(TAMPA, Fla.) — Mitt Romney’s son Craig choked up Thursday night when he recounted for the Republican National Convention how his grandparents immigrated from Mexico to live the American dream.
“It’s easy to forget that the story of my father’s success begins with the story of two immigrants — my grandfathers — who came to this country with little more than hope in the opportunity of America,” he said.
Craig Romney’s heartfelt story of his family’s immigrant roots was among more than half a dozen convention speakers who highlighted their immigrant backgrounds, but it has created what one expert describes as an “awkward dance” because of the GOP’s reputation for being hostile to immigration.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune told of his Norwegian grandfather immigrating through Ellis Island and changing his name along the way. Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum recounted how his father immigrated “from the mountains of northern Italy, on a ship named Providence.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told of his great grandfather who arrived penniless to live the “American Dream,” and also cited struggles and triumphs of friends — a Cambodian family in Kentucky and Vietnamese brothers who arrived on a “leaky boat.”
Utah House candidate Mia Love had only two minutes to speak, but managed to mention her parents immigrating from Haiti “with $10 in their pocket.”
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s said she is the “proud daughter of Indian immigrants,” while Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz told a “love story of freedom” about his Irish-Italian working-class mom and his Cuban refugee dad.
“They made a good effort at trying to have their stage build bridges to those communities they are trying to reach out to,” said Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group.
“While they simultaneously were doing that, they were unveiling a Republican platform that in many ways detracts from what they were doing on the stage… There is a little bit of a mixed signal or a mixed message being sent here,” Martinez said.
She said the convention speeches “up the ante” on Romney to clarify where he stands on immigration.
“Is he the candidate that the Republican platform would convey or is he the candidate that some of the speakers on that stage that would represent,” Martinez said.
The official party platform is seen as unfriendly to immigration, although it is specifically tailored to illegal immigration. It supports self-deportation, encouraging “illegal aliens to return home voluntarily” by making it nearly impossible to support themselves in America.
It calls for building a “double-layer fence” along the U.S.-Mexico border, implementing a nationwide E-Verify system to prevent undocumented workers from being hired and making English the official language.
The GOP opposes “any form of amnesty” and supports denying federal funding to universities that, as the platform says, “provide instate tuition rates to illegal aliens, in open defiance of federal law.”
“It’s a really kind of an awkward dance,” said Stephen Nuno, an expert on minority political participation and assistant politics professor at Northern Arizona University. “You can’t on the one hand say we love these people, we love this story, we love the character this story creates and builds, but we are going to do everything we can to discourage more people from immigrating like this again. And if they are here we are going to make life so miserable that they want to leave.”
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