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At a San Antonio stop during his July 17, 2012, fundraising swing through Texas, President Barack Obama followed up a defense of the 2010 health-care overhaul by saying: "We’re not going backwards when it comes to immigration."
Referring to Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Obama continued: "My opponent says the Arizona law should be ‘a model for the nation.’" Audience members booed. Obama then referred, without details, to his administration’s recent decision not to seek deportations of young, otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants.
"I believe we can secure our borders and give opportunities to people who are striving and working hard -- especially young people who have been raised in this country and see themselves as Americans. That was the right thing to do. We're not going backwards; we're going forwards."
We wondered if Obama journeyed backward by saying Romney called the Arizona immigration law a model for the nation -- which he also said later the same day at the Austin Music Hall.
Noticeably, the president’s statement repeated a claim we checked before by U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio. Gonzalez said in a March 27, 2012, conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee that while in Arizona, Romney had said he believes that the state’s much-debated immigration-enforcement law — which originated in 2010 as Senate Bill 1070 — should be the template for federal immigration laws, a stance that Gonzalez described as disturbing.
Gonzalez’s comment to reporters: "Gov. Romney has actually (said) — while he was in Arizona, of course, and I understand that he was basically maybe playing up to the Arizona crowd — he felt that SB 1070, which has made its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States and will be argued in April, he believes that it should be the template, it should be the model for United States immigration law, not comprehensive immigration reform as the more responsible individuals in Congress have been espousing for a number of years, but an extreme version of an anti-immigrant law passed by the Arizona Legislature."
After Gonzalez made that statement, the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012 threw out parts of the Arizona law that would have made state crimes out of federal immigration violations including provisions requiring immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants, as reported by The Associated Press.
However, the court let stand a "show me your papers" requirement that police officers check the status of people stopped for various reasons who might appear to be in the U.S. illegally. Even then, the AP reported, the justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenges. And they removed some teeth by prohibiting officers from arresting people on immigration charges.
According to the AP, Romney did not immediately comment on the decision, though he said he believes that "each state has the duty — and the right — to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities."
Now back to whether Romney referred to the Arizona law as a model.
In our check of Gonzalez, DNC spokesman Ricardo Ramirez pointed us to an answer Romney gave during the Feb. 22, 2012, Republican presidential debate in Arizona.
We found that Romney did not say in the debate that Arizona's 2010 law should be adopted by Congress in lieu of comprehensive immigration reform; his reply to a question focused instead on a different, older Arizona statute.
That said, we see how his reply could be misread.
As John King of CNN framed his question to Romney, crowd members applauded mention of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County, shown in attendance, who is known for his advocacy of tough immigration policies. Then King said to Romney: "You've talked, governor, about self-deportation, if businesses do their job, asking for the right documents, the people will leave. But what about arresting? Should there be aggressive, seek them out, find them and arrest them as Sheriff Arpaio advocates?"
"You know, I think you see a model here in Arizona," Romney answered. "They passed a law here that says, that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on E-Verify. This E-Verify system allows employers in Arizona to know who's here legally and who's not here legally. And as a result of E-Verify being put in place, the number of people in Arizona that are here illegally has dropped by some 14 percent, where the national average has only gone down 7 percent."
E-Verify is a federal, Internet-based system that employers can use to verify whether someone is authorized to work in the United States. Participation is voluntary for most U.S. businesses; there is no federal mandate. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website says that more than 280,000 employers across the country are using the system.
After the Arizona debate, many reporters, opinion columnists, Democrats and liberal groups interpreted that statement by Romney as him saying that SB 1070 as a whole should be a model, either for the nation or for other states.
However, Dan Nowicki, the Arizona Republic’s national political reporter, questioned those interpretations in a March 3, 2012, news article, pointing out that Arizona’s requirement that businesses use E-Verify is not contained in SB 1070 but in an earlier state law, the Legal Arizona Workers Act.
"It's clear from the (debate) transcript that Romney was describing part of the state's 2007 employer-sanctions law, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court," Nowicki wrote. "That Arizona law requires employers to use a federal electronic system to verify whether new hires are eligible to work in the United States and provides punishment for companies that hire undocumented immigrants."
According to Nowicki’s article, Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told the Republic that in the Arizona debate, Romney was referring to the E-Verify requirement as the model and not SB 1070. Williams reiterated that statement to us in an email.
Ramirez, of the DNC, also pointed to the rest of Romney’s debate response in the Feb. 22 debate as backup for Gonzalez’s claim.
The remainder of Romney’s answer: "So going back to the question that was asked, the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn't doing. And I will drop those lawsuits on day one. I'll also complete the fence. I'll make sure we have enough Border Patrol agents to secure the fence. And I will make sure we have an E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers, and to check E-Verify. And if an employer hires someone that has not gone through E- Verify, they're going to get sanctioned just like they do for not paying their taxes. You do that, and just as Arizona is finding out, you can stop illegal immigration. It's time we finally did it."
So, Romney in the debate saluted the E-Verify element of a 5-year-old Arizona law — which was not part of the 2010 immigration-enforcement law that Gonzalez says Romney called a model for the nation.
Then again, Romney also said he would end the federal challenge to the 2010 law on his first day as president.
Obama’s campaign, asked to back up his San Antonio claim, emailed a statement describing Romney as extreme on immigration issues. The statement did not show that Romney considers the Arizona law a model for the nation.
Obama could legitimately have targeted Romney’s vow to immediately drop the federal challenge to Arizona’s immigration-enforcement law as president. Instead, the Democrat’s statement mischaracterizes Romney’s salute to Arizona’s 2007 mandate that employers electronically verify the legal status of employees. That E-Verify requirement was not in the 2010 Arizona law.
We rate Obama’s claim as False.
News article, "High court rejects part of Arizona immigration law," The Associated Press, June 25, 2012
CNN.com, transcript, Arizona Republican presidential debate, Feb. 22, 2012
Interview with Ricardo Ramirez, regional press secretary for the Southwest, Democratic National Committee, March 28, 2012
Web page, Citizenship and and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "What is E-Verify?" (accessed April 6, 2012)
News article, The Arizona Republic, "For Romney, ‘model’ policy on migration isn’t SB 1070," March 3, 2012
Web page, Arizona attorney general’s office, "Frequently Asked Questions about the Legal Arizona Workers Act" (accessed March 28, 2012)
Email interview with Ryan Williams, spokesman, Mitt Romney presidential campaign, March 29, 2012
Mitt Romney presidential campaign, press release, "Mitt Romney announces support of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach," Jan. 11, 2012
News article, The Associated Press, "Kobach confirms he’s unpaid adviser for Romney," Feb. 1, 2012
News article and broadcast, KNXV-TV, Phoenix, "SB 1070 co-author tells ABC15 he’s an advisor for Mitt Romney," Jan. 31, 2012
Blog post, The New York Times, "Romney’s plan for ‘self-deportation’ has conservative support," Jan. 24, 2012
Email, statement, response to PolitiFact Texas, Gabriela Domenzain, Director of Hispanic Press, Obama for America, July 17, 2012
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