On Mitt Romney and Immigration

An aide to Mitt Romney takes strong exception to this post about the purity of Republicans on immigration.

Even if Romney knew that the new governor was likely to overturn his order deputizing state troopers to detain illegal immigrants, it does not follow, the aide says, that Romney should not have done it.

"All that it takes for wrong decisions to prevail in this world is that good men do nothing. So if you know your successor is going to hike taxes, you shouldn’t sign a tax cut?"

Fair enough.

The point isn't that Romney didn't do what he says he did -- he did indeed provide for the deputization of some state police troopers to detain undocumented workers -- the point is that there is, to every gesture a back story, and one that involves the tangle of personal, political and policy motivations.

Romney's gubernatorial staff first began to negotiate with the federal government in June of 2006 ... it took a long time for the mechanics of the arrangement to be worked out. By June of 2006, Romney's had a tenth of his term to go. His campaign points out that he vetoed an in-state tuition bill for undocumented workers in 2004 and would have done so earlier had the legislature sent the bill to him earlier. And even earlier in his administration, he opposed a bill that would have granted driver's licenses to undocumented workers. His aides say that he wanted to negate the magnets that drew illegal immigrants to the sanctuary cities in his state, and he succeeded.

But I've spoken to Romney advisers and aides who served the governor during this period. Some are still with the governor's team, and others have moved on. (None is Mike Murphy, incidentally). They acknowledge that, by the middle of 2005, Romney was thinking pretty seriously about the possibility of a political life after the state house, that he was expanding his outreach to conservatives, that conservatives were listing illegal immigration as an issue of paramount concern, that Romney was encouraged by some of his advisers to summon some public intestinal fortitude on immigration, and that he was moved to take forward-leaning action toward the tail end of his term.

None of that obviates the fact that Romney did what he did. Grant Romney's supporters the concession that he's "tough on illegal immigration" now and was pretty consistently an enforcement-oriented governor. But grant his opponents the concession that while his policy instincts were always "correct" on the issue, he is a novitiate to the "tough" part of the equation. And 2008 politics may well be a reason why.