Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who took a restrictionist hard line on illegal immigration during last year's campaign, said Friday that undocumented immigrants should have a chance to obtain legal status.
Romney’s support for a path to legal status is in stark contrast to the position many in his own Republican Party have taken on the issue, and a dramatic departure from the views he expressed last year while running for president.
On the campaign trail, Romney said he was against giving undocumented immigrants a break, and that he favored making life so difficult for them that they would opt for “self-deportation.”
But in an interview Friday with CBS News, the former Massachusetts governor said: "I do believe those who come here illegally ought to have an opportunity to get in line with everybody else.”
Romney continued: “I don't think those who come here illegally should jump to the front of the line or be given a special deal, be rewarded for coming here illegally, but I think they should have a chance just like anybody else to get in line and to become a citizen if they'd like to do so,” he said.
Romney also said that the Republican Party must address immigration and work on legislation to reform the system.
Republicans in the House, where they have the majority, have resisted bills that would extend a path to legal status to undocumented immigrants.
The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform measure in June that, among other things, tightens security along the border, steps up interior enforcement, expands foreign worker visas and provides opportunities for undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria to legalize their status.
The immigration reform effort, however, has stalled in the House amid a refusal by many Republicans to support a path to legal status and expanding foreign worker visa programs.
Romney’s support for self-deportation and opposition to the DREAM Act, a measure that would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors to legalize their status, were seen as key factors in the alienation many Latinos said they felt from him. Romney obtained just 27 percent of the Latino vote, while President Obama got 71 percent.
Reflecting on his poor showing among minority voters, Romney told CBS: "We didn't get as many African-American voters as we should have. We didn't get as many Hispanic voters as we should have," he said.
"By the way, across the board, we need to do a better job explaining why it is that our policies will lead to higher wages, better health care and better schools," Romney said.