If ever a candidate were in need of some July 4th fireworks, Mitt Romney is that candidate when it comes to immigration. Based on a recent interview with NewsmaxTV, change might be in the air.

Five years ago, Gov. Romney supported rational and reasonable solutions included in the immigration-reform legislation crafted by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

Romney started the recent NewsmaxTV interview by pointing to data that nearly half of the 50 largest venture-backed companies in America were launched by immigrants. But, more significantly, Romney seemed to realize the importance of workers and their families when he said, “Putting families together should be, if not our highest priority, then one of our highest priorities.”

Romney is feeling the same pressure as President Obama, whose recent action to prioritize deportation resources so young undocumented people could remain in the United States was due in large part to growing political pressure by New American voters and their supporters.

This position is a marked improvement from the Republican-primary version of Mitt Romney, who sought the “self-deportation” of the undocumented.

Some will downplay Romney’s recent shift in rhetoric as a political response to Latino, Asian and other new American voters.

Well, of course it is.

Romney is feeling the same pressure as President Obama, whose recent action to prioritize deportation resources so young undocumented people could remain in the United States was due in large part to growing political pressure by New American voters and their supporters.

Let’s be honest: Democracy is all about political pressure applied to exact policy change. The fact is that the fastest-growing electorate in America — Latinos — wants to see action from candidates who seek their vote.

Therein lies Mr. Romney’s challenge. Tone is important, but details are crucial.

The next step for Romney is to describe the necessary reforms to our visa systems that keep our economy competitive, flesh out a comprehensive legalization program that keeps families together, and describe an enforcement system that keeps our nation safe and secure.

There is no need to start from scratch.

Signed by conservative leaders and taking hold in conversations across the nation, the principles of the Utah Compact are a great starting point. Law enforcement, faith and business leaders in Utah came together to craft this declaration of principles to guide the immigration discussion in 2010.

First off, the compact underscores the Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration law by stating, “Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries — not Utah and other countries.”

Then, the authors — led by a Romney supporter, Republican Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff — buttoned down their law enforcement bona fides with, “Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code [such as immigration law].”

On the topic of immigrant families, perhaps Romney read the compact’s phrasing: “We oppose policies that unnecessarily separate families. We champion policies that support families and improve the health, education and well-being of all Utah children.”

And, in quintessentially conservative language, the compact’s authors emphasized the economic contributions of immigrants when they wrote, “Utah is best served by a free-market philosophy that maximizes individual freedom and opportunity. We acknowledge the economic role immigrants play as workers and taxpayers. Utah’s immigration policies must reaffirm our global reputation as a welcoming and business-friendly state.”

Finally, Utahns acknowledged the role immigrants play in a free society: “We must adopt a humane approach to this reality, reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion. The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors.”

The Utah Compact opened space for a new consensus on immigrants and America, one that we have seen take hold across the region and flower elsewhere around the country.

From these principles, candidate Romney can build on his interview with NewsmaxTV and craft thoughtful immigration policy that serves all American families, keeping us safe and prosperous for generations to come.

Ali Noorani is Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.  

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