AMERICA'S VOICE RESEARCH ON IMMIGRATION REFORM
MEET THE 2016 GOP CANDIDATES FOR PRESIDENT — AND THEIR POSITIONS ON IMMIGRATION
*Note: the inclusion of candidates on this list is intended to be overbroad, and a candidate being on this list should not be taken as proof that he/she will run.
This weekend, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is gathering a majority of the 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls at the Iowa Freedom Summit, where the likes of Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and many more will come to kiss King’s ring and attempt to build up a base in Iowa for their upcoming campaigns. Not all the 2016 Republican potentials are coming — some do have the sense to stay away from King’s toxic brand. But as the potentials gather this weekend, and many more times in the next year and a half, here’s a primer on each candidate’s history on immigrants and immigration reform:
Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) is often referred to as one of the GOP’s best hopes for Latino voters, considering that he speaks fluent Spanish, has a Mexican wife, and is father to biracial children. But in 2013, he caught a lot of flak for walking back his support for a path to citizenship in a book that critics said “misread the political moment.” In the ensuing criticism, Bush flipped back to supporting citizenship again.
Most talk of Bush re: immigration wonders how he would make it through a GOP primary. Last year, he famously said that immigrants cross the border without papers as an “act of love“: “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s kind of — it’s a, it’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.” He has often called on Republicans to pass legislative immigration reform and said (according to biographer Clint Bolick) that Republicans must find a way to “avoid committing suicide by continuing to alienate people who should be Republicans.” He also opposed Arizona’s SB 1070 law. At least on paper, Bush has suggested that he will not back away from his pro-immigrant views, saying that A Republican must be willing to “lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles. And it’s not an easy task, to be honest with you.”
However, on executive action, Bush sounds like many other Republicans, claiming that the President’s announcement last November “undermines” legislation (it’s hard to understand how, since Republicans had nearly two full years to pass a House bill, and didn’t). He’s also refused to talk about whether he supports the GOP’s recent efforts to defund executive action and DACA.
- “First and foremost we need to control our border…The 40 percent of the people that have come here illegally came with a legal visa and overstayed their bounds. We outta be able to figure out where they are and politely ask them to leave.” (January 2015)
Dr. Ben Carson is a popular Tea Party candidate and a retired neurosurgeon who seems to have zero grasp of immigration policy. In a recent National Review piece entitled “My Prescription for Immigration Reform,” Carson spends a lot of time spewing popular Tea Party misconceptions about immigration — that the border is “very porous,” that immigrants have “easy access to health care,” and that people come here for “easy acquisition of public support through welfare programs.”
His prescription mostly involves a guest-worker program — that immigrants currently here must self-deport in order to apply for. “People already here illegally could apply for guest-worker status from outside of the country. This means they would have to leave first.” Carson offers no ideas on what it would mean for the American economy to have immigrants leave, what it would mean for immigrant communities to be emptied out, or what would happen to DREAMers or the US citizen children of immigrants. Carson does advise that if immigrants “are wise, they will arrange with their employer before they leave to immediately offer them a legal job as soon as their application is received” — another indication that he has no idea how long backlogs can take or what families/employers are supposed to do in the meantime.
Later on in the same op-ed, he ridiculously suggests that “anyone caught involved in voter fraud should be immediately deported and have his citizenship revoked”, without explaining where a person with US citizenship is supposed to be deported to. On executive action, Carson believes that Obama is “very much like Putin”. (He also thinks that Obamacare is the worst thing for America “since slavery”. Read here for more truly wacky things that Carson has said.)
See more: Ben Carson on how the next president must “seal the border“
Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) could almost be an applaudable figure on immigration reform. He has received F grades from NumbersUSA on immigration and was once criticized for prosecuting only about a dozen immigration violations when he was a US Attorney between 2002 and 2007. In 2008 when Christie was preparing to run for governor, he said that “being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime,” a position that was actually to the right of his Democratic opponent and earned Christie a hit piece by the anti-immigrant show host Lou Dobbs.
