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A Guide to 2016 Republican Candidates’ Positions on Illegal Immigration


With Republicans in Congress split over the best approach to President Obama’s executive amnesty – and with many establishment Republicans splitting from grassroots Republicans on the issue of illegal immigration more generally – it’s clear that immigration will be a hot-button primary issue in 2016.

That’s nothing new: Governor Rick Perry of Texas saw his campaign flounder not on his “oops” moment, but on his proclamation that those who didn’t back in-state tuition for illegal immigrants were heartless. But the base’s passion on the immigration issue has only escalated thanks to President Obama’s precipitous and illegal actions in failing to enforce American border law.


So where do the potential candidates stand? Here’s a rundown:

Jeb Bush. While Clint Bolick, a longtime Bush ally and Bush’s co-author of Immigration Wars, writes in the Wall Street Journal that Bush is “passionately pro-rule of law” with regard to illegal immigration, he’s fibbing. Here’s Bolick in the Journal just two weeks ago:

He would greatly strengthen border security, linking any legalized status for illegal immigrants to tangible progress on objective border security metrics… Mr. Bush does believe that children who were brought here illegally and some adults should be eligible for legalized status once certain conditions are met.

That is not closing the border before dealing with illegal immigrants who are here already. Nor is it a case-by-case assessment of whether it is appropriate for individuals to gain American citizenship, rather than a group-based assessment. Bush backed the 2013 Gang of Eight immigration bill opposed by most conservatives. After Obama’s executive amnesty, he said Congress should pass comprehensive immigration reform to stop Obama. He knows that his position is controversial with the base, and he revels in it – he uses that position to push himself as the moderate alternative for the benefit of the media.

Mitt Romney. Romney’s positions have shifted over time on this issue just as they have on many others. In 2012, Romney called for “self-deportation,” suggesting that if immigration law were enforced, many illegal immigrants would be unable to find jobs and would then go back to their home countries. By November 2013, he’d changed his tune. He said he was “absolutely convinced” Republicans had to push forward some sort of comprehensive immigration reform, adding:

I do believe that those who come here illegally ought to have an opportunity to get in line with everybody else. I don’t think those who come here illegally should jump to the front of the line or be given a special deal, be rewarded for coming here illegally, but I think they should have a chance, just like anybody else, to get in line and to become a citizen if they would like to do so.

Stick around. If you don’t like his position today, you might like it better tomorrow.

Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor has been vague on his illegal immigration position. The National Journal has an excellent timeline of the supposedly plainspoken governor’s positions here. To sample but a few, in 2009, he said he opposed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and slammed Rick Perry for taking the opposite position in 2012. Then, in December 2013, he signed a bill allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. He has been sidestepping questions ever since.

Ted Cruz. The Texas senator has been outspoken in his belief that the border must be enforced and that illegal immigrants should not be given a pathway to citizenship. Last year, he was instrumental in killing a Republican bill pushing comprehensive immigration reform. Cruz cites his father’s experience in immigrating to the country to bolster his position. “In my opinion, if we allow those who are here illegally to be put on a path to citizenship, that is incredibly unfair to those who follow the rules,” he said in 2013.

Rand Paul. The Senator from Kentucky has supported comprehensive immigration reform, even making joint calls with Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform in 2013 on behalf of the Republican bill. In 2013, the media widely misquoted him as stating he supported a pathway to citizenship, which he does not; Paul said at the time, according to his staff, that he supported “a quicker path to normalization, not citizenship, and being able to stay, work and pay taxes legally.” Paul himself explained:

Basically what I want to do is to expand the worker visa program, have border security and then as far as how people become citizens, there already is a process for how people become citizens. The main difference is I wouldn’t have people be forced to go home. You’d just get in line. But you get in the same line everyone is in.”

Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor backed President Bush’s 2006 comprehensive immigration reform plan, stating:

I tend to think that the rational approach is to find a way to give people a pathway to citizenship. You shouldn’t ignore the law or ignore those who break it. But by the same token, I think it’s a little disingenuous when I hear people say they should experience the full weight of the law in every respect with no pathway, because that’s not something we practice in any other area of criminal justice in this country…. To think that we’re going to go lock up 12 million people, or even round them up and drive them to the border and let them go, might make a great political speech, but it’s not going to happen.

He also defended President Obama’s 2012 action deferring deportation for illegal immigrants between the ages of 16 and 30 – the so-called DREAMers. “You don’t punish a kid for what his or her parents did,” Huckabee said. ‘The content itself, the goal, is an admirable thing.” But a few months ago, he slammed President Obama, stating that Obama “doesn’t believe there should be borders.”

Scott Walker. Wisconsin’s governor may support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. In 2013, he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he “hasn’t taken a position on citizenship for illegal immigrants.” He told Politico, “For people waiting to come in our country legally, we’ve got to make sure that they get in first, that they get their status first, because they’ve been following the rules and playing by the rules. After that, if there is a way to set up a process so that you enable people to come in and have a legal pathway to do that, that’s something we’ve got to embrace. Whether or not it’s that specific bill or not, I think there’s some nuances to that.”

Ben Carson. Carson endorses a guest-worker program for non-citizens. He also said that the government should “of course allow [illegal immigrants] to have a pathway to citizenship. That’s the only humane and reasonable thing to do.”

Warning: you may want to purchase some Dramamine to prevent motion sickness as shifting positions dizzy you during the upcoming election campaign.

Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.

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