Hey Republicans, chew on this: Your presumptive GOP presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is managing to lose the issue of immigration to a president who has deported record number of immigrants.

Wha happened?

From a Bloomberg story on the topic:

President Barack Obama is winning the opening round in the battle over immigration, according to a Bloomberg poll released today, putting Republicans on the defensive with his decision to end the deportations of some illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.

The results underscore the challenge facing Mitt Romney and Republicans as they try to woo Hispanic voters, who are the nation’s largest ethnic minority and made up 9 percent of the 2008 electorate, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of exit polls. Obama won the Hispanic vote 67 to 31 percent over Republican John McCain in 2008, according to exit polls.

Let the record show that Barack Obama is a real bum when it comes to immigration. In the two years or so when his party had complete control (as opposed to the partial control it still enjoys) of the federal government, Obama kicked out record number of overwhelmingly Hispanic immigrants. In fact, the president managed to deport his 1 millionth illegal immigrant last September. George W. Bush, try as he might, only managed to push through 1.5 million deportations in eight years. Hope and change, baby, hope and change! Not only has Obama set records for deportations (which among other things has left over 5,000 kids in foster care), but he absolutely insists that his new policy, which would de-emphasize the removal of illegals between the ages of 16 and 30 with a high school degree and no criminal record, is temporary and no big whoop-de-do: "This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship."

In other words, Obama's gesture - and it's little more than that, as it at best covers 800,000 of an estimated 11 million to 12 million illegals - is weaker beer than a case of Natural Light (not to be confused with Natural Rights).

And yet, Mitt Romney - and the GOP more broadly - has no serious counter-offer to make to the 66 percent of Americans (according to new Gallup figures) that view immigration as "a good thing" for the country. During the Republican debates, Romney attacked border-state Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) for continuing the fine tradition of George W. Bush of being vaguely humane toward immigrants. Perry, Romney averred, was threatening the very republic by granting young illegals in-state tuition at Texas universities. Recall Perry's terrifying argument in a debate in Florida (known to be home to more than a few folks originally from elsewhere):

"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said.

Romney's jerk-store-level comeback:

“I think if you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a heart, it means you have a heart and a brain."

Romney is on the record in favor "self-deportations" and a worker-verification program that will doubtless be exactly the sort of nightmare for legal and illegal employees and employers as you can imagine. Apart from all the monumental civil rights issues raised by such a program, just a 1 percent error rate - far lower than is likely - will wreak havoc on day-to-day business decisions. He has "softened" his opposition to the DREAM Act, a pro-immigration bill authored by Republicans and supported by George W. Bush back in the early 2000s, to say that if illegals want to join the military, well, he's OK with that.

If they are interested in winning in the fall - and, more important, minimizing human suffering - Romney and the GOP would rethink their immigration posture. They should take a long look at Ronald Reagan's 1986 legislation that opened up citizenship for 4 million illegals (who were absorbed in the U.S. with basically no problem). And they should remember what Bush said at Ellis Island (worth a trip!) in July 2001:

"Immigration is not a problem to be solved, it is a sign of a confident and successful nation. Their arrival should be greeted not with suspicion and resentment, but with openness and courtesy."

On this one issue, they should emulate George W. Bush, who pulled in somewhere between 40 percent and 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. Rick Perry, who revealed his inner nimrod during his short run for president, pulled 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2010 governor's race in Texas.

Or they can stick with Mitt Romney's self-deportation plan and write off not just Hispanic voters but all of us who see in people willing to risk it all to come and work and live here not just the past but the future of the American experience.

Muy related: Reason's August/September 2006 special issue, titled, "Immigration Now, Immigration Tomorrow, Immigration Forever," which documents (among other things) the net benefits of legal and illegal immigration.