(Photo: Reuters/Larry Downing)
Mitt Romney's position on immigration, in particular on young illegal immigrants, may divide the GOP base because many of the party's evangelical voters are moving left of the Republican Party on the issue.
If Romney takes a hardline approach, he risks alienating evangelical and Hispanic voters in key battleground states such as Florida. On the other hand, if he shows compassion to the children of illegal immigrants, he risks angering a large portion of the GOP base and several new members of Congress who are trying to win re-election in districts heavy with Tea Partiers.
The immigration issue as a whole, particularly President Obama's recent order to stop deportation of young illegal immigrants, has put Romney in a challenging position.
On Friday, President Obama announced his new policy to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they turned 16 and now are no older than 30 years old. The young illegal immigrants can now obtain work permits and live without fear of being deported.
Also last week, a group of influential evangelicals that included the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's Richard Land, Focus on the Family's Jim Daly and Sojourners' Jim Wallis encouraged Congress and President Obama to take a more compassionate approach to dealing with some of the nation's illegal immigrants.
"These young people – 99.9 percent of them have done nothing wrong. They didn't bring themselves here," Land told The Christian Post. "They were brought here as young children by their parents. Many of them have no memory – no recollection of their home country."
Land also argues that the 800,000 to 1 million young illegal immigrants living in this country should be addressed in a sympathetic, Christian manner. "This is the right thing to do."
As expected on such a divisive issue, Romney took a middle-of-the-road position by suggesting that Obama's statement was motivated by politics and not policy.
"If he felt seriously about this he should have taken action when he had a Democratic House and Senate, but he didn't," Romney told CBS's Bob Schieffer during a "Face The Nation" segment on Sunday. "He saves these sorts of things until four and a half months before the general election."
But last January when Romney was campaigning in Iowa against several challengers running to the right of him, he made a stronger statement on immigration, promising to veto any legislation by Democrats that would have given undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Now – in a fashion that is Romney-esk in nature – he is refusing to say if he would repeal Obama's new policy if elected.
"With regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is," said Romney. "This is something Congress has been working on, and I thought we were about to see some proposals brought forward by Sen. Marco Rubio and by Democratic senators, but the president jumped in and said I'm going to take this action – he called it a stop-gap measure."
Obama senior adviser David Plouffe commented on Romney's response to the president's new immigration policy by saying on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that, "It's ironic coming from Governor Romney, who said he would veto the Dream Act, whose immigration policy during the primary seemed to consist of just sending 11 million people home, asking them to self-deport."
Whether or not Romney will soften his stance on immigration is not yet known. However, both he and Obama are scheduled to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials later this week and the issue will certainly be front and center.
Land says he is unsure what direction Romney will take, but he does believe that the former governor is "evolving" on this immigration platform.
"A lot will be determined by who Romney picks as his running mate," said Land. "Rubio would certainly change the dynamics if he's on the ticket."