The Corner

Is Tough Talk on Immigration Just Boob Bait for Bubba?

Several GOP Senate candidates are successfully using the abysmal immigration record of the Democratic Senate and the Obama administration in their races, including Scott Brown, Thom TillisBill Cassidy, Tom Cotton, and Pat Roberts. Their attacks are clearly helping them against their pro-amnesty Democratic opponents; the resonance of the issue with voters is clear from the fact that even Democrat Grimes of Kentucky is pretending to be against amnesty.

I hope the candidates are sincere. Roberts clearly is, having voted against last year’s Gang of Eight bill and earned a career grade of A+ from Numbers USA. Cotton, likewise, earned a B+ during his one term in the House. Brown, on the other hand, got a D+ score from Numbers USA during his short Senate tenure, though, to be fair, he wasn’t there during the two big immigration fights of 2006–7 and 2013–14 and so may well have voted the right way when push came to shove. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to their future conduct is ventured.

But Georgia governor Nathan Deal offers a cautionary tale for voters concerned about the depth of politicians’ commitment to a firm immigration policy not beholden to corporate interests. When he first ran in 2010, then-congressman Deal boasted of his immigration record in the House, where he earned an A+ grade. Here are specific commitments he made to pro-borders activitist D. A. King during that campaign, and here’s what Mother Jones wrote about the race:

In Georgia, for instance, immigration has become the centerpiece of the race: Both Democratic and Republican candidates have vowed to replicate Arizona’s controversial immigration law by requiring law enforcement personnel to question crime suspects about their immigration status. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Nathan Deal, worked closely with Tancredo when the pair served together in Congress. Deal was an early supporter of a birthright citizenship bill that would deny granting citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants—a fringe idea that gained mainstream GOP credibility this year. Reprising claims that immigrants are mooching off of taxpayer-funded programs, Deal also tried in pushing through more stringent ID requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries.

“His career grade with us is an A-plus. He’ll do anything that he’s allowed to do to push illegal aliens out of the state,” says Roy Beck, president of anti-immigration group Numbers USA, who predicts that Georgia is “one of the most likely” states to pass a law similar to Arizona’s. Having vowed to enact an immigration crackdown early on in his campaign, Deal has benefited from the anxieties surrounding Georgia’s immigrant community, which is one of the fastest growing in the US. He now leads his Democratic challenger, Roy Barnes, by 10 points in the latest polls.

You might conclude from this that during his four years as governor Deal has made a concerted effort at limiting illegal immigration to his state (which has more illegal aliens than Arizona). You’d be wrong.

He hasn’t completely flipped and joined the Lindsey Graham Club, but he’s run away from the issue as much as he can. Even the media have noticed; a report on his meeting with the Marietta Daily Journal, outside Atlanta, began its treatment of his immigration comments this way:

Deal listed two reasons why he has not spoken as frequently as some would like about illegal immigration.

In other words, there’s no dispute that he’s ducked the issue — the only question is why. The answer:

One is his 17-year voting record in Congress, which he said speaks for itself. Another is that the topic is polarizing. 

So he had promised during his original campaign for governor to lead on illegal immigration, and now, running for reelection, he says you should look at his record before he was governor to see what he thinks about the immigration issue?

What’s Southron for “chutzpah”?

And about the “polarizing” part:

“There are those in our population for whom these issues they consider it divisive. They consider us even talking about it as being anti-Hispanic,” Deal said. “So, therefore, I’m not one of those that’s going to go jump up on a stump because there’s more division in our state society. I don’t think that does anybody any good. I think what we do is we do what we can do to stand by the rule of law and enforce it even when it’s uncomfortable, and that’s what we’re having to do with the out-of-state tuition issue.”

So hecklers get a veto.

He went on at length about his opposition to in-state tuition for illegal aliens, even though he committed during his original campaign to bar illegal aliens from enrolling at all in state colleges. He did sign an E-Verify bill in 2011, but only under duress, having not been able to cave in to the farm lobby. He omitted any mention of the landmark bill in his next state-of-the-state address. During the progress of the bill in the legislature, an aide implied pro-borders activists were Nazis. And there doesn’t seem to be even a mention of immigration on his campaign web site.

How’s this working out for him? He’s certainly not coasting to reelection. The RealClearPolitics polling average has Deal up by less than one point over Democrat Jason Carter, the grandson of “More Mush from the Wimp.” A Jeff Sessions–style appