Weeks after GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney touted the controversial endorsement of the architect of some of the strictest state immigration laws in the country, the presidential candidate has named a well-known immigration hard-liner as honorary chairman of his California campaign.
Romney announced on his campaign website Monday that he had named former California Gov. Pete Wilson as a chair of his California campaign.
In the announcement, Romney also touted the endorsement of his candidacy by Wilson, whose aggressive moves as governor to crack down on undocumented immigrants in the mid-1990s sparked heated debates at the time across the nation.
"I'm honored to have Governor Pete Wilson's support, because he's one of California's most accomplished leaders," Romney said on his website. "As governor of California from 1991 to 1999, he led California from the depths of recession to prosperous economic recovery."
Romney has taken a decidedly tough stance on illegal immigration, saying he opposes measures that would give undocumented immigrants any kind of break.
He said he opposes the DREAM Act, a measure would allow some undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to earn legal status if they went to college or joined the military. Like his rival, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, he has said he would support a measure that would allow some undocumented youth to pursue a path to legalization if they serve in the military.
Romney's strict positions on illegal immigration have drawn criticism from those who support comprehensive immigration reform, which would include enforcement as well as a chance for undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria to legalize their status.
I'm honored to have Governor Pete Wilson's support, because he's one of California's most accomplished leaders. As governor of California from 1991 to 1999, he led California from the depths of recession to prosperous economic recovery.
Romney's embrace of Wilson's endorsement, and his decision to give him a high-profile role in his campaign, was bitterly denounced by those who support more lenient approaches to illegal immigration.
In a statement, Service Employee International Union, or SEIU, International Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina called Romney's move "an alarming pick among Latino voters who remember the political damage Wilson caused when he served as governor."
"American voters are witnessing a disturbing trend through Romney's preoccupation with anti-immigrant officials," Medina added, referring to the controversial endorsement of Romney several weeks ago by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped draft some of the strictest immigration laws in several states, including Arizona and Alabama.
"His pick of Wilson is consistent with his support of Kris Kobach," Medina said. "Not only has Kobach campaigned with Romney, he's also an unpaid advisor to Romney's campaign."
Parts of the state laws Kobach authored have been blocked by judges from taking effect until they make a final decision on the constitutionality of states adopting their own immigration measures. The U.S. Justice Department has sued the states, saying that immigration is solely a federal matter.
Wilson's attempts as governor to push Proposition 187, which barred undocumented immigrants from public schools and from receiving care at public health facilities, among other things, ultimately was declared unconstitutional by the courts in 1997.
"Mitt Romney obviously does not care about the Latino voters he will be facing in November if he wins the GOP nomination," Medina said. "He seeks the advice of Kobach and embraces the endorsement of Wilson, ignoring the harm that both Wilson and Kobach have done to immigrants, their families and friends."
Romney has said he is against illegal immigration, not legal immigration or Latinos, as critics have charged.
In his endorsement of Romney, Wilson said: "As the most electable top of our ticket, his candidacy will attract the support of Republican, Independent and wise Democratic voters and is rightly seen by down-ticket Republican candidates as the nominee most beneficial to them in their own races."
"He is the leader we need," Wilson said, "to rescue this great nation from the tragedy of a second Obama term that threatens grave and perhaps irreparable harm to both our economy and our national security."
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org