President Obama's decision to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to apply to remain in the U.S. could spark a rush at the southern border, according to Mitt Romney.
"He’s giving people false hope," the 2012 Republican presidential nominee said last week during an interview with Univision. "He’s also communicating to people outside this country, 'Hey, get into the United States illegally and stay, because they’ll always let you stay.'"
As many as 5 million people could seek a three-year reprieve from deportation and work permits under Obama's executive action, as long as they have resided in the U.S. for over five years and have U.S. citizen or legal resident children.
"This isn’t amnesty, or legalization, or even a pathway to citizenship," Obama said Tuesday during a speech in Chicago. "It also doesn’t apply to anyone who has come to this country recently, or might come illegally in the future—because borders do mean something."
Romney said that Congress needs to pass a "permanent clarification of our immigration laws so that people know where they stand." Instead, Romney believes Republicans likely will not pass an immigration overhaul because Obama decided to act alone.
"I’m pretty confident that what the president’s doing will so inflame passions on the part of many in my party … that they will be far less likely to move aggressively on the type of permanent reform that’s so badly needed," he said.
Romney called Obama new policy "a departure from the Constitution" and accused the president of ignoring the will of voters who handed control of the Senate to Republicans in the midterm elections.
"The nation voted overwhelmingly against the president’s policies," Romney said. "He may not have liked what the prior Congress did or did not do. But there is a new Congress about to be sworn in in January, and he should give that Congress the opportunity to do what they said they’ll do, which is to work together to put legislation on his desk."
In response to Obama's order, some in the GOP want to block the president's nominees or start a battle over government funding. Romney said he hopes Republicans in Congress will still take up bills that boost border security, reform the visa system, and make applying for residency "more transparent."
"Maybe even then, Republicans will swallow hard and say, 'OK, even despite the fact that we now have a stick in our eye launched by the president, we’re going to go ahead and try and see if we can’t make some improvements to the immigration system.' I hope we’re able to do that."
Romney might not come across as the best person to give Republicans advice on immigration policy. He won just 27 percent of Hispanic voters during his failed run for president, and many blame that on his support for "self-deportation."
The former candidate admitted his campaign was hurt by a lack of engagement with Hispanic voters and media. But he didn't back away from his support for self-deportation.
"My view was, you’re not going to have the government deport tens of millions of people," he said. "Instead, let people make their own choices. And those that decide that they have better opportunities elsewhere will decide to return to their home country."
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.