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Democrats, citing Pearce remark, paint Romney as “extreme” on immigration

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WASHINGTON – Democrats seized on former state Sen. Russell Pearce’s recent claim that he and Mitt Romney have “identical” views on immigration to try to paint the GOP presidential hopeful as an “extremist” on immigration reform.

Romney’s stance on immigration would make him the most extreme presidential nominee of our time if chosen by Republicans, said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, one of three Democratic congressmen attacking the GOP frontrunner Friday.

“Under a Romney presidency we can see immigration continue to be …  an issue that would be exploited,” said Grijalva, who was joined on a conference call by Reps. Charlie Gonzalez of Texas and Xavier Becerra of California.

The call came days after former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, the author of the state’s SB 1070 immigration law, reportedly said Romney’s immigration views “identical to mine.”

“Attrition by enforcement. It’s identical to mine – enforce the laws,” the Washington Post quoted Pearce as saying after a political dinner Tuesday. “We have good laws, just enforce them.”

Neither Pearce nor Romney returned phone calls seeking comment Friday.

On his campaign website, however, Romney outlines an immigration policy that calls for securing the border by completing a high-tech fence and hiring border patrol agents. He also said he supports E-Verify and opposes “magnets” for illegal immigration, such as amnesty programs and in-state tuition for people in this country illegally.

Pearce – who lost a recall election in November, largely over his aggressive immigration positions – told the Post he did not want “to take credit for being there and helping him (Romney) write it, but much of his policy was modeled – by people who I’ve worked with – after my legislation.”

The law has been challenged by the Justice Department as a state intrusion on federal authority, and is scheduled for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court later this month.

The Democrats said Pearce’s support for Romney, as well as some of things he has said during his campaign, indicate that Romney would try to enact laws like SB 1070 nationally. They claimed that he would veto the DREAM Act, opposes comprehensive reform and encourages immigrants to “self-deport.”

“When you have Russell Pearce say that Mitt Romney’s plans on immigration are identical to his, that should be a red flag to anybody who cares about this country’s history, the Constitution and the principle of justice,” Grijalva said.

The congressmen said Romney has allied himself with Pearce, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, former California Gov. Pete Wilson and other backers of stringent laws against undocumented immigrants.

“We have to reject these policies,” Grijalva said. “And a rejection of these policies is rejecting Mitt Romney.”

It is not the first time Democrats have tried to characterize Romney by association on immigration: When Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer endorsed Romney in February, Gonzalez and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cited it as proof of Romney’s “extreme” positions on the issue.

The Democrats Friday also took the opportunity to attack the other Republican presidential hopefuls. Becerra said the other candidates “go from far right to the extreme right – the only difference is, how far can you turn your neck?”

“On issues important to Latinos, you can’t put a thin piece of paper between them (the GOP candidates) on their positions,” Grijalva said.