LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., June 21 (UPI) -- Mitt Romney Thursday told a Latino group in Florida he favors loosening some immigration rules but eschewed specifics on how he differs from President Obama.
Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor, told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials he supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have served in the military and wants a "long-term solution" to immigration reform, castigating Obama's recent executive order on immigration as "temporary," The Washington Post reported.
Obama, who is to address the group Friday, announced last week he would allow many young people who came to the United States illegally as children to stay and apply for work permits.
The Latino officials group has endorsed the new policy, which has also won broad support in public-opinion polls.
"Last week, the president finally offered a temporary measure -- he called it a stopgap measure -- that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election," Romney said.
"After three and a half years of putting every issue from loan guarantees for his donors to Cash For Clunkers before immigration, now the president has been seized by an overwhelming need to do what he could have done on Day One, but didn't. I think you deserve better.
"Some people have asked if I will let stand the president's executive order," Romney said. "The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure."
Romney, who took a hard line against illegal immigration during the GOP presidential primary season, said he supports expanding visas for skilled workers and expediting applications for temporary agricultural work visas, but he reiterated his opposition to the proposed DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for many young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents.
Bill Burton, a former Obama spokesman and current strategist for the Priorities USA super PAC, offered a pre-buttal to Romney's talk, saying: "Mitt Romney's speech in Florida today will be an attempt to cover up the divisive rhetoric and draconian policies he has espoused for years on immigration. Today's slick speech will not change the fact that Romney has repeatedly used divisive language to propose an extreme immigration policy."
Romney must walk a fine line between the general electorate's perception of immigration and the GOP's hard-line stance. His challenge is to narrow the advantage Obama enjoys with Latino voters while not entirely abandoning his primary-season rhetoric, which included support for strict identification laws he said would cause many illegals to "self-deport" because of their inability to find work in the United States.
"He needs to get a fair, comprehensive statement on immigration policy and begin to identify himself with a cure for a problem that nobody has done anything about forever," former Florida GOP Chairman Tom Slade told Politico. "It's not just in Florida."
"The reason that immigration is important is not because it's the priority issue but because it's the issue that can turn Hispanics off,'' Ana Navarro, a Florida adviser to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, told The New York Times. "If a candidate has the wrong tone and the wrong rhetoric on immigration, Hispanics won't listen to any of his proposals on anything else.