SUN LAKES, Ariz. — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney took a tough line on illegal immigration and a reassuring approach on Social Security as he spent a day campaigning in Arizona, making several appearances Wednesday in the early primary state.
Romney addressed a business audience in Tucson and then spoke to about 700 people in Sun Lakes, a retirement community on the outskirts of Phoenix. His schedule also included at least one fundraiser.
Arizona's presidential primary was set for Feb. 28, which is relatively early on the national calendar of caucuses and primaries. Some states were considering moving up their contests.
Romney told the group in Sun Lakes that he would build a border fence and turn "off the magnet" by imposing heavy sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
"Let's protect legal immigration and make it work for America and the families that come here legally," he said. "I will stop illegal immigration."
He added: "It's time to do it."
He also was asked about legal immigration when he addressed several dozen business executives at a car dealership in Tucson, Ariz. Some executives were frustrated by the red tape in bringing in highly educated workers.
Romney said he would give first priority for coming into the country to foreigners with graduate degrees.
"I want people coming into the country with skills and experience, speaking English, with degrees and contributing to our culture and the capacity of our nation," Romney said, adding that legal immigrants tend to start their own businesses.
On Social Security, Romney ruled out tax increases to prop up the system, but he said he would consider a combination of raising the retirement age, broadening trust fund investments and reducing the inflation adjustment.
Romney reiterated his recent debate criticism of rival Rick Perry for the Texas governor's characterization of Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme."
"You guys have not taken advantage of Social Security," he told the largely gray-haired Sun Lakes audience. "There are no bad guys in Social Security."
While changes were needed to protect the system's future viability for younger adults, "it's not going to change for anybody in this room," he said.
Romney's opening remarks touched on his campaign themes, including a promise to protect and promote economic freedom and provide competence in reinvigorating the nation's economy.
"We have a nice guy as president, but he doesn't have a clue about what to do about the economy and I do," Romney said.
Associated Press reporter Jacques Billeaud contributed from Tucson, Ariz.