In 2013, Christie’s interim appointment to the US Senate, Republican Jeff Chiesa, voted for the Senate immigration bill after Christie counseled him to “do what you think is right.” To bolster his pro-immigrant credentials for his reelection in 2013, Christie reversed a previous position and became a supporter of the New Jersey state DREAM Act. After he signed the bill into law, he publicly extolled DREAMers, saying: “”You are an inspiration to us. You’re an inspiration to us because in you we see all that the future of our country can be.” In his 2013 reelection, Christie spent heavily on Spanish-language television, radio, and direct mail — and was rewarded with nearly half the Latino vote, 48%. Last year, he spoke about his “great empathy” for children coming across the border, saying that he would “take every request” to house the children and make decisions “based on its merits.”
Christie is considered a presidential frontrunner, however, and he apparently believes that building a base in Iowa requires kissing the ring of Steve King. He’s attended King’s annual pheasant hunt and once calledKing his “pal,” saying:
At first glance, you might not think that me and Steve King are the most natural pals, this guy from New Jersey and this congressman from Iowa. But here’s the thing that we have most in common: We stand up for what we believe in.
In recent months, Christie has declined to talk about immigration entirely. In 2010 Christie supported a path to citizenship for immigrants, saying the “president and the Congress have to step up to the plate, they have to secure our borders, and they have to put forward a commonsense path to citizenship for people.” But by 2013 he was changing his tune, saying that immigration “has to be figure out by those in charge of the national government. My job is to fix what’s going on in New Jersey.” He’s slammed President Obama for not pursuing immigration reform earlier in his tenure as President, even as he refused to offer specific immigration proposals of his own.
In a November 2014 New York Times profile, Christie repeatedly went out of his way to avoid talking about immigration, saying that he would only broach the topic “if and when I become a candidate for president of the United States. Until that time, I have no role in the immigration debate except for how it may affect the citizens of New Jersey.” He did, however, call last fall’s talk of shutdown over immigration, “hysteria.” Read here for a National Journal timeline of all the times Christie has refused to talk about immigration.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was born in Canada to Cuban immigrant parents, but that hasn’t stopped him from being such a firebrand nativist that even members of his own party are furious with him for it. Last month, Cruz tried to force yet another government shutdown, this time over immigration, in a foolhardy move that only led to a victory for Democrats.
He’s slammed the Supreme Court for its 2012 decision striking down most of Arizona’s SB 1070 law, called on Mitt Romney (during the 2012 election) to end DACA, and blamed the children’s crisis on the border on deferred action (“The only way to stop the border crisis is to stop Obama’s amnesty”). Cruz’s contribution to the 2013 push to pass the Senate immigration bill was a nasty amendment preventing all undocumented immigrants from ever being able to attain citizenship; he also called the bill’s citizenship provision a “poison pill” that he accused President Obama of using to try and scuttle the whole thing.
More recently, Cruz has become one of the loudest Senate GOP voices calling for ending DACA and executive action, even calling it his “top priority.” He’s repeatedly pushed the entire party to the right on immigration, calling for votes against DACA and shooting down nascent Republican plans for legislation. If 2016 Republicans are too busy passing forced litmus tests to effectively reach out to Latino voters, it will be — in good portion — Ted Cruz’s fault.
Cruz has also said that executive action is the equivalent of President Obama “counterfeiting immigration papers, because there’s no legal authority to do what he’s doing.”
Carly Fiorina, a Republican from California who should really know better about what it takes to win the Latino vote, supports the DREAM Act, but that’s it. The rest of her positions place her solidly in the Steve King camp. She does not support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already here: “I do not support amnesty,” she said in a debate 2010.
She supported Arizona’s anti-immigrant state law SB 1070. “I understand why Arizona” passed the law, she said, adding it was because of “fear and frustration.” “The people of Arizona did what they felt they had to do.” An SF Gate blogger pointed out how that comment sounds to Latinos: “The ‘fear’ comment was telling. Fear of who, Carly? What kind of fear? Fear of Latinos?”
