As part of Democrats' orchestrated effort to go after Mitt Romney the day after his narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses, two Hispanic members of Congress bashed the former Massachusetts governor on immigration.
The chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez of Texas, and Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, said Romney's immigration stance will hurt him with Hispanic voters. And they repeated the line from other Democrats that Romney's positions are so muddied he can't be trusted.
Gonzalez and Becerra defended the DREAM Act, which would grant U.S. citizenship to immigrants who came into the United States illegally as children and now go to college or serve in the military. President Barack Obama has supported the legislation. Romney said Monday he would veto it.
"It really demonstrates how far he is from understanding the issue," Gonzalez said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. "I understand in that particular field [of candidates] one will try to out-pander another, but you still have to be responsible…How do you paint yourself in such a corner on immigration where you can't walk back from that statement?"
Becerra said calling the proposal a handout is "offensive" to "hardworking people" such as Benita Veliz, a 26-year-old from San Antonio whose parents brought her to the U.S. when she was 8. She graduated high school at 16 and from a private university where she received a scholarship from 20.
"I wasn't looking for a handout then, and I'm not looking for one now," Veliz said of her education. "All we want is to give back to the country that gave us the opportunities we have. This is the only home we know."
Though her case was sent to immigration authorities three years ago after police pulled her over for rolling through a stop sign, Veliz said she has not been deported thanks to the Obama administration's policy to prioritize deportations of people with criminal backgrounds.
In Florida, which holds its presidential primary on Jan. 31, Romney's stance puts him at odds with high-profile Miami Cuban-American figures who have endorsed him. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, have said they backed Romney even though they don't see eye-to-eye with him on immigration.
"I have no idea how they're going to rationalize it from a policy point of view or any point of view," Gonzalez said of his House colleagues. "At this point it really comes down to immigrant bashing...It is going to place many many Republicans in a very difficult position."
Added Becerra: "Certainly we have to wonder who Mitt Romney is paying attention to, if he's not at least listening to some of his strongest Latino supporters who are leaders in the country. At the same time I think you have to reach a point where you have to questions some of the Latino supporters of Mitt Romney, and where they stand if they continue to support a candidate for president who could do great damage to the Latino community,
"A man who right now says that he would veto the DREAM Act if it ever had a chance to go to the president's desk is not someone who's a friend to Latinos," Becerra said.
The GOP hopeful with the best immigration policy proposals? Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Becerra said. "You never know what you're gonna get with Mitt Romney," he concluded.