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John Kasich Joins Rest of GOP Field in Tacking Right on Immigration: “Yes” to Border Wall, “No” to Pathway to Citizenship

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Yesterday, we noted that the entire Republican presidential field was tacking to the right on issues of immigration and immigrants, highlighting new examples of how even the supposedly pro-reform candidacies of Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush getting caught in the nativist undertow generated by the extreme, anti-immigrant comments of Donald Trump and Ben Carson.  Now, another of the candidates identified with the GOP establishment and more pro-immigrant wing of the party – Ohio Governor John Kasich – is joining the fray and moving his immigration stance to the right.

Appearing on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News yesterday, Gov. Kasich clarified that he is opposed to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and voiced support for a complete border wall between the U.S. and Mexico (excerpted transcript below):

Kasich: “I’m for legalization, Sean. I’m not for giving anybody a path to citizenship here.”

Hannity: “No citizenship?”

Kasich: “No, I don’t believe in that.  But I do believe if they’ve been law abiding in this country, they can get to legalization.  They have to pay a fine and everything else.  But the wall has to go up, Sean.  Look, Reagan was for letting these folks stay in 1986.  Where did they fall down?  They didn’t enforce the law.  We need to finish the wall.  And if you come over for any reason, you’re going back.  I don’t want to argue or discuss it with them.  You got to go back.  But for the ones that are here, I think they can be given a path to legalization.  If they broke the law, that’s a whole other story.”

Kasich’s clear rejection of citizenship clarification is a subtle but important corrective to his previous comments on the subject.  For example, last fall, Gov. Kasich had expressed potential openness to a pathway to citizenship.  As the Columbus Dispatch reported in November 2014, Gov. Kasich “was the only governor during the Republican Governors Association’s conference this week to express openly a willingness to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  ‘I don’t want to see anybody in pain,’ Kasich said. ‘So I guess when I look at this now, I look at it differently than I did in ’10.’”  In April 2015, Gov. Kasich expressedpersonal wariness with a pathway to citizenship, but said he “wouldn’t take it off the board because what are we going to do?  Keep yelling at one another and for how long?”  Meanwhile, Kasich’s endorsement of a border wall with Mexico embraces the false “out of control border” meme and is contrary to the true facts about border security and unauthorized immigration trends.

The hardline drift of the Republican Party during the primary season will likely have general election consequences.  As Karen Tumulty and Jose DelReal wrote in the Washington Post yesterday, “many Republicans worry that the image of these early months will last,” quoting former George W. Bush administration official Peter Wehner saying, “This year is different, and what is happening now is leaving a searing impression … this is toxic for the Republican Party — potentially lethal for it.”  As a reminder, analysis from Latino Decisions finds that the Republican nominee will need to win between 42-47% of Latinos to win the 2016 presidential popular vote.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The GOP primary season is wreaking havoc on the Republican Party’s hopes to repair its relationship and rebuild its brand in the eyes of Latino and other general election voters for whom immigration is a defining and mobilizing issue.  Not only are the explicitly nativist appeals of Donald Trump and Ben Carson dominating the headlines, but the establishment candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich are engaged in subtle nods and pandering to the hardliners through clarifications and tacks rightward on essential policy questions regarding immigration and policies for the undocumented.”

Continued Sharry, “As a result, we seem to be on course for a 2016 general election matchup in which the eventual major party nominees will be on opposite sides of arguably the two most essential immigration policy questions – support for an achievable and accessible pathway to citizenship and support for executive action measures that keep families together while we await a more permanent legislative fix.”