And she is one of the Republicans trying to blame President Obama for the lack of immigration reform. This year she said of the President: “He sunk comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. He did nothing to push forward immigration reform when he had the Senate, the House and the White House. He said in ’11 and ’12 he couldn’t do anything. And then he delayed his action for the elections. Unbelievable cynicism.” This despite the fact that it’s been the Republican House that has killed immigration reform this year, with Obama being the one to bend over backwards to try and push them toward a vote, before finally announcing an executive order that gave relief to 5 million immigrants last month.
On executive action, she tweeted that “executive action on immigration isn’t leadership. It’s cynical politics at its worst” and told Fox News that “it’s terrible. I think it’s an overreach.”
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) at least had an immigration plan that involves legalization for the undocumented immigrants already here, though not citizenship, the last time he ran for President. As our executive director Frank Sharry has said about him, “Gingrich, while hardly a reformer in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, at least deigns to acknowledge the reality that it is neither practical nor humane to drive 11 million people out of the country.” And as Gingrich’s opponent in the 2012 GOP primaries, Michele Bachmann, once sniped, “He probably has the most liberal position on illegal immigration of any of the candidates [then] in the race.”
Gingrich’s immigration plan is the “red card” proposal that would give immigrants already here some form of legal status. As Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, once criticized, “It virtually guarantees that we create second-class status for workers and their families — lawful but with no real rights.” Unlike real immigration reform, Gingrich’s plan would do nothing to reform the legal immigration system. And it would involve amending the Constitution in order to dispose of birthright citizenship, something Giovagnoli called “eradicating rights.”
Gingrich isn’t above fear-mongering when it comes to immigration. He’s expressed fears that immigrants could bring ebola into the US. He once vowed to build an entire US-Mexico border in a single year. And last summer, when President Obama announced that he was delaying his plan to announce executive action until after the 2014 election, Gingrich called the move “cowardly” even though he also expressed his belief that such an action was “unconstitutional” and indicative of a “Venezuelan-style-anything-I-want-is-legal-presidency.”
On how Republicans should respond to executive action: “Congress should only approve very short spending bill to set up fight in January on Obama unconstitutional power grab,” Gingrich tweeted. “He must be stopped now.”
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), in 2005, supported a bill providing in-state tuition for young immigrants — though the bill never made it out of the legislature and so he never signed it — and he opposed a federal roundup of undocumented workers, leaving him exposed to attacks from the right.
Perhaps that’s why Huckabee, during his 2008 run, found it necessary to plagiarize immigration positionsfrom none other than Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, who published his proposal in 2005. When Huckabee announced his nine-point immigration plan in 2008, he said it was “partially” modeled on a Krikorian editorial. But Huckabee then took credit for the plan during a Republican debate, and Mitt Romney called him out for lifting “whole sections of Krikorian’s editorial without quotes or direct attribution.”
The Washington Post later declared Huckabee and Krikorian’s plans “virtually identical” and said that Huckabee had “copied verbatim” at least 10 passages of the Krikorian plan. These passages included attrition-through-enforcement/self-deportation proposals forcing all undocumented immigrants to leave the country within four months.
As for Obama’s announcement last November, Huckabee has called executive action “wholly unconstitutional,” an “insult to the American people,” and compared it to the “tyranny of King George.” He continued:
As a former Governor, I understand that complex legislation requires working with both Democrats and Republicans, listening to all sides, compromising when possible, and ultimately executing the will of the consent of the governed. President Obama has never learned that valuable lesson in leadership. He is wading off into dangerous waters by acting alone yet again on something as important as immigration.
A key part of Huckabee’s opposition to executive action seemed to be President Obama’s usage of scripture in his speech announcing the move: “This is a president that uses the Bible when it suits him,” Huckabee later complained on Fox.
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) is currently leading one of the 25 states suing President Obama over executive action, so that’s an automatic point against him. This week he’s on a trade mission to Europe, where he is expected to speak about the importance of assimilation in immigration and how he doesn’t believe in “hyphenated Americans.” That probably explains why he supports English being the official language and wants government documents to be printed in English only. He also voted for a border fence when he was in the House in 2006.
