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Suman Raghunathan

Where Do the Candidates Stand on Immigration? Huckabee on Immigration

Now that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is playing David to Mitt Romney’s Goliath in Iowa with his recent surge in the polls, I thought this is a good time to look at his stances on immigration policy.

(For DMI’s take on what smart progressive immigration policy that benefits the American middle class looks like, click here.)

Huckabee released his immigration plan just before participating in a Univision-sponsored (that’s the Spanish-language media conglomerate, not a company devoted to eye health) Republican Presidential candidate debate in Miami this past Sunday night.

Turns out Huckabee, a Baptist minister, personal testament to weight loss, and other favorite son of Hope, Arkansas after Bill Clinton, is a mixed bag. And I don’t mean a bag of donuts.

Huckabee has in the past drawn fire from anti-immigrant groups for his *slightly* more common-sense attitudes to immigration. These positions have included proposals to extend merit scholarships to exemplary undocumented students who hoped to attend state universities during his tenure as Governor (in a local version of the federal DREAM Act, a perfect example of win-win immigration policy–which extends legal status to undocumented young people who personify the American dream, and has been in the legislative hopper for over seven years) and for saying sane things on immigration like,

"Unfortunately, instead of being angry at the federal government for totally failing us [on immigration policy], [people] sometimes get angry at [immigrants] themselves.”

However, looks like now that his star is rising in the polls, Huckabee is jumping on the good ol’ anti-immigrant bandwagon (endearingly referred to as ‘Tancredoism’ in the latest issue of The New Yorker)with most of his Republican (and Democratic, for that matter) candidate brethren. In fact, Huckabee’s nativist credentials just got a boost this week when the anti-immigrant vigilante group the Minutemen (chock-full of links to the Ku Klux Klan and various other white supremacist friends) endorsed Huckabee in Iowa.

Let’s start with the bad and end with the worst, shall we?

Ramping up the Border Fence
Huckabee has been consistent in his support for a ramped-up border fence to “end illegal immigration” before dealing with undocumented immigrants already living and working in the US. Sort of specifically, he supports an ‘interlocking’ camera surveillance system (somehow I don’t think he’s referring to something in Interlochen, a Swiss ski resort– but your guess is as good as mine) on the US-Mexico border. Huckabee’s plan also requires the border fence to be completed by 2010, vows to increase the number of Border Patrol agents by an as-yet unnamed number, and promises to ‘fully support’ all those enforcing immigration law. Great, Mike. You and I both know that as federal border enforcement spending has tripled, so has the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country. So tell me how and why this is going to ‘stop illegal immigration’ after 2010?

Employer Sanctions
Huckabee’s immigration platform continues with its crystal-clear economic sense by focusing on penalizing employers for hiring undocumented workers – a stance that can further cripple the economy, which many Americans feel is limping along at best – instead of focusing on enforcing existing worker protection laws, which are already on the books and apply to all workers regardless of their immigration status. (Click here for what I’ve said on employer sanctions in the past, and on how they do nothing to help American workers, let alone immigrant ones.)
Long story short, past experience has shown that an employer sanctions system only serves to drive undocumented workers deeper into an underground economy where their rights and wages are threatened and in turn depress the wages and working conditions of all US workers. Employers don’t fire undocumented workers once they find out they may lack legal status – they simply proceed to use their immigration status – or lack thereof – as form of anti-worker blackmail to force immigrant workers to work for less in unsafe conditions.

But wait – Huckabee’s plan goes even further! His platform declares, “denying [most illegal immigrants] jobs is the centerpiece of an attrition strategy.” In addition, the local UHF star of religious talk shows proposes we prevent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA)from accepting any tax identification numbers (and, I’m assuming, tax contributions) from individuals whose numbers may, just may, not match up with the famously-flawed SSA database of those authorized to work in the country.

Attrition toward what, Governor Huckabee? Economic suicide? Study after study has shown the crucial role immigrants, documented and undocumented, play in our economy at the federal (can you say $5-$7 billion annually going in to save baby boomers’ Social Security system?) and local level (a study of Long Island Latinos, many of them immigrants, generated $5.7 billion in annual impact and $145 million in sales tax receipts for the local economy).
Stopping the feds from receiving immigrant taxpayers’ benjamins, apart from helping to empty federal, state, and local tax coffers, would do nothing to actually change immigration policy or the fundamental reason immigrants are forced into a two-tier economy – an outdated and broken immigration system that doesn’t honor their economic contributions and doesn’t protect their rights in the workplace. But here’s the crowning glory: Huckabee wants to set up a “universal, mandatory citizenship verification system as part of the normal hiring process.” Hurray! Now not only are we going to push undocumented immigrants into the underground economy where they’re forced to work for pitifully low wages in unsafe conditions, now we’re going to welcome immigrants with legal status – including those with green cards – into this dubious club. Great. Makes perfect sense to me how this plan is going to help American workers and our economy.

State and Local Law Enforcement of Immigration Laws
Continuing along on his enforcement trip, Huckabee supports a doozie of local-federal conflict called the CLEAR Act which, among other things, tries to encourage local enforcement personnel to enforce immigration laws – a move opposed by police chiefs and pro-immigrant activists across the country.

If such strange bedfellows agree on the proposal, chances are it actually makes some sense. Police departments complain they’re already overloaded with just enforcing criminal laws, and don’t have the time, resources, or training to enforce complicated immigration law. Plus, pretty much every tenet of community policing believes that in order for the police to do their job, residents need to trust them. If immigrant residents are worried the cops they’re supposed to trust enough to report crimes and serve as witnesses for are going to just turn around and turn them over to immigration authorities, then they probably won’t report such crimes to the authorities.

Who suffers as a result? Everyone, including native-born residents. In the interest of providing communities with essential police, fire, and emergency services, police and other first responders need to first build trust in such communities. Worrying immigrant residents that they or members of their family will be turned into immigration authorities if they report a crime is clearly not going to help with community policing. Way to go, Huckabee.

A Path to Citizenship for the Undocumented
And here, folks, is one of the crowning glories of Huckabee’s immigration platform. Yup, the ‘other guy’ from Hope, Arkansas (the first one was Bill Clinton) has a singularly impractical take on blazing a trail to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants already in the US who want to become US citizens. He, um, wants them to blaze a trail back home to apply to come back to the US. After they first ‘register’ with federal immigration authorities within 3 months of Huckabee’s imaginary bill becoming law. If said undocumented folks don’t register, then leave, they would then be barred from returning to America for ten years.

Well. Way to go to come up with a way to bring people out of the shadows, Mike. Barring people from entering the country won’t really be a problem, because undocumented folks will clearly not buy into your plan, which amounts to little more than a surefire way to make folks stay in the underground economy and NOT come out of the shadows. Talk about a lack of incentive to legalize. Oh right, I forgot: there is no option to legalize in your plan, Governor Huckabee.

Huckabee’s plan would also increase the number of visas available to highly-skilled or educated workers – programs which often end up unfairly tying skilled foreign workers to unscrupulous companies who then proceed to pay their workers lower wages than their American counterparts while making them beholden to their employers for green cards and worker protections.

Score one for fat cat high-tech companies, zero for highly-skilled immigrant workers.

Huckabee started out sort of ok a few years ago on immigration policy – during his tenure as Governor, he actually opposed a state proposal to ban public services to undocumented immigrants – but as his political star has risen, his common-sense attitude to immigration has sunk. Only the universe knows how much further he’ll sink into political pandering to the right as the primary season goes into full swing.

I for one am scared.

Suman Raghunathan: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:19 AM, Dec 12, 2007 in Immigration | The Candidates on Immigration
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