2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney (Pic by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr)

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney told participants at the Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Miami Friday that as president he would protect and expand legal immigration that conforms to the needs of the business community.

Romney started by saying his heart goes out to undocumented immigrants, but also to the 4.5 million who are waiting in their countries to get here, adding that he wants  a “transparent” legal immigration system, not the current “labyrinth.”

He added that “illegals should be given a temporary status,” but they should go back to their country and get in line.

Romney said that under his presidency immigration policy would not consist of rounding up and deporting people, but he has been clear that existing immigration laws must be enforced. He made clear during the speech at the Hispanic conference that the GOP must not let the mainstream media define the party as anti-immigrant. “We are the party of legal immigration,” he said.

Like Gingrich earlier in the day, Romney outlined the importance of Latin America, where there are “huge economic, political and military opportunities” for American foreign policy.

He said that economic ties with Latin America “are not charitable” ties, adding that in the first 100 days of his administration, he “will draw” the U.S. and Latin American business community together because there is a great opportunity “in our self-interest,” and that free trade raises up both partners.

Romney said there are four competing models to lead the world: the U.S., which embodies free trade and freedom; China, which, like the U.S. has a capitalist economy but is authoritarian; resurgent Russia; and the jihadists, whose model is showing up “right here in this hemisphere.” Under the current administration, Romney said, the U.S. is watching when what the U.S. needs to do is recognize the forces of evil.

He added the United States needs to promote freedom and democracy for the entire world, something he will do, as opposed to Obama, who delayed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Romney also stated his support for an enhanced effort against drug trafficking, stressing that the U.S. must do more to educate its youth that consuming drugs smuggled into this country contributes to death and violence in Latin America.

Like Gingrich, Romney said that if Puerto Ricans vote for statehood he will work to make that state a model in the Caribbean.

Romney told the audience that Obama “is detached from reality,” calling his administration “a failed presidency.”

Obama “didn’t  cause the recession,” Romney said, “but he made it worse.”

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