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By Tony Castro, Voxxi

Mitt Romney promised no mass deportations of people young or old in his presidency Wednesday in a Spanish language Univision forum live-streamed on Facebook in which he backed away from earlier hardline positions on immigration.

“I am not going to be going around the country and rounding them up, and deporting them — we’re going to put in place a permanent solution,” he said in his latest bid for the pivotal Hispanic voter.

As he has in the past, Romney strongly criticized President Barack Obama for failing to implement the comprehensive immigration reform he promised he would do as a candidate in 2008.

“When I’m president,” Romney said, “I will actually do what I promise, I will put in place an immigration reform system that resolves this issue.”

Romney also used the forum to attempt to recover from an unguarded comments caught on video – his claim that 47 percent of Americans are hand-out seekers who will vote for President Barack Obama as well as saying that he could more easily win this election if he were of native Mexican blood.

“This is a campaign about the 100 percent,” he said. “And over the last several years you’ve seen greater and greater divisiveness in this country.

“We had hoped to come back together but instead you see us pull apart and politics has driven us apart in some respects. So my campaign is about the 100 percent in America, and I’m concerned about them.”

But on the wishing he were Hispanic comment, which has been widely criticized and ridiculed since the video was leaked and made public this week, co-hosts Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas gave him a surprising free pass other than a softball joking question about it.

“I think for political purposes that might have helped me here at the University of Miami,” said Romney, referring to the site of the forum. “But the truth is, as you know, my dad was born of American parents living in Mexico.

“But he came back to this country at age five or six and was helped to get on his feet and recognize that this was the land of opportunity, and he’s been the role model and inspiration throughout my life.”

Univision forum: Mitt Romney

For his part, Romney did not apologize for either assertion, and neither the Univision anchors nor the students in the audience and Facebook viewers pressed him on the issue.

What the anchors did press him on the more than a million-plus young undocumented immigrants who would benefit under the “deferred action” program that Obama administration put in place this year.

“For those who are already here and that are undocumented and were brought here by their parents and are therefore illegal aliens in this country, my view is that we should put in place a permanent solution,” Romney said.

Romney also said he would provide a pathway to permanent resident status for undocumented immigrants who pursue military service – and that he supported stapling a green card to college diplomas of those who earn a degree.

All in all, it was Romney’ strongest effort in repairing the nagging issue that that has been haunting him since Monday when the video became public.

“I know I’m not going to get 100 percent of the vote,” he said. “And my campaign will focus on those people we think we can bring in to support me.

“I’m concerned about the fact that over the past four years, life has become harder for Americans.”

For much of the appearance, Romney had virtual free rein on pressing his plans to get the economy going again, still with no greater detail or specifics than the five-point program that he laid out Monday in Los Angeles to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

But this was also a Romney who sounded more compassionate and caring for the less fortunate than at almost any other time in his campaign.

“More people have fallen into poverty,” he said of life during the Obama administration. “More people, we’ve just heard, have had to go on to food stamps. When the president took office, 32 million people were on food stamps. Today 47 million are on food stamps.

“This is a campaign about helping people who need help, and now the poor in this country need help getting out of poverty, the people in the middle class need help because their incomes have gone down in the last four years. Jobs are harder to find.”

Romney also played to the students in his audience as well as to the fact that unemployment is considerably higher among Hispanics.

“We have 23 million Americans out of work or stopped looking for work or under-employed,” he said. “Half the kids coming our of college aren’t able to get jobs or jobs consistent with a college degree.

“And this is a tough time for America, and I’m convinced that if we take a different course, based upon my experience – a course that will re-ignite America’s economy, you’re going to see those numbers change.

“You’re going to see people coming out of poverty. You’re going to see incomes rising again in America. That’s the course I think we have to take. And, by the way, with regards to the fact that I’m confident:

“I have a record. I have demonstrated my capacity to help the 100 percent. When I was governor of my state, the state of Massachusetts, our incomes grew every year. We brought unemployment down to 4.7 percent. Our schools became No. 1 in the nation.

“And I was able to work with a Democratic legislature to get the accomplishments I’ve described. So that kind of record shows I care about the 100 percent.

“People in America are going to have a better future if they elect me the next president.”

This article was first published in Voxxi.

Los Angeles-based writer Tony Castro is the author of the critically-acclaimed “Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America” and the best-selling “Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son.”

[Image by Univision, photo by roberthuffstutter]

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