Jindal is nominally in favor of immigration reform — the kind of immigration reform that won supermajority support in the 2013 Senate immigration bill — but he opposed S. 744. Really: Jindal wants more border security, supports a path to citizenship, and wants to reform the legal immigration system — all things that the Senate immigration bill did — but he opposed the bill because, like Rand Paul, he didn’t think it did enough to secure the border first. About a month after the Senate bill passed, Jindal wrote a paternalistic op-ed about how immigration reform can be done if people just secured the border hard enough:
The path to real reform is just not that complicated.I can hear the critics now: They will say we can’t secure the border, it’s too hard. But that’s a straw man — the people who say we can’t secure the border are really saying that they don’t want to secure the border.
His argument, of course, totally ignored the fact that people were working to reform immigration and direct even more security toward the border, in an effort that he did nothing to help with.
On executive action, Jindal has called Obama’s move a “cynical attempt to change the topic” after Democrats lost the 2014 election. He has called on Republicans to do “everything they can” to stop Obama on executive action, short of government shutdown: “no, we shouldn’t shut down the government, but absolutely Republicans should do everything they can to force the president to follow the law.” He also claimed that a government shutdown, if it happened, would be Obama’s fault (“no, the president shouldn’t shut down the government so that he can break the law”), a point that was ridiculed by Jon Stewart.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), on immigration, has recently become famous for one thing — running away from DREAMers. Last August, the internet skewered Paul when the Senator abruptly put down his burger and bolted rather than talk to Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas of the DRM Action Group.
Paul somewhat has a reputation for saying the right things about immigration — he’s a self-styled moderate on the issue who has cajoled his party to “move beyond deportations” and adopt a “new attitude toward immigrants.” He’s warned the GOP of the electoral consequences if “there’s not the perception of empathy coming from the Republican party” and talked about how he’s “never met a new immigrant looking for a free lunch.”
For a time in 2013, it seemed like Paul was going to be a GOP champion for the Senate passing immigration reform. But he abruptly changed his mind, and voted against S. 744, because in his opinion it did not secure the border first. (Our response to him: the border is already secure, and Republicans use the idea that it should be secured further before enacting immigration reform as an excuse to never get around to reform.) More recently, Paul has said that he still supports immigration reform, albeit one that hinges on border security first and an expanded work visa program, with legalization but no citizenship for immigrants. Paul also opposes birthright citizenship and would amend the Constitution to do away with it.
Paul is a noted opponent of executive action: he’s called on Republicans to take Obama to court over the move and filed his own bill to kill executive action. He also made the mistake of comparing executive action to internment camps, which earned him a stinging rebuke from Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), who spent time in internment camps as a child.
Former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), on immigration, is perhaps most famous for saying during the 2012 primary debates that detractors of Texas’ state DREAM Act have no heart, but his record on immigration is more complicated than that.
For one thing, he doesn’t support the federal DREAM Act — meaning that while Texas DREAMers are allowed to go to college and pay in-state tuition under Perry’s bill, they’re unable to pursue the full path to citizenship made possible by the federal DREAM Act. And even though he is successor to George W. Bush, who supported full immigration reform, Perry has never come out in favor of a pathway to citizenship — or even anything so much as legalization. (He has spoken repeatedly about a guest worker program.)
Perry is mostly a “secure the border first” hawk, and has a history of refusing to discuss any other aspect of immigration reform until the border is secure. (He even once said that “E-Verify would not make a hill of beans’ difference” unless the border was secure, something conservatives criticized him for.) Recently, he’s used the border to fear-monger, saying that there is “no clear evidence” that ISIS agents are coming across the border — yet expressing “great concern” anyway. Last summer, he sent 1000 National Guard troops to the border in response to the children’s crisis there, even though there was no function for the troops and no one had asked him to send them.
As Governor, Perry vetoed a driver’s license bill for immigrants and pushed an SB 1070-style law in Arizona. Perry initially opposed SB 1070 — but then supported a similar bill in Texas which would’ve cracked down on “sanctuary cities” and forced local law enforcement to question people about their immigration status. Police chiefs and sheriffs in Dallas, El Paso, Austin, and San Antonio strongly opposed the measure, which eventually died in the legislature, and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro called Perry’s bill “easily the most anti-Latino agenda in more than a generation.”
