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Presidential candidate has relatives south of the border

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
updated 4:44 PM EST, Mon January 16, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republican Mitt Romney has cousins in Mexico
  • They came from Utah to settle in Mexico in the late 1800s
  • They are loyal both to their cousin and to Mexico

Colonia Juarez, Mexico (CNN) -- In the rolling hills of northern Mexico, about 180 miles south of the U.S. border, lies a community that stands out for its religious roots. The houses in this community surrounded by peach and apple orchards look more like homes you would find in the American Southwest than in Mexico. On top of a hill stands a gleaming white Mormon temple, a rarity in this largely Catholic country.

Miles Anthony Romney is a resident in this community called Colonia Juarez and a practicing Mormon. The 50-year-old owner of orchards and a fruit packing plant says his family descends from Mormons who settled in this area more than 125 years ago.

"They established the apple orchards, the peach orchards, farms, ranches, and that's basically what we do today," Romney said. "We come from a hardworking family. We come from honest people."

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Miles A. Romney's great-grandfather led the first group of Mormons to the state of Chihuahua, the same Mormons to whom the family of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney traces its heritage. In fact, Mitt Romney's father, George -- who also ran for president in the United States -- was born in this area himself in a town called Colonia Dublan. And Miles Anthony Romney is Mitt Romney's second cousin.

Miles Romney is so proud of Mitt Romney's political career that he managed to get a Romney bumper sticker sent to Mexico which he proudly displays on his pickup truck. He also has a Romney campaign sign on his window. And he says he can't understand why Mitt Romney's religion is an issue for some people. "I think it's a misunderstanding on their part. I know people try to use that against Mitt, but they just can't find anything on him to dig up about him," Romney says.

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The first Romneys arrived in this part of Mexico around 1885. They came from Utah, said Kelly Wayne Romney, where as Mormons, they felt they had to deal with religious persecution and the controversy over polygamy. There are still about 40 members of the Romney family here in Colonia Juarez who trace their roots back to those first settlers.

Kelly Romney is also a resident of Colonia Juarez. The 69-year-old is Mitt Romney's second cousin as well. He says that, among the first settlers, "it was actually a very small percentage of the church that practiced polygamy." The community hasn't practiced polygamy since the church banned it in the late 1800s.

His peach and apple orchards, together with those owned by other members of the Romney family, are a crucial source of employment in this part of Mexico. A fruit packing cooperative owned by several of the Romneys is also an important economic engine in the community.

The Romney family and other Mormon settlers built a bilingual school in 1904 that is attended by the children of all the members of the Mormon community.

Kelly Romney says Mitt Romney himself has never been here, but the fruit grower says he saw him once in the States. "I was on a plane one time from Salt Lake City to New York and he was on it. My wife kept trying to get me to go meet him, but I guess I was a little timid and thought, 'Well when we get off in New York I'll meet him,' but we got off and he went on to Boston," Kelly Romney said.

As much as he admires his second cousin, Kelly Romney says he disagrees with his position on immigration. "There should be guest worker programs for these [Mexican] people that are practically starving to death to be able to go over there and do work that the American people would not do," Romney said.

More than anything, this branch of the Romney family defines itself by the teachings of its church, and feels allegiance to both Mexico and the United States.

Kelly Romney says he knows the national sports of both countries equally well. But when asked what country he would root for in a soccer match between the United States and Mexico, he replies "Mexico!" with a quick smile. "We have a loyalty to this country. We were born here," Romney says.

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