must show a respect for the sanctity of life from the beginning of life to the end of life."
Romney said he believed conception occurs at the moment the sperm fertilizes an egg, not later when the fertilized egg is implanted on the uterine wall. But despite the fact that some birth control pills destroy fertilized eggs, he said he does not support banning them.
"I do not oppose contraception and believe that people have the right to purchase birth control pills and so forth," he said. "I do believe that in some settings you're dealing with something abortive in nature."
On Iraq, Romney continued to voice support for the "surge" strategy in Iraq, but said when he becomes president all possible strategies are on the table. "All the options that are being spoken of today, for instance, Joe Biden says let's divide the country up and leave. That option will still be available 6 months from now."
"My approach to making tough decisions is by a very deliberative and analytical, thoughtful, thorough and careful process," Romney explained. "And, so I wouldn't want to make a sort of a, 'So here's what I'd do.' At this stage I support the effort that's going on."