As a presidential candidate in 2012, Perry threw his support behind SB 1070 again by saying that “when I’m the president of the United States, you’re not going to see me going after states like Arizona or Alabama, suing sovereign states for making decisions.” He was also endorsed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio — as toxic a nod on immigration as you can get.
On executive action, Perry released a statement after Obama’s announcement saying “The president’s decision tonight will lead to more illegal immigration, not less. It is time for the president and Congress to secure our border, followed by meaningful reforms.” He also threatened to sue the administration over executive action, which Perry’s successor Greg Abbott has now done.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) has made a lot of headlines recently with strong hints that he is considering yet another presidential run. If he goes for it, his positions are going to have to do a complete 180. What didn’t Romney do wrong on immigration in 2012? He claimed that Arizona’s SB 1070 law was a “model for the nation.” He vowed to veto the DREAM Act if it ever came to his desk as president, and promoted the policy of self-deportation. He kept Kris Kobach around as an adviser and attacked Rick Perry for supporting the Texas DREAM Act. (When he was governor of Massachusetts, he vetoed a similar in-state tuition bill.) For all that, Latinos rewarded Romney with 23% of their vote, compared to 75% for Obama, a new low for the GOP. Since then, Romney has appeared to see the error of his ways on immigration, even saying last year that Republicans should pass reform. However, the report is that Romney 3.0 will be even more conservative than his previous iterations — he recently spent time meeting with Laura Ingraham, of all people. He’s called executive action an “extra-Constitutional’ move that would be “poking an eye of the Republican leaders in Congress.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the candidate who was once hailed by TIME as the “Republican Savior,” partly for being able to speak convincingly about a middle path on immigration and how no one side had a monopoly on all the answers. In the interview with TIME, Rubio disclosed how his immigrant mother had influenced him on immigration, leaving him a voicemail referring to “los pobrecitos,” or “the poor things”:
Tony, some loving advice from the person who cares for you most in the world. Don’t mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don’t mess with them.They’re human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please, don’t mess with them.
In 2013 Rubio parlayed his reputation on the issue into support for the Senate immigration bill, which he co-wrote with the Gang of 8 and helped pass.
But then a funny thing happened. Under criticism for his role in the immigration bill, and sensing that his presidential aspirations were potentially in danger, Rubio abandoned his own legislation and the immigration reform effort. Instead of sticking to his guns, Rubio decided to burn his bridges at both ends. He announced a newfound opposition to the House passing an immigration bill that could conference with the Senate legislation. He claimed a new preference for a piecemeal approach to the issue, rather than S. 744’s comprehensive tactic. He began to sound like a border hawk:
I’ve learned in the last year that because of such an incredible distrust of the federal government no matter who’s in charge, the only way you’re going to be able to deal with this issue is by first securing the border and ensuring that illegal immigration is under control.
Think Progress actually published this evolution of Rubio repeatedly changing his politics on the issue. Last August, a clip of him jeering Dreamers (“We are a sovereign country that deserves to have immigration laws. You’re doing harm to your own cause because you don’t have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States”) and throwing them out of his fundraiser was shown all over Spanish-language news.
This year Rubio is publishing a book that only briefly mentions immigration. In it, Rubio again emphasizes the piecemeal approach, writing that “achieving comprehensive immigration reform of anything in a single bill is simply not realistic. Having tried that approach, I know this to be true firsthand.” His piecemeal strategy would involve at least three components: a border security bill, legal immigration reform (including a guest-worker program and high-tech visas), and a program for the 11 million (registration, temporary non-immigrant visas, and at least a decade before applying for permanent residency). Rubio does not mention, though he also does not rule out, a future pathway to citizenship.
