Ranking The 2008 Republican Contenders On The Illegal Immigration Issue

It can be very difficult for the average person to sort through where the 2008 Republican contenders stand on illegal immigration. That’s because it’s a complex, nuanced issue (especially when you get into voting records), because it’s very difficult to compare the records of say a mayor, a governor, and a senator, and most importantly, because the issue is handled so dishonestly.

Everyone claims they want to vote to improve border security, but they often don’t vote that way. Everyone claims to oppose amnesty, but it took an unprecedented amount of opposition from the general public to keep the Bush/Kennedy amnesty bill from passing. Additionally, everybody talks tough on illegal immigration, particularly when they’re running for office. If you listen to the members of Congress who are the toughest and the softest on illegal immigration, what you’ll usually find is that they sound almost identical when they’re trying to convince the voters to go their way at election time. Add to that the fact that many of the candidates running for President have shifted their stances on illegal immigration quite a bit over the last couple of years and it makes it impossible to sort out the differences between the candidates without a good understanding of the issue and a lot of research.

So, with that in mind, I have done the research on all of the candidates (minus John Cox and Alan Keyes, who have no legislative records to peruse and no chance of winning), and have presented my findings below.

Keep in mind that I am a staunch foe of illegal immigration, opposed the Kennedy/Bush amnesty bill, and am steadfastly opposed to comprehensive illegal immigration reform, amnesty, or rewarding illegal aliens for breaking our laws. The closer a candidate is to my position on the issue, the higher grade I gave him. Starting with the worst first, here’s the ranking of the candidates,

8) Mike Huckabee

Americans for Better Immigration Grade: N/A
Did he support the Bush/Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Bill?: No.
Former Stance: Amnesty, new guest worker programs, and security improvements at the same time.
Current Stance: Security first, amnesty and new guest worker programs later.

Notable Quotables “Another bill in the draft stages, backed by Gov. Mike Huckabee, would make illegal aliens eligible for state-funded scholarships and in-state tuition if they graduate from high school in Arkansas.” — Laura Kellams, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/27/05)

“Companies controlled by overseas corporations could feel they are unwanted in Arkansas if the Legislature approves an immigration measure now before it, Gov. Mike Huckabee says… Last week, Huckabee described it as ‘inflammatory … race-baiting … demagoguery.’ He said the bill, which seeks to forbid public assistance and voting rights to illegal immigrants, ‘inflames those who are racist and bigots and makes them think there’s a real problem. But there’s not.'” — Associated Press, 2/3/05

Short Summary: When you look at his entire record, Huckabee may be the single most illegal immigrant friendly candidate in the entire race, which is saying something given some of the other people running. In 2006, he was strongly supportive of the Bush/Kennedy approach to illegal immigration and even came across as being opposed to building a fence on the southern border. Although Mike Huckabee’s website now says that, “My number one priority is to secure America’s border,” there is very little in his record that suggests he means it.

Can He Be Trusted To Hang Tough On This Issue? His 180 degree shift on this issue appears to be purely motivated by politics, so there are no assurances that he wouldn’t shift again during a general election or when he gets into office.

7) John McCain

Americans for Better Immigration Grade: D
Did he support the Bush/Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Bill?: Yes
Former Stance: Amnesty, new guest worker programs, and security improvements at the same time.
Current Stance: Security first, amnesty and new guest worker programs later.

Notable Quotables: “Some believe we should round them up and send them back. I don’t know how you do that, and I don’t know why you’d want to … (the undocumented) have grasped the lowest rung of our ladder. They want to rise, and we should let them. Let them come out of the shadows, pay a fine, stay employed, pay taxes, and earn their citizenship. We all will be the better for it.” — John McCain, IrishAbroad, May 4, 2006

“I’ll build the godd*mned fence if they want it.” — John McCain, Vanity Fair, February, 2007 issue.

Short Summary: John McCain was so closely associated with the amnesty bill going through the Senate earlier this year that many people called it the Kennedy/McCain amnesty bill. However, after the bill failed, and the illegal immigration issue did so much damage to his presidential campaign that it turned him, arguably, from the front runner to a 5th place contender, he switched to a security first position.

