DMI Blog

Suman Raghunathan

What are the Candidates Saying on Immigration? Fred Thompson on Immigration

(This is part of an ongoing series on the Presidential candidates’ positions on immigration. Check out past posts in the series by clicking here.)

So. Fred Thompson, gravelly-voiced actor of ‘Law and Order’ fame, Republic Watergate damage-control manager, latest entrant last month into the Republican Presidential race via Jay Leno’s late-night show (after a waaaaay long drum roll – and I’m not just saying this because I work for the Drum Major Institute) and one-time Senator from Tennessee – where does he stand on immigration?

Well, turns out he’s in a few places.

According to his website,in 1998 Thompson voted to allow more farm workers into the US and to increase the number of visas for highly-skilled workers. He also voted to support the 1996 Immigration Reform bill, which severely limited the range of public benefits available to immigrants. Since then, Thompson, a one-term Republican Senator from Tennessee, has consistently moved to the right in his positions on immigration as he has, oh-so-slowly, moved closer to the Republican Presidential campaign trail. Now that he’s (finally) there, I thought I’d take a minute to look at some of his key positions on immigration.

Immigration is a ‘national security issue’; immigrants are ‘suicidal maniacs’
Fred’s website
notes that the US is a “nation of immigrants” and that “throughout our history, legal immigrants have brought energy, ideas, strength, and diversity to our country [and] economy”. Thompson then proceeds to outline his support for “Uniting America[ns] by welcoming legal immigrants willing to learn English, assimilate into our communities, and become productive citizens.” Ok, great. However, rather than then focusing on exactly how to bolster and honor the cultural and economic contributions of immigrants to the US, Thompson’s immigration policy platform then draws a tenuous connection between immigration and national security after 9/11. Um, ok, Fred.

In fact, there appears to be no substantiated connection between mody undocumented folks who cross the border and terrorism-related activity. What’s more, immigration has peaked over the past two decades, a period during which violent crime, particularly in large cities like New York City, has actually plunged. Fred, however, doesn’t see it that way. According to him, the 1986 comprehensive immigration law signed by President Reagan is responsible for a wave of crime and fear throughout America (never mind that those charged in the US or currently in detention for terrorist-related activity did not gain legal status under the 1986 immigration law, which was passed when most of them were in grade school, but really – who’s quibbling?)

I’ll let his words speak for themselves, as cited by Freakonomics’ Stephen Dubner in his New York Times blog:

“Twelve million illegal immigrants later, we are now living in a nation that is beset by people who are suicidal maniacs and want to kill countless innocent women, men and children around the world”.

Right, Fred.

Border security and comprehensive immigration reform
Building on his ever-stronger penchant for securing the US border, Thompson believes the US must focus on border security in order to establish national security. As a result, Thompson strongly supports the militarization of the US-Mexico border, which this year has seen a rash of incidents where unarmed immigrants attempting to cross into the US have been fatally shot by heavily-armed Border Patrol agents. (Check out the Southern Poverty Law Center’s chilling coverage of the racist citizen militias that are all to eager to help out with this project.) Fred has also supported adding more immigration agents from USCIS (US Customs and Immigration Service, a division of the behemoth Department of Homeland Security) to hold down the fort, so to speak.

However, it appears Fred’s migration (pun intended) to the right on immigration has been spurred by his Presidential bid; he now vociferously opposes comprehensive immigration reform, which he usually refers to as ‘amnesty’. There was also no love lost between Fred and this year’s fundamentally skewed immigration reform package, which he usually refers to as ‘a legislative pig”. (I believe this is the only place where I actually agree with Fred, but for fundamentally different reasons. Check out DMI’s bill analysis
and my past posts
on the bill for more on why we didn’t like it and an explanation of how it wouldn’t have helped bring the nation’s undocumented workers out of the shadows, let alone benefited the American middle class.)

As recently as last year, Thompson had a sane(r) perspective on immigration, when he told a FOX News interviewer “there is no easy solution” to immigration. Here’s his take on immigration reform late last year:

“You’re either going to drive 12 million underground permanently, which is not a good solution. You’re going to get them all together and get them out of the country, which is not going to happen. Or you’re going to have to, in some way, work out a deal where they can have some aspirations of citizenship, but not make it so easy that it’s unfair to the people waiting in line abiding by the law.”

Apparently Fred made this relatively measured and practical statement on immigration before downing a whole lot of Lou Dobbs kool-aid. Wait a minute – maybe that was what he was drinking just before starting to worry about homicidal maniacs.

Long story short, Fred now believes that before the US can even begin to discuss comprehensive immigration reform (aka the ‘legislative pig’), we first need to secure our borders. He takes this position without broaching the subject of how to, as he so eloquently said last year, bring the nation’s undocumented workers and families out of the shadows. Fred is also rather short on details on exactly how he plans to leverage a few thousand more Border Patrol agents to enforce a 3000-mile, notoriously porous border.

State and local enforcement of immigration laws
Thompson, a lawyer and member of various Republican administrations since the 1960s, is a strong federalist who nonetheless supports state and local governments enforcing immigration laws. I know, a little confusing.

On his blog, Thompson proudly notes he’s a “strong federalist” as he cites “the failures of local officials to enforce our national laws”. So while he deplores local governments’ intransigence on immigration enforcement, Fred also believes strongly in devolving governmental authority to state and municipal governments to take matters into their own hands on immigration. Fred’s shift toward giving local governments greater policymaking and enforcement teeth on immigration reflects a growing national trend, seen across the partisan spectrum, of localities attempting to take immigration matters into their own hands – efforts increasingly stopped by federal courts in the name of anti-discrimination laws.

Therefore it should come as no surprise that Fred decried the recent federal court decision that found the city of Hazelton, PA’s anti-immigrant law (which sought to fine landlords and businesses that rented to or employed undocumented immigrants) was unconstitutional. Fred seems to be muddying his federalist credentials a little when he writes,

“When the federal government is unwilling to enforce immigration laws effectively, then cities need to be able to act, and to take reasonable steps to secure their citizens from the social, financial, and criminal costs of illegal immigration.”

Fred followed through on this position related to state and local government enforcement of federal immigration laws when he joined fellow Republican Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Tom Tancredo to lambast Rudy Giuliani on his confidentiality policy regarding resident’s immigration status during his tenure as Mayor of New York City. Most recently, Thompson has joined Romney and Tancredo to make Newark Mayor Corey Booker’s sanctuary policies on immigration status their latest punching bag. No word from Fred on how assuring confidentiality of immigration status would likely aid community policing strategies and therefore actually increase national security - but there's plenty on this subject from dozens of police chiefs across the country, who have consistently fought over the past few years against overburdened local police departments taking on immigration law enforcement.

Seems like much of Fred's policy prouncements on immigration follow this trend - lots of rhetoric, not enough follow-through and fine print.

For past posts in this series examining the Presidential candidates’ positions on immigration , please click here.

Suman Raghunathan: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:14 AM, Oct 10, 2007 in Immigration | Politics | The Candidates on Immigration
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