On DAPA and DACA, Rubio has said that he would “love to defund” executive action. He’s called for an end to DACA, though left things open-ended about how long the program might be allowed to continue. He warned Obama not to go through with executive action, citing the excuse that such a move would dampen legislation: “not only does it raise very serious constitutional issues but in my opinion it sets back the cause of reform for a long time.” And recently he said that executive action was the “wrong decision in the first place…this idea that our immigration laws somehow need to ignored is quite frankly ridiculous.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) was a vocal opponent of comprehensive immigration reform in 2006, voting against legislation supported by George Bush. At the time, he said that the bill created “incentives for illegal immigrants to raid the Social Security system and lie about their work history,” and proclaimed that the bill sent the message that “America has lost the will to enforce her laws, and her sovereignty is for sale–currently, for around $2,000.”
In the Senate, Santorum cosponsored amendments to reimburse states for using National Guard troops to secure the border. Before voting against the 2006 comprehensive immigration reform bill, Santorum attempted to add border enforcement provisions including a “triple-layer” border fence.
Santorum tried to use immigration as a wedge issue in his failed 2006 Senate reelection bid. Santorum ran several ads during his 2006 reelection campaign against Democrat Bob Casey on the topic of immigration, including his first ad of the campaign. Later in the campaign, he put up a web site that claimed that “13 million illegal aliens were counting on” Casey. He brought up immigration in town hall meetings throughout the state—including in Pittsburgh, even though, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “this region, by (Santorum’s) own analysis, has remarkably little immigration of any kind.”
More recently, Santorum has said that he (like Romney) would veto the Dream Act and dismissed concerns that deportations are difficult for families. As he told Fox News:
I don’t like to break up families, but you know the family can go back. We’re not sending them to Siberia. We’re not sending them to any kind of, you know, difficult country. They’re going to Mexico, which is a great country, a nice country. And they can go back like every other Mexican that wants to come to America and come here.
He’s also attacked legal immigrants and repeated a debunked claim from the Center for Immigration Studies on how immigrants take American jobs. Here’s what he said at a Tea Party rally in South Carolina in January 2015:
What percentage of those net new jobs are held by people not born in this country? Half? Sixty? All of them. There are fewer native-born Americans working today than there was [sic] in 2000, in spite of 17 million more workers in the workforce. So when people tell me the problem is just illegal immigration, they’re wrong. They’re wrong…Part of the reason is that we’re bringing floods of legal, not illegal, legal immigrants into the country.”
In response to executive action, Santorum has criticized Obama for opening a “Pandora’s box for every president in the future” and acting “like a tyrant…he has acted against the Constitution and he has thrown the Republicans and he has thrown the country a curveball, we’ve never dealt with anything like this before.” Santorum added, “The president has just slapped in the face every House and Senate member, saying we don’t need you anymore.”
Donald Trump is far from a serious presidential candidate, but if he runs, here’s a list of things he’s said on immigration:
- As president, he would use his extensive construction experience to build a border fence, which he said would “be a beauty“
- Executive action will let in “the ISIS“
- Immigration reform is a “death wish” and “suicide mission” for Republicans because in his opinion, immigrants will never vote Republican
- Immigrants are “taking your jobs“
- The US should let in more European immigrants
- Ebola-infected immigrants will “just walk into the country” over Mexican border
- Children on the border are a “concerted effort” by Obama to bring migrant children into the US so they can vote Democrat
- Also, remember that time Trump offered $5 million for Obama’s college transcript?
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is currently leading one of the 25 states suing President Obama over executive action, so that’s an automatic point against him. Walker’s Wisconsin stands to gain $19 million over five years in increased tax revenues from immigrants with DAPA status, yet he wants to overturn executive action in order to drive people back into the shadows and make them more deportable.
On other immigration positions, Walker has been all over the place. In 2010 he said he would sign an Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill if it came to his desk; by 2012 he was saying that “I think that it would be a huge distraction for us in this state.” In 2013 he briefly appeared to support a path to citizenship before walking that back, saying “on immigration I talked about fixing the legal immigration system, not going beyond that.” Last summer Walker bemoaned the increase in children coming to the border, saying that the thought of children facing such dangers almost brought him “to tears.” Walker was not much help when it came to taking in and sheltering the children, however, saying that the federal government should find a way to deal with them and that housing them could eventually “drain the entire system.”