Can He Be Trusted To Hang Tough On This Issue? His 180 degree shift on this issue appears to be purely motivated by politics, so there are no assurances that he wouldn’t shift again during a general election or when he gets into office. In fact, given that he was one of the biggest advocates of amnesty in the Senate, it’s very difficult to imagine him sticking with his current position long-term.

6) Rudy Giuliani

Americans for Better Immigration Grade: N/A
Did he support the Bush/Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Bill?: No
Former Stance: Amnesty, new guest worker programs, and security improvements at the same time.
Current Stance: Security first, amnesty and new guest worker programs later.

Notable Quotables: “Mayor Giuliani is wading into the debate over America’s immigration policy with the argument that the comprehensive approach being pursued by the Senate is better for American security than what he called the ‘punitive’ approach being pressed by the House of Representatives…’I think the compromise the Senate was looking at, something along those lines makes sense.’ Mr. Giuliani said.'” — Ira Stoll, New York Sun, 4/27/06

“If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you’re one of the people who we want in this city. You’re somebody that we want to protect.” — Deborah Sontag, New York Times, 6/10/94

Short Summary: New York was a sanctuary city under Giuliani and in late 2006, Rudy was a strong supporter of the Bush/Kennedy approach to illegal immigration. After he ran for President, Giuliani flip-flopped on the issue and started supporting a security first position.

Can He Be Trusted To Hang Tough On This Issue? His 180 degree shift on this issue appears to be purely motivated by politics, so there are no assurances that he wouldn’t shift again during a general election or when he gets into office.

5) Mitt Romney

Americans for Better Immigration Grade: N/A
Did he support the Bush/Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Bill?: No
Former Stance: Amnesty, new guest worker programs, and security improvements at the same time.
Current Stance: Security first and no amnesty, but new guest worker programs later.

Notable Quotables: “…(O)ne of McCain’s potential rivals for the GOP nomination, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has made it known that he supports the President’s immigration position, saying that Republicans who have broken rank with Bush ‘made a big mistake.'” — The Associated Press, 9/20/06

“Romney, for example, has criticized Giuliani for allowing New York to be a “sanctuary city” protecting illegal immigrants during his term as mayor. But as governor, Romney apparently did little specifically about the three cities in his own state that were harboring illegals.” — Johnathan Martin, The Politico, August 15, 2007

Short Summary: Mitt was initially a strong supporter of the Bush/Kennedy approach to illegal immigration. After he ran for President, Mitt flip-flopped on the issue and started supporting a security first position, no amnesty position. That being said, he does distinguish himself from McCain, Huckabee, and Rudy by claiming to oppose a path to citizenship for illegals currently in the country.

Can He Be Trusted To Hang Tough On This Issue? His 180 degree shift on this issue appears to be purely motivated by politics, so there are no assurances that he wouldn’t shift again during a general election or when he gets into office.

4) Fred Thompson

Americans for Better Immigration Grade: C
Did he support the Bush/Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Bill?: No.
Former Stance: His record was mixed during his Senate tenure, but he has been consistently in favor of improving enforcement and border security along with no amnesty or new guest worker bills later since he came back on the political scene in early 2007.
Current Stance: Improve enforcement and border security, no amnesty or new guest worker bills later.

Notable Quotables: “Some votes are likely to draw scrutiny, particularly a series of votes in the 1990s against cracking down on illegal aliens. Those include a 1995 vote against limiting services other than emergency care and public education to illegal aliens – he was one of just six senators to oppose that proposal – and a 1996 vote against creating an employer verification system to help businesses filter out illegal aliens who apply for jobs.

…An adviser to the campaign on immigration matters, who asked not to be named, said Mr. Thompson had concerns about how broadly the public-benefits provision was drawn. As for the employer verification system, the adviser said Mr. Thompson joined a majority of Republicans in the chamber in opposing it, with many of them thinking the new system would lead to a national ID card.” — The Washington Times, September 5, 2007

“I think its time for a little plain talk to the leaders of Mexico. Something like: hey guys, you’re our friends and neighbors and we love you but it’s time you had a little dose of reality. A sovereign nation loses that status if it cannot secure its own borders and we are going to do whatever is necessary to do so, although our policies won’t be as harsh as yours are along your southern border. And criticizing the U.S. for alternately doing too much and too little to stop your illegal activities is not going to set too well with Americans of good will who are trying to figure a way out of the mess that your and our open borders policy has already created.” — Fred Thompson, Paul Harvey Show, March 20, 2007

Short Summary: Thompson had a mixed, but generally positive record on illegal immigration issues when he was in the Senate and in his defense, it wasn’t exactly a hot issue back then. Since he has gotten into the race, Fred has been tougher on illegal immigration than any of his other top tier rivals and he has introduced a very strong, very specific immigration plan.

