Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Saturday that he would veto legislation that would allow certain illegal residents to become American citizens.
"The answer is yes," Romney said during a campaign stop here in western Iowa, when he was asked if he would refuse to sign what's known as the DREAM Act.
Romney has said before that he would oppose the legislation, which would legalize some young illegal immigrants if they attend college or serve in the military. But Saturday was the first time he's explicitly said he would veto it.
Democrats immediately seized on Romney's remarks. "Wrong on principle and politics," David Axelrod, the Obama campaign's top political adviser wrote on Twitter in response. The Democratic National Committee called Romney's stance "appalling" in a written statement.
Immigration is likely to be a key issue in the general election, particularly in swing states like Florida, Nevada and Colorado, which have significant Hispanic populations.
Romney said he would support provisions of the bill that allow people to earn permanent residency if they serve in the military.
"I'm delighted with the idea that people who come to this country and wish to serve in the military can be given a path to become permanent residents of this country," Romney said in Iowa.
He was campaigning just three days before the state's Republican caucuses. A new poll shows Romney leading the field of GOP presidential candidates.
The most recent version of the DREAM Act would have provided a route to legal status for immigrants who were brought to the United States before age 16, have lived in the country for five years, graduated from high school or gained an equivalency degree and who joined the military or attend college.
It targeted the most sympathetic of the estimate 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States _ those brought to the country as children, and who in many cases consider themselves American, speak English and have no ties to their native countries.
Critics of the bill called it a backdoor to amnesty that would encourage more foreigners to sneak into the United States in hopes of eventually being legalized.