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August 1, 2015

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Guest column:

Romney needs to define immigration policy

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “When the wind of change blows, some build walls; others build windmills.” In the face of Hispanics’ emergence as the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group, Mitt Romney has a responsibility as the GOP’s likely nominee to show our party how to harness the breeze instead of fighting it.

Until now, I’ve held my tongue. Respecting Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment (“Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican”), I’ve joined other Hispanic Republicans in giving Romney a “hall pass.”

I like Romney. I admire his record. In the spring of last year, I donated to his campaign. But in recent weeks, he’s heckled Hispanics with nativist rhetoric that could have been ghostwritten by his latest supporter, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach, whose endorsement the tin-eared Romney campaign proudly proclaimed this month, engineered Arizona’s unconstitutional “show-your-papers” law and promotes a radical agenda of anti-immigrant crackdowns.

Like a suburban frat boy trying to sound tough among the townies, Romney makes it a point to use the word “illegal” as a noun for the 10 million undocumented persons believed to be living in the United States today.

Romney knows better. The phrases “illegal” and “illegal alien” vastly oversimplify what is a complicated issue, allowing an entire class of human beings to be defined solely by their behavior. It’s a vilification that’s widely interpreted by Hispanics as a hurtful slur and one that, coming from a role model like Romney, serves as a “dog whistle,” that signals the acceptability of far worse insults by some in his audience.

He’s even gone so far as promising to veto the Dream Act, a bipartisan and humane approach years in the making, that would extend a lifeline of hope to young immigrants whose only “crime” was to be brought here as children, with no more say in the matter than Romney’s own father when he, a dual citizen, was brought back into the United States by Romney’s grandparents, both of whom were American citizens who’d moved for religious reasons to Mexico.

The Dream Act would give some respite to this generation of innocents, conditioned on their service in the military, enrollment in college and maintaining a clean criminal record. A February 2011 impreMedia-Latino Decisions tracking poll found 85 percent of Latinos supporting the Dream Act, and Romney’s promise to block it is like fingernails on a chalkboard to us.

During last week’s debate in Tampa, Romney went so far as to suggest “self-deportation” as a means of addressing the nation’s broken immigration system.

Exactly what kind of conditions would be required before tens of millions of undocumented persons would agree to “self-deport”? How hostile would the cultural climate have to be for millions of men, women and children to flee from it?

And what about the rest of us, governor? What about my children, who are as proud of their American citizenship, history and heritage as your five fine sons? Would they be forced to grow up in the environment of hateful suspicion that “self-deportation” would require?

Like a battered spouse who stays silent in the vain hope that things will somehow change, I made excuses for Romney, crossed my fingers and, until now, kept my lips sealed — and among other Hispanic Republicans, I’ve not been alone.

No mas. I want to file charges.

The latest steps along Mitt Romney’s road to the nomination have been littered with words that may make him unelectable in the four states whose Hispanic voters put Barack Obama in the White House four years ago: Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada. Seething Hispanic resentment against Romney’s loose talk could even be sufficient to trigger GOP losses in Texas and Virginia.

But, as he went into heavily Hispanic Florida, Romney suddenly changed his tune, serenading us with Spanish-language ads and appeals.

Sorry, sir, but we deserve a candidate whose position on immigration doesn’t evolve alongside the primary calendar — to say nothing of your attitude toward the millions of us who now comprise America’s largest single minority group. You’re either with us or you’re not.

Let me put this in language a Bain private equity investor can understand: If a comprehensive and sensible immigration policy isn’t even in your prospectus or contained on the term sheet, how can we take it on faith that it’ll be contained in the final closing documents?

Jacob Montijilo Monty, a Houston attorney, is a recognized expert in immigration and labor law and a Latino Republican political activist.

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