NBC Miami's Willard Shepard reports on the Republican primary candidates' different stances on immigration.
The Republican presidential candidates know that immigration is one of the hot-button issues across the country, but especially in Florida with its large number of illegal immigrants. Ahead of next week’s Florida primary, they let their views be known to Sunshine State voters.
Newt Gingrich reached out to Latino voters Wednesday at Florida International University, knowing that a fair portino of them probably have relatives whose future in the U.S. is undecided.
Gingrich now says he would allow illegal immigrants to earn citizenship if they volunteer to serve America in uniform.
The former speaker of the House also said he would veto a version of the Dream Act that would allow a path to citizenship for kids who come to the U.S. with undocumented parents if they finish college.
“We want people to come here legally. We certainly want them to come to Miami. We want them to come here to do business – to get on a cruise line,” Gingrich said.
Rival Mitt Romney said he is against any version of the Dream Act and suggested "self-deportation," where illegal immigrants would voluntarily leave the country because of a lack of opportunity.
“The answer is self-deportation. (Illegal immigrants) are willing to go home because they can’t find work here (if) they don’t have legal documentation that allows them to work,” Romney said.
Iowa winner Rick Santorum opposes benefits for illegal immigrants, any comprehensive reform and a border fence.
“If you work you’ve probably stolen someone’s Social Security number. We ought to enforce the law,” Santorum says.
Ron Paul, on the other hand, is against amnesty and tougher enforcement of border security.
While the question of what to do about immigration is particularly important in Florida, some are not sure that any proposed change in current policies will resonate all that much with voters in next week’s elections.
“More likely than not, everybody knows someone who doesn’t have papers,” immigration expert Mayra Joli says.
“None of these things (candidates) have said make a difference on the ground. They are speaking in a vacuum,” she added. “It’s not a matter of sending every one out of the country and standing in line.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio recently stepped into the fray to make his voice heard.
Rubio was critical of Gingrich for a Spanish-language radio ad that accuses Romney of being anti-immigrant. He called the language inaccurate and inflammatory and said it should not be in the campaign. As a result of the criticism, Gingrich removed the ad, The Miami Herald reported.