SCOTTSDALE — Mitt Romney on Monday said states have a duty and a right to secure their borders even as he declined to address the merits of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down key parts of Arizona's tough immigration enforcement law.
The likely Republican nominee instead used Monday's ruling as an opportunity to criticize President Barack Obama for inaction on immigration reform until recently. Romney called for a bipartisan national immigration strategy.
"This represents yet another broken promise by this president. I believe that each state has the duty — and the right — to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities," Romney said in a written statement released before he left Salt Lake City Monday morning to fly to a planned fundraiser in Arizona.
The Supreme Court decision upholds Arizona's "show me your papers" requirement for the moment. But the decision prohibits police officers from arresting people on minor immigration charges, taking the teeth out of the law's enforcement.
The court struck down three major provisions: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers; making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job; and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
Campaign spokesman Rick Gorka told reporters Monday "the governor supports the states' rights to craft immigration laws when the federal government had failed to do so." He repeatedly declined to answer questions about whether Romney agreed with the ruling or whether the former Massachusetts governor would support the kind of laws the high court found mostly unconstitutional.
Romney has worked to soften his rhetoric on immigration policy since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee for president. During the Republican primary, Romney never endorsed Arizona's immigration law.
Asked in February during a GOP primary debate in Arizona whether he supported tough immigration enforcement that includes arrests, Romney said: "I think you see a model in Arizona." He then mentioned the federal E-Verify program that requires businesses to check the legal status of their employees as one way to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in a particular state.
Romney then addressed the Arizona law: "So going back to the question that was asked, the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn't doing," he said.
The Obama administration sued to block the Arizona law soon after its enactment two years ago.
Protestors greeted Romney Monday at his fundraiser in Scottsdale, a wealthy enclave near Phoenix. The court's immigration ruling "leaves us with a bittersweet victory," said Carlos Galindo, an Obama supporter and the president of the Phoenix-area Immigrant Advocacy Foundation.