Romney offers little on immigration

He opposes a bill favored by key Floridians.

Published May 25, 2007

LAKELAND - Facing scrutiny in Florida on immigration, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shed little light on his policy during campaign stops Thursday.

Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, opposes the immigration bill in Congress supported by key Floridians, including Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez, both Republicans. The bill would give an estimated 12-million illegal immigrants a route to legal residency and citizenship.

Romney, however, did not provide many details about how he would deal with illegal immigrants already in the country.

"I'm not here to describe language in a piece of legislation, " said Romney, speaking briefly to reporters before headlining the Lincoln Day Dinner of the Polk County Republican Party. "I'm no legislator, at least currently, so I'm not going to give you a legislative language."

Romney's stance against the bill in Congress could attract more conservatives. But Florida has a large immigrant population, which could help sway an election. Romney said he plans to campaign vigorously for the state's Jan. 29 presidential primary, which was recently moved up in the election schedule.

Romney has lined up several advisers of former Gov. Jeb Bush to support him, and he brushed aside questions over his break with other Florida GOP leaders. In recent days, reports said Bush told friends he was disappointed in Romney's posture on immigration.

But Bush denied that sentiment in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times.

"Interesting that the press writes these days about unverified speculation as though it is true. I am not disappointed in Governor Romney, " Bush wrote.

For his part Thursday, Romney stuck to basic planks. He wants a secure border and a verification system for employment. His key difference with the bill is stopping illegal immigrants from being able to establish residency or citizenship ahead of people already in the process.

He also said he opposes any program allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country indefinitely. Bill supporters note it contains requirements for immigrants to achieve or risk being forced out.

Romney attended a forum in Jacksonville at noon before attending the Polk dinner.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com.