Politics & Policy

Huntsman’s Immigration Record

The Utahan has supported policies many GOP-primary voters oppose.

State representative Stephen Sandstrom (R., Utah) remembers former governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R.) less than fondly. “His record on illegal immigration is very poor as far as enforcement goes,” he tells National Review Online.

The offenses, in Sandstrom’s mind, are plentiful. In 2005, Huntsman signed a bill that granted driving privileges to illegal aliens. Instead of a driver’s license, an illegal alien could apply for a driving-privilege card, which the state distinguished from the former by stamping “not valid for identification” across its top. Four years later, Huntsman and the legislature revised the layout to make the two cards even more visually distinct. And the driving-privilege card was invalid for buying alcohol or guns, the pols insisted.

But Sandstrom still opposes it. “[The state] can’t control what private businesses do — if people are using it to open checking accounts in banks, for instance. We were legitimizing illegal immigrants. I think it was a very poor bill,” he says.

Huntsman’s defenders counter that illegal immigrants were getting driver’s licenses before the ex-governor had done anything. Because the Utah Department of Vehicles was lax in verifying applicants’ proofs of legal status, drivers’ licenses were effectively available to illegal aliens. This bill meant to stop that.

Sandstrom is unimpressed with this comeback. “What we should have done was just make them show proof of legal status to get drivers’ licenses.” And he’s similarly unpersuaded by another counterargument: That it’s best to dispense these cards so that illegal aliens — who will drive regardless of the public policy — will be able to get car insurance.

Sandstrom points out that it’s still possible to get insurance without a driving-privileges card — it’s just more expensive. Now, the state issues about 80,000 of these cards — renewals and new issues combined — per year. And Utah’s policy is affecting other states. “What’s happening is people are coming from other states and getting driving-privileges cards in Utah and using it as a legitimate ID card in other states. We’re facilitating illegal immigration in other states as well.”

But there’s more. In 2002, before Huntsman became governor, Utah began charging illegal aliens the in-state tuition at its state colleges and universities. Five years later, then–state representative Glenn Donnelson introduced legislation to repeal that privilege. In his way, however, stood the governor. “I’m going to fight it,” Huntsman said, adding that he would “very seriously consider vetoing” the bill.

On the campaign trail, Huntsman has spoken in similar tones. He recently told a crowd in New Hampshire that the idea of a border fence repels him. “For me, as an American, the thought of a fence to some extent repulses me, because it is not consistent with . . . the image that we projected from the very beginning to the rest of the world,” Huntsman said.

“But the situation is such today that I don’t think we have a choice, and before we begin the conversation of processing 11 or 12 million undocumented workers, we’ve got to secure the border,” he said. And that included a fence.

On the subject of illegal aliens already here, however, Huntsman admitted, “There’s got to be an alternative rather than sending people back. That’s unrealistic.” Indeed, he’s supported a path to citizenship for that population for years.

In tone and substance, Huntsman is more forgiving of illegal immigration than many in his party would like. “I would it call it very liberal ideology,” Sandstrom says. Unfortunately for Huntsman, many Republican primary voters may well agree.

Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute. 

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