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Republican 2016 Contenders Not Passing the Laugh Test on Immigration

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The Republican presidential field just can’t seem to avoid stepping in it on immigration.  Every week, nearly every 2016 contender seems to prove our point, that immigration is the GOPs Kryptonite.  Among some of the recent developments:

  • Despite His Anti-Immigrant Lurch, Scott Walker is Still Okay with Millionaire Immigrants:  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has reinvented himself on immigration, rapidly moving from pro-reform pragmatist to anti-immigrant crusader in the mold of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).  More a jumble of focus group-tested soundbites than a serious policy stance, Walker’s newly-minted hardline immigration vision is a bizarre mix of the radical and incoherent. Nevertheless, Gov. Walker still stands by someof his past pro-immigration policies – if you’re a millionaire investor.  As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, “Gov. Scott Walker has been trying to turn himself into an anti-immigration crusader as he gears up to run for president in 2016.  But there’s one federal visa program you won’t hear him attack.  It’s the controversial and deeply troubled immigrant investor program.  The program — known as EB-5 — puts wealthy foreigners on the path to U.S. citizenship if they invest at least $500,000 in an American commercial project that will create or preserve 10 jobs.”  So let’s get this straight – Gov. Walker is against immigration solutions that would provide a way forward for millions of hard-working undocumented immigrants settled in America, but is for immigration programs that sell visas to wealthy immigrants who still live overseas?
  • Why is Anyone Taking Marco Rubio Seriously on Immigration?  On “Fox News Sunday,” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said, “I still believe we need to do immigration reform … The problem is we can’t do it in one big piece of legislation – the votes aren’t there.”  Rubio purposefully gets the recent history wrong.  It is well known that after the bill Rubio helped author passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis, the votes werethere in the House of Representatives to pass some reasonable version of immigration reform (a point made over the weekend by Republican consultant Ana Navarro and New York Times political reporter Jonathan Martin).  Even though virtually all Democrats and a sufficient number of Republicans were prepared to pass reform in the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) wouldn’t bring it up for a vote because he insisted on a “majority of the majority” of Republicans.  Rubio’s claim that the votes weren’t there is only true when looking solely at the House GOP – a caucus whose anti-immigrant sentiment remains such that it just voted against a provision pushed by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) that would ask the Pentagon to review whether Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients should be able to enlist in the military and serve the nation they call home.  Yet, Rubio’s current stance depends on House Republicans enacting some sort of path to legal status and citizenship for the 11 million.  So, we’re supposed to believe that Rubio, who has caved to anti-immigrant hardliners in the GOP to increase his viability in the presidential primary, will take them on once he’s President in order to pass reform that legalizes the undocumented? Yeah, right.
  • More “Secure the Border First” Ridiculousness from the GOP Field:  The entire Republican field continues to share the vacuous “secure the border first” soundbite on immigration.  For example, Alex Altman of Timequoted Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee as saying, “Until we have a secure border, there isn’t any other discussion for us to be having,” and Rubio’s Fox News comments included the riff, “The first thing we are going to do is prove to the American people that future illegal immigration is under control.” As America’s Voice outlined in our recent report on 2016 Republicans and immigration, the “secure the border first” phrase is a vacuous excuse for inaction.  How would you measure and who would decide what a secure border looks like?  In House Homeland Security legislation approved this year on a partisan basis, the goal is 100% effectiveness, a remarkable goal given that the Berlin Wall was only 95% secure.  At a Bipartisan Policy Center immigration event in April, former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff called 100% operational control of the border “unrealistic and unnecessary.”  Secretary Chertoff pointed out, no other law enforcement agency is asked to meet that type of standard – the equivalent would be requiring a city police force to maintain a 0% crime rate.  Let’s be real: “secure the border first” is a coded way to say “comprehensive immigration reform never.”  It’s a claim at odds with the real facts on the ground; a purposeful ignoring of the tremendous resources and expenditures already devoted to the border; and an invitation to “move the goalposts” and manipulate the security metrics so as to perpetually declare an insecure border and keep kicking the can down the road.  As the Wall Street Journal has editorialized: “Republicans who claim we must ‘secure the border first’ ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn’t border security.  It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.”  In fact, the best way to “secure” the border is to fundamentally overhaul the current broken system by passing comprehensive immigration reform.  Only by simultaneously addressing border and interior enforcement, visa reforms to better align legal immigration with economic realities, and implementing a serious plan for the undocumented population to come forward and earn legalization and citizenship, will we fully modernize and better regulate immigration.