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Will the GOP Stand By Chris Christie’s Immigration Record?

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Here’s a question: Which GOP presidential candidate stated that “being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime.”

The answer? None. Well – none yet.

But if major Republican pundits and donors who continue to call on Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) to enter the 2012 Republican presidential race get their wish, all that could change. And Christie’s pro-immigration stance will stand in sharp contrast to the rest of the GOP field’s positions on immigration.

On an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” in July 2010, Governor Christie said

[Immigration] is a federal issue that should be handled by the feds and should be fixed finally. As a former United States attorney, I had to deal with these issues for seven years, and we simply didn’t have the resources to deal with them effectively.  So 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.  And until they do that, states are going to struggle all over the country with this problem, and so is federal law enforcement, who doesn’t have the resources to do it effectively.

We’re not hearing the words “path to citizenship” from any of the other Republican candidates. In fact, front-runner Mitt Romney is leading the candidates towards the opposite extreme.

Christie has received an F  from the anti-immigrant organization NumbersUSA – and outraged Lou Dobbs. If he jumps into the mix, the immigration hawks will no doubt savage his views on immigration.

The speculation about Gov. Christie Entering 2012 Presidential Race raises key questions about immigration and the GOP. Will the conservative pundits and Christie’s supporters stand by his views and take on the nativists? Or, will they stand by and remain silent? Will Christie stick with his pro-reform positions or flip-flop, like Romney?

While the loud voices of the extreme anti-immigrant crowd are being heard these days, the vast majority of Republicans support Christie’s path to citizenship.  In May 2011, the Pew Research Center released a poll that asked:

Thinking about illegal immigration in the United States, do you favor or oppose providing a way for illegal immigrants currently in the country to gain legal citizenship if they pass background checks, pay fines, and have jobs?

By a 72%-24% margin overall, voters supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. When broken up by political typology, Main Street Republicans supported a path to citizenship 58%-39% and Libertarians supported it 66%-32.  Among Republican voters, only Staunch Conservatives failed to demonstrate majority support, although they split on the issue 49%-49%. 

Other recent polling has also shown that Republicans are favorably inclined toward practical comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.