Obama, who enjoys a 44-point advantage over Romney with Latino voters, began his answer in much the same way as the former Massachusetts governor with his support for a streamlined immigration system that reduces the backlog and makes it "easier, simpler, and cheaper for people who are waiting in line, obeying the law," to come to the United States.
As he continued his answer, Romney took a predictably hard position on immigrants who entered the country without proper authorization or currently reside here without documentation, notably using "legal," "legally," and "illegally" 20 times throughout the entire exchange (at one point he caught himself saying "undocumented," and quickly followed it with "illegal").
Obama, on the other hand, used "illegally" once referring to "those who are here illegally," and otherwise used "undocumented" when referring to individuals.
Addressing the record number of deportations carried out by his administration, a major weakness with Latino voters, Obama reiterated his support for the selective deportations of "criminals, gang bangers who are hurting the community," and not for honest individuals "trying to feed their families," and undocumented students (Dream Act-ers), a group he was able to appeal to with the deferred action plan he announced this summer to block deportation and issues work authorization for qualified individuals. Obama didn't hesitate to hit back at Romney on his vow to veto the Dream Act and his support for making life "so miserable on folks that they'll leave."
Romney would discourage illegal immigration, he said, by refusing to grant amnesty, a dirty word in Republican circles, putting in place an e-verify system to confirm the immigration statuses of employees, and by removing magnets like driver's licenses for those without documentation.
The president accused Romney of saying that Arizona's SB-1070 should be a "model" for the nation, though Romney and fact-checkers swiftly pointed out that he was referring to a different law when making that remark.
Expanding legal immigration was not off bounds for the governor. He suggested, as he has before on the stump and on his website, that immigrants who graduate from top universities with degrees in science and math should get a green card stapled to their diploma, a plan championed by congressional Republicans but that failed in the House earlier this fall. He also supports a Dream Act-lite, one that would offer "those that came here illegally "¦ a pathway to become a permanent resident" through military service, although he was sparse on other details.
Surprisingly, Romney didn't address the border fence with Mexico, an issue that dominated immigration debates throughout most of the 2000s and one on which the Republicans were always seen as strong.