Difference between GOP candidates on immigration largely one of tone
By NBP Staff | October 16, 2015, 13:50 EST
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This is the first in a series of NewBostonPost packages depicting where leading presidential candidates stand on the issues. For more information on GOP candidates and immigration, read our infographic here and our quote graphic here.
In the run up to the 2016 presidential primaries, illegal immigration consistently ranks among top concerns of voters and has become a defining issue for the Republican presidential candidates.
So where do the candidates actually stand? And what are the major policy differences between the GOP rivals when it comes to immigration?
If you build it, they won’t come
There is broad agreement among the Republican candidates for a president that America needs to do a better job securing the borders – both for reasons of economics and national security. But the candidates differ as to how they would go about making our borders more secure.
Although other candidates don’t go quite this far, they all believe we should do more to make the border less easy to penetrate.
“Do you lock your doors at night?” Ohio Governor John Kasich asked rhetorically when pressed on the issue at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (HCC) last week.
“Don’t you think a country needs to lock its doors?”
According to a report in Newsweek magazine, Kasich told the crowd at the HCC that “there are technologies today that can be just as effective as a physical wall.” Kasich supports the use of sensors and drones in addition to completion of some sort of actual wall.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie agrees with Kasich that technology can help the U.S. limit the number of illegal border crossings, and rejects Trump’s plan as ineffective to wall off the entire southern border.
“Walls can be gotten over,” Christie told a New Hampshire audience last spring.
Christie favors increasing the presence of FBI and DEA personnel along the border and using technology as a way to determine where to deploy them.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, considered by some conservatives to be “soft” on immigration because they oppose mass deportations, also support increased border security. Rubio, who in 2013 was part of the so-called Gang of 8 (four Republicans and four Democrats who proposed unsuccessful comprehensive immigration reform), supports the completion of a physical wall as one aspect of a multi-pronged strategy.
For his part, Bush says that Trump’s plans are too costly and unworkable, and instead calls for more patrol bases and easing environmental restrictions in order to give law enforcement agents unfettered access to federal lands along the border.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, another member of the Gang of 8, has supported building a fence, but says that the only way to pass immigration reform is to provide a pathway to citizenship at the same time as the government tightens the border.
Rubio, whose reputation among Tea Party conservatives was damaged by his support for the 2013 bipartisan compromise, says he now realizes that a simultaneous approach is untenable and that the border must be secured first.
“You can’t just tell people you’re going to secure the border,” Rubio told the Conservative Political Action Committee in February.
“You have to do that, they have to see it, they have to see it working, and then they’re going to have a reasonable conversation with you about the other parts, but they’re not going to even want to talk about that until that’s done first.”
In addition to securing the border, most of the Republican candidates support cutting off federal funds for “sanctuary cities” (jurisdictions that prohibit law enforcement officers from notifying immigration officials when a person they have arrested is determined to be in the country illegally). “Sanctuary cities” became a hot topic this summer after 32-year-old Kate Steinle was shot and killed on a San Francisco pier by a man who was in the country illegally.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, supports redirecting federal money from sanctuary cities to those jurisdictions that enforce federal immigration policy.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul supports a different measure, which would tie state and local law enforcement grants to compliance with federal policy and require local officials to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when they arrest anyone who is here illegally.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from India, has taken his opposition to sanctuary cities a step further, arguing that mayors of such jurisdictions should be held “criminally liable” for any crime committed by an illegal immigrant on their watches.
Access to welfare benefits
Most of the Republican candidates say that they are opposed to allowing those here illegally to obtain government welfare benefits, arguing that the practice incentivizes illegal immigration. But candidates disagree on whether illegal immigrants should be able to participate in the federal Social Security system or receive state benefits.
For example, although Rubio, supports barring illegal immigrants from receiving federal benefits, he has supported allowing illegal college students to receive in-state tuition at public universities, as has Chris Christie.
Lindsey Graham has supported allowing illegal immigrants to participate in the social security system.
Trust but verify
Another immigration-related area where Republican candidates generally agree is the need to establish a better system for tracking those who enter the country legally.
Rubio, for one, is fond of pointing out that 40 percent of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. came here legally and then simply overstayed their visas.
Rubio, Christie, Bush, Cruz, Trump, and most of the other presidential candidates support requiring employers to use E-Verify, an internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of employees to work in the United States.
Only libertarian-leaning Rand Paul has expressed concerns with such a system, arguing against a “national identification database.”
“It’s not that I’m opposed to some sort of database check,” Paul told FoxNews Sunday in 2013.
“For example, when you come into the country, I think the country should do a background check on you to find out if you are a felon or if there’s a problem. So I’m not against any kind of checking, I just would prefer the government to be the policeman and not the businessman.”
So, if most Republicans want to secure the border, defund “sanctuary cities,” limit illegal immigrants’ access to government benefits, and mandate the use of E-verify, where do they differ on immigration?
