Romney knocks 'stopgap' immigration order, won't say whether he'd overturn it

Mitt Romney declined to say whether, if elected president, he would nix the Obama administration's controversial new order allowing potentially hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children to avoid deportation.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," Romney criticized the move by the Department of Homeland Security as political and a short-term fix.

"I don't know why (Obama) feels stopgap measures are the right way to go," Romney said.

He said he wants to pursue long-term legislation if elected that would address the status of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were young.

Still, the Republican presidential candidate would not say whether he would overturn the Obama administration's policy while such a long-term solution is being worked out.

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"We'll look at that setting as we reach it," Romney said, noting that the immigration order would eventually be "overtaken" by long-term legislation.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," White House adviser David Plouffe acknowledged that the Obama administration order is not a "permanent fix." But he also alleged that voters will not be able to "trust" Romney when it comes to fixing the immigration system.

"I think that's a clear choice just not for the Latino community, but for the American electorate at large," Plouffe said.

Romney, though, accused the president of having "saved" the policy change for an election year, suggesting it was a sop to Hispanic voters. "If he felt seriously about this, he should have taken action when he had a Democrat House and Senate," Romney said.

Romney is in a tough spot on the immigration policy change.

His positions on immigration during the GOP primary battle were among the most conservative in the field. But Hispanics remain a critical voting bloc going into November. And while Romney said earlier that he'd veto the DREAM Act -- a stalled bill that was meant to let some illegal immigrants who came here as children stay so long as they attend college or serve in the military -- a key ally, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has been working on a legislative alternative to that bill.

Romney said Friday that he agrees with Rubio that he'd "like to see legislation that deals with this issue."

On "Face the Nation" Sunday, former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean described the DHS announcement as a "brilliant move" by the president considering the position it puts Romney in.

"If he says anything in favor of what the president wants to do, he alienates the right wing ... and if he denies what the president has said and (says) it's a terrible idea, he digs himself an even deeper hole with Latinos," Dean said.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said all the order does is take the "breathtaking" step of having a federal agency stop enforcing the law without addressing the status of most of the illegal immigrants in the country.

"You're going to have 800,000 work permits issued by the stroke of a pen. You're going around Congress and the American people. And you're doing nothing about a broken immigration system," he said.

The Obama administration said the policy change announced Friday will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. Obama's move bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the Democrats' long-stalled legislation aimed at young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.

Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be able to avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no major criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED diploma or certificate, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.

The broadcast interview was conducted Saturday while Romney's Rust Belt bus tour stopped in Pennsylvania.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.