Romney Says Illegals Shouldn’t Cut in Line, but Won’t Say Who Should Stay

DES MOINES – Mitt Romney said today that he does not believe illegal immigrants should be afforded a “special pathway” to citizenship, but declined to specify what conditions, if any, should permit illegals to stay in the United States.

“My view is that people who come here illegally should not have a special break or a special pathway to become permanent residents or citizens of this country,” Romney said, speaking at a campaign stop at Nationwide Insurance in downtown Des Moines. “They should be in line or at the back of the line with other people who want to come here illegally.”

But when asked if he’d draw a distinction between illegals who have recently arrived in the country and a family with community ties who have been living in the country illegally for 25 years – an example cited by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during Tuesday night’s GOP debate – Romney said it would be a “mistake” for the Republican Party to “try and describe which people who have come here illegally should be given amnesty to be able to jump ahead of the line of the people who have been waiting in line.”

Further pressed on whether he thinks Gingrich’s remarks qualify as amnesty, Romney said ”it certainly was.”

“But he didn’t go on to describe the people who have been here 20 years. How about 12 years, 10, five, three. How many children do you have to have to apply this principle,” Romney continued. “He didn’t describe that. The real issue is are we going to spend our time talking about how extensively we have amnesty.”

Romney said at the debate that he was “not going to start drawing lines here about who gets to stay and who get to go. The principle is that we are not going to have an amnesty system that says that people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their life in this country legally.”

Asked specifically about his remarks during a 2007 interview, in which he said that the “12 million or so that are here illegally should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship,” Romney said again that “People who’ve come to the country illegally should not have a special pathway that is preferable to those who stand in line in their home countries to be able to come to this country they should not have a special preference with regards to becoming a permanent resident or citizen.”

Romney also discussed his first campaign ad that debuted in New Hampshire Tuesday. Asked if it was fair to take his rivals out of context – the ad suggests President Obama’s quote, “If we keep taking about the economy, we’re going to lose,” was said about his then-rival Sen. John McCain, when it actually was spoken by a McCain aide – Romney said that “there was no hidden effort on the part of our campaign.”

“It was instead to point out that what’s sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander,” Romney said. “[President Obama] spoke about the economy being a huge burden for John McCain. This ad points out, ‘Hey, guess what? It’s now your turn, the same lines you used against John McCain are now going to be on you, which is this economy is going to be your albatross.’”

Adding that there was “no question” the ad got “under the skin” of the president’s campaign and the DNC, Romney suggested that the attacks would keep coming.

“The last thing they want to be doing is talking about the economy and the president’s failure to get this economy turned around,” Romney said. “We’re just going to take it to them day in and day out.”