The two biggest areas of disagreement among the Republicans are on on the issues of mass deportations and birthright citizenship.
Dealing with the 11 million
Donald Trump raised eyebrows this summer when he suggested that, if elected, he would seek to deport not only illegal immigrants arrested for crimes, but all 11 million people living in the United States illegally, a plan he said he could accomplish in 18 months to two years, “with good management.”
Trump has promised to scrap President Obama’s Executive Orders, which unilaterally grant amnesty to almost 5 million people who arrived here as children or who are the parents of children born here. (These order have been embroiled in controversy and tied up in court battles and have not yet been fully implemented by the government.)
Like Trump, Ted Cruz also says that, if elected, he will withdraw Obama’s Executive Orders on immigration. In the meantime, Cruz has introduced a bill to Congress that would bar the Department of Homeland Security from using the over $1 billion dollars in fees it collects issuing work permits to legal immigrants to fund the program.
As reported by the Houston Chronicle, Cruz remarked recently that “the federal government should not be in the business of looting the wallets of those who followed the law and came here legally to fund the President’s illegal and unconstitutional amnesty.”
Cruz, who hopes to gain supporters from the Trump camp should Trump exit the race, has not openly criticized the Trump deportation plan.
Other Republicans candidates have spoken openly about the impracticality of Trump’s deportation proposal.
Dr. Ben Carson has said that the “logistics” of Trump’s plan are “difficult,” but says he is open to learning more about how it can be accomplished. At the same time, he has discussed the need for compassion and suggested that many of the people who are here illegally might be brought into a Canadian-style guest worker program.
Jeb Bush, who laid out his comprehensive immigration plan in his 2014 book Immigration Wars, with conservative lawyer Clint Bolick, has been forceful in his condemnation of mass deportation. Other conservatives have criticized Bush’s compassion for the 11 million already here — particularly his statement that those who came to our shores seeking a better life for their children are guilty solely of committing an “act of love.”
Marco Rubio has also spoken compassionately about immigrants and the need to deal humanely with those here illegally, “the vast and enormous majority of whom have come here in pursuit of … the American dream.”
With respect to those who come here and commit crimes, Rubio recently announced his support for Kate’s Law, named for the woman murdered in a “sanctuary city” this past summer. The bill, which the Senate is expected to vote on next week, would impose mandatory five-year prison sentences for illegal immigrants who reenter the country after being deported for committing a crime.
The measure is sponsored by Cruz and received early backing from Senate colleague Lindsey Graham, as well as from Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, and Donald Trump.
Path to citizenship or amnesty?
Other than birthright citizenship (see below), perhaps the largest area of disagreement within the GOP is on the issue of providing a “path to citizenship” for current illegal immigrants.
Although the terms “path to citizenship” and “amnesty” are hot-button terms without precise definitions, the candidates are clearly split when it comes to allowing those who came here illegally to eventually “normalize” their status.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have unequivocally stated that those who come here illegally should not be rewarded with citizenship and that allowing them to normalize their status (even without granting citizenship) is tantamount to amnesty.
Carly Fiorina has said that “the privilege of citizenship should be left to those who worked hard and did it the right way.”
And Chris Christie, who once supported a path to citizenship, now says he has changed his mind on the issue.
But other candidates have moved in the opposite direction, opposing citizenship for illegals earlier in their careers, but reluctantly coming to around to the view that we must find some way to bring the millions who are already here into the mainstream of American life.
John Kasich, too, has expressed willingness to consider a path to citizenship.
But Rubio, Bush, Graham, Jindal, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have more explicitly supported allowing illegal immigrants to “earn” their citizenship over-time – not by skipping ahead of legal immigrants but by waiting for a period of years and meeting certain requirements.
This, they argue, is not the same as a blanket “amnesty” in which deportations are halted and citizenship granted without requiring anything on the part of those who broke the law to come here.
“They will have to pass a background check, they will have to pay a fine, they will have to start paying taxes, they will have to learn English,” Rubio has said.
“And in exchange for that what they will get is a work permit, that allows them to legally work in the U.S. and travel. And that’s all they will have for an extended period of time.”
Ending birthright citizenship
Trump has made headlines in recent months with his proposal that the United States end “birthright citizenship,” whereby any person born in the United States is granted automatic citizenship, regardless of their parents’ country of origin.
Trump has said that the practice incentivizes illegal immigration, calling it “the biggest magnet” for pregnant women, some of whom cross the border to give birth on U.S. soil. Trump has referred to the children born to these women as “anchor babies” who, by virtue of their citizenship, bind their parents and families to the United States.
