GOP Presidential Candidates Haunted by Prior Immigration Advocacy

Published on July 6th, 2011

by Joe Guzzardi
June 17, 2011

Among the diverse GOP presidential field, several candidates have long, documented histories of supporting open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens. The most visible are former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and former Utah and New Mexico governors Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson.

In the decade since 2000 when they all advocated for more immigration, attitudes toward illegal immigration in Congress and the electorate have hardened. The candidates’ problem is that even though they may try to distance themselves from their earlier positions, their past actions and statements are easily found on the Internet.

Santorum, for example, voted for the 2006 Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (S.2611) introduced by his Pennsylvania colleague Arlen Specter. The bill, ultimately defeated, would have granted amnesty to an estimated 12 million illegal aliens then living in the United States. Additionally, S. 2611 would have created a new visa category—the H-2C “green card” allowing employers to bring in foreign-born workers for up to six years—as well as increased the existing H-1B visa cap.

As harmful to American workers as Santorum’s position is, Johnson is worse. Johnson proposes a two-year grace period for aliens during which they can obtain work visas. That means that millions of illegal immigrants who would otherwise be weeded out by E-Verify could enter the job market to compete with unemployed Americans. Calling immigration into the United States “a good thing,” Johnson argues against reducing the “positive benefits” of more immigration in any solution like the SAVE Act to eliminate illegal entry.

Neither Santorum or Johnson, however, can hold a candle to Huntsman who, since he worked in the Obama administration as Ambassador to China, is widely perceived as appealing to voters from both political parties.

Of all the Republican candidates, Huntsman is the most accepting of illegal immigration. As Utah’s governor from 2005 to 2009, Huntsman promoted DREAM Act-type legislation that allowed alien students to pay in-state tuition.

Huntsman also signed a bill that created the so-called “Utah Driver Privilege Card” for illegal aliens. The same year, following a trip Huntsman made to Mexico, Utah accepted 12 Mexican nationals as teachers into its local school districts. Huntsman defended the move, even though it displaced American teachers, by saying that the Spanish-speaking students and their parents would be better served by bilingual instructors.

Finally, during his term, Huntsman created the Office of Ethnic Affairs. Appointee Luz Robles used her taxpayer-funded office to defeat Utah state legislators’ efforts to reduce illegal immigrants’ benefits. Despite an obvious conflict of interest, Robles had held “a position of trust and authority with the government of Mexico.”

As a presidential candidate, Huntsman has the same goals he had during years as Utah’s governor. In New Hampshire two months ago, Huntsman said that a border fence “repulses” him.

Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee will have an opportunity to distance himself from Obama’s four year record of immigration advocacy by aligning with the Congressional shift toward enforcement and mandatory E-Verify.

Fourteen months remain before the Republican Convention in Tampa; anything can happen. But when it comes to candidates who have come out in favor of amnesty, even years ago, voters have a long memory


Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues since 1986. He is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns have frequently been syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. Contact him at [email protected].

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