Romney immigration barbs show his weakness on the issue

Mitt Romney meets leaders at the NALEO conference 21 June 2012 Image copyright AP
Image caption The automated campaign emails have started appearing in Spanish

As Mitt Romney spoke to Latino leaders in Florida, I am sure I heard the repeated sound of shattering glass.

He mocked President Obama for coming up with a temporary policy on immigration, saying "that he seems to think [it] will be just enough to get him through the election".

He told his Hispanic audience that as the election turns tough Mr Obama "has been seized by an overwhelming need to do what he could have done on day one".

There's no question he's right. Only the very naive and trusting would think the president's timing was dictated by anything other than the election.

But isn't that tinkling the sound of a man in a glass house throwing stones?

Una Estrategia Nacional?

This was Mr Romney's first speech on immigration and it wasn't exactly policy rich. I get robo-emails from the Romney campaign several times a day. Last night there was one from his son Craig:

"Hi Mark, I've been privileged to be along for the ride on the Every Town Counts Tour with my Dad over the past week".

But today was the first one in Spanish: "una Estrategia Nacional sobre la inmigracion."

Mitt Romney oddly asked himself a direct question and then refused to answer it.

He said that he had been asked if he would let the president's action stand, allowing children brought illegally to the US to stay under most circumstances.

His answer was that he would instead put in place a long-term solution. What that was he didn't say.

So far his immigration policy has amounted to slowly moving towards giving lukewarm backing to Marco Rubio's plan.

He did list a number of policies: more border patrol agents; a hi-tech fence; allow spouses and children of legal immigrants to stay; give those with an advanced degree a green card; and a path to citizenship for those who've served in the US military.

But this falls short of a comprehensive policy. It says nothing about what happens to those 11 million immigrants who arrived illegally.

His website is quite clear he opposes measures likes the president's:

"Mitt Romney opposes amnesty because he believes that it acts as a magnet encouraging illegal immigration. The last amnesty law passed in 1986 granted legal status to 2.7 million illegal immigrants. In the decades since, the illegal immigrant population has quadrupled. Mitt believes that an amnesty should not be permitted to happen again."

What is surprising about this whole business is that two skilled political operatives have ignored it for so long.

It is almost part of the constitution that "broken" should be inserted in the phrase "America's immigration system". And just about everyone agrees it is a serious policy priority.

It is also not exactly a secret that the Latino vote could be critical in swing states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada.

But both Mr Obama and Mr Romney have waited until five months before the election to turn their attention to it.

The difference seems to be that Mr Obama's new policy will win him votes, whereas Mr Romney's merely allows his to claim he's not totally ignoring the issue.