Candidates Huckabee, Cruz, Jindal, Graham, Carson, Paul, and former Sen. Rick Santorum all favor ending birthright citizenship, which many legal scholars believe is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Rand Paul has argued that it may not be necessary to amend the constitution to change the policy and has said he’d prefer that the courts clarify the amendment’s meaning. Recently, however, Paul has softened his position, saying that if we are able to actually secure the border, there is no need to end birthright citizenship.
Bush, Rubio, and Kasich have all come out against the idea.
“We have had the right of citizenship conveyed upon those born in this country for many, many decades,” Kasich said recently, “and I see no justification for changing this historical part of our Constitution.”
Rubio, finds the term “anchor baby” dehumanizing and opposes changing the law, acknowledges that abuses in the system should be addressed.
Bush, who has no problem using the term, notes that Asians engage in the practice more often than Mexicans and would also curb abuses without amending the constitution.
Fiorina seems also to lean against a change in the law, telling NBC News in August that, “[i]t would take passing a constitutional amendment to get that changed … I think we should put all of our energies, all of our political will into finally getting the border secured and fixing the legal immigration.”
Give us your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?
This past summer, the immigration debate shifted, in part, from a discussion about how to keep economic refugees out of the country, to one of whether we should admit refugees from war-torn Syria to come in (and, if so, how many).
Many of the Republican candidates including Kasich, Rubio, Bush, and Graham are sympathetic to the plight of the refugees, with Bush, telling a Syrian woman at a town hall in New Hampshire that “it is important to be on the side of people seeking freedom.”
Likewise, Marco Rubio told Boston Herald Radio, “we’ve always been a country that’s been willing to accept people who have been displaced,” and that he “would be open to that if it can done in a way that allows us to ensure” that we do not let in people affiliated with terrorist organizations.
Rubio added that the “vast and overwhelmingly majority” of refugees are not terrorists, but that we must be careful nonetheless.
Lindsey Graham has been particularly passionate about the issue, telling reporters at the National Press Club in September that if we do not accept “our fair share” of Syrian refugee, we should tear down the Statute of Liberty.
“Just tear it down,’ Graham said. “We don’t mean it anymore.”
Even Donald Trump indicated a willingness to take in some Syrian refugees, although he later backtracked, telling CNN, “I think we should help, but I think we should be very careful because frankly, we have very big problems. We’re not gonna have a country if we don’t start getting smart.”
“We cannot help everybody through the world.”
But earlier this month, Ted Cruz has stated emphatically that he is opposed to taking in any Syrian refugees, which he described as “nothing short of crazy” because he believes that some are Islamic terrorists.
In September, Bobby Jindal told the British newspaper the Guardian that, “the answer [to the Syrian refugee crisis] is not for America to increase the number of refugees we take in. . . .the idea that we can fix all these problems by just accepting the world’s refugees is ridiculous.”
A question of tone
For many voters, the differences among the Republican candidates – none of whom favor unfettered immigration and all of whom favor better securing our borders — is a question of tone.
Donald Trump’s reference to Mexican immigrants as murders and rapists seems deliberately inclined to divide America.
Likewise, Bobby Jindal’s suggestion that we arrest American mayors of sanctuary cities, while not quite as inflammatory as Trump’s comments, seems nonetheless designed to provoke.
Ted Cruz, whose own father fled the brutality of dictatorship in Cuba, talks about the plight of refugees from war-torn nations without exhibiting a hint of empathy.
But perhaps the most restrictive position on immigration is held by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who favors not only strong measures to curb illegal immigration, but a major reduction in legal immigration as well.
“When people tell me the problem is just illegal immigration, they’re wrong,” Santorum told a South Carolina Tea party convention, before laying into to “people not born in this country” for taking American jobs. “Part of the [problem] is that we’re bringing floods of legal, not illegal, legal immigrants into the country.”
Then there’s former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who has remained silent on almost every hot button immigration question, saying simply that “until we secure the border” there is no other immigration issue to discuss.
But candidates Bush, Rubio, Kasich, Graham, and Paul have not shied away from speaking frequently and with sensitivity about immigrants, legal and illegal.
Bush has even warned Republicans that they must “avoid committing suicide by continuing to alienate people who should be Republicans.”
“I lived surrounded by immigrants,” Rubio told a news conference in 2013.
“My neighbors are immigrants. My family is immigrants. Married into a family of immigrants. I see immigration every day. I see the good of immigration. I see how important it is for our future.”
Who would you like to see become the next president of the United States?
Bush, Jeb (R)
Carson, Ben (R)
Christie, Chris (R)
Clinton, Hillary (D)
Cruz, Ted (R)
Fiorina, Carly (R)
Gilmore, Jim (R)
Graham, Lindsey (R)
Huckabee, Mike (R)
Kasich, John (R)
O’Malley, Martin (D)
Pataki, George (R)
Paul, Rand (R)
Rubio, Marco (R)
Sanders, Bernie (D)
Santorum, Rick (R)
Trump, Donald (R)
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