The Mexican Romneys, who number about 40, live in solid brick homes with gingerbread accents and green lawns. They count themselves among the most prosperous ranchers and farmers in an area just 190 miles from the border city of El Paso, Texas. They ranch cattle and grow peaches, apples and chili peppers. They also run businesses, a prestigious school with an American football team and basketball program where the students emerge speaking flawless English.
"It is a very open community, where we have been progressive, and we have shaped a life for ourselves, our children, that we think is a healthy life," said Leighton Romney. "We have been here for generations."
Colonia Juarez and its surroundings have not escaped the drug violence that first terrorized the Mexican border and has now migrated to other parts. Meredith Romney, Leighton's brother, was kidnapped in 2009 and held hostage for two days in a cave until his family paid an undisclosed ransom.
The family says the area has gotten safer in the last year and that kidnappings have decreased. They credit Chihuahua's new governor, Cesar Duarte, who took office in 2010.
The town of 1,035 people 137 miles southwest of El Paso, Texas, has another emblematic symbol of the community's success: a white marble temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a golden statue of Moroni, the angel said to have visited Joseph Smith. Next to it is the LDS-affiliated Academia Juarez, with three-story brick buildings and large lawns more reminiscent of Utah than Mexico.
Leighton's nephew, Brandon Romney, 33, grows chili peppers and helps with the school's sports teams. During a recent basketball game, he ran around giving instructions in both English and Spanish to teenagers playing on the court and stopped to talk about his famous relative.
"He's just another guy to me," Brandon Romney said. "Some people get kind of a sense of pride about it. I've never known him, never talked to him."
Brandon Romney and his other relatives who are eligible to vote in America plan to support their distant cousin. Some say they will donate to him if he wins the nomination.
The family generally sees him as a smart businessman who can lead America out of its economic turmoil. They only part ways on immigration, sharing the Mexican view that migrants seeking work in the U.S. should be given a legal means to do so.
The candidate has taken a hardline against illegal immigration. He favors a U.S.-Mexico border fence and opposes education benefits for illegal immigrants. He would support legislation that seeks to award legal status to some young illegal immigrants who serve in the armed forces, but not for those who attend college.
This week, Romney said he favors policies that encourage "self-deportation," where illegal immigrants decide on their own to leave the U.S., over those that would require the government to return the immigrants to their home countries.
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