Can He Be Trusted To Hang Tough On This Issue? Given the specificity of his plans, the toughness of his rhetoric, and his willingness to go further than his top tier rivals, it seems likely that he’d stick to his guns in a general election or if he got into the White House.

3) Ron Paul

Americans for Better Immigration Grade: B
Did he support the Bush/Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Bill?: No.
Former Stance: Improve enforcement and border security, no amnesty or new guest worker bills later.
Current Stance: Improve enforcement and border security, no amnesty or new guest worker bills later.

Notable Quotables: “Amnesty for illegal immigrants is not the answer. Millions of people who broke the law by entering, staying, and working in our country illegally should not be rewarded with a visa. Why should lawbreakers obtain a free pass, while those seeking to immigrate legally face years of paperwork and long waits for a visa?” — Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, August 9, 2005

“We must secure our borders now. A nation without secure borders is no nation at all. It makes no sense to fight terrorists abroad when our own front door is left unlocked.” — Ron Paul, campaign website

Short Summary: Paul is almost as tough as Hunter and Tancredo on illegal immigration, but he opposes using the military on the border. Still, he has a very good record overall on the issue and would undoubtedly satisfy people who are worried about illegal immigration if he were to become President.

Can He Be Trusted To Hang Tough On This Issue? Yes.

2) Duncan Hunter

Americans for Better Immigration Grade: A+
Did he support the Bush/Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Bill?: No
Former Stance: Improve enforcement and border security, no amnesty or new guest worker bills later.
Current Stance: Security first, no amnesty or new guest worker bills later.

Notable Quotables: “As president of the United States we will build this entire fence … all 854 miles … in six months. That is my commitment to you.” — Duncan Hunter, The Bulletin, 8/16/2007

“I vow to oppose this legislation supported by Senators Edward Kennedy and John McCain.It provides a vast new immigration benefit to millions of illegal aliens who have broken our laws to live in the United States. I opposed the 1986 amnesty act because of this same reason. It proved to be the draw that we predicted it would be. I am deeply disappointed to see history repeating itself.” — Duncan Hunter, May 18, 2007

Short Summary: My former employer, Duncan Hunter, has a rock solid record on illegal immigration, wrote the secure fence act, and he was the biggest promoter of the existing fence on the San Diego border. The only reason he is ranked behind Tom Tancredo is that Tancredo has been the acknowledged leader of the anti-illegal immigration forces in the House for so long that he deserves to be in the top slot against anyone.

Can He Be Trusted to Hang Tough On This Issue?: Absolutely.

1) Tom Tancredo

Americans for Better Immigration Grade: A+
Did he support the Bush/Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Bill?: No
Former Stance: Improve enforcement and border security, no amnesty or new guest worker bills later.
Current Stance: Security first, no amnesty or new guest worker bills later.

Notable Quotables: ‘I have a solution,’ he told a Friday night crowd of about 100 at the Quality Inn in downtown Des Moines. ‘It’s a radical one. Scary. Enormously controversial.’ Then he paused and spaced his words for effect. ‘It’s called: Enforce…the…law.'” Tom Tancredo, The Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2007

“I have to tell you that we are facing a situation, where if we don’t control immigration, legal and illegal, we will eventually reach the point where it won’t be what kind of a nation we are, balkanized or united, we will actually have to face the fact that we are no longer a nation at all. That is the honest to God eventual outcome of this kind of massive immigration combined with the cult of multiculturalism that permeates our society. …The fact is, that won’t occur in a legal way, it will occur in a de facto way.” — Tom Tancredo, interview with Right Wing News, July 28, 2003

Short Summary: Tancredo has been leading the charge on the illegal immigration issue for years and has centered his whole presidential campaign around it. For that reason, he deserves the top slot.

Can He Be Trusted To Hang Tough On This Issue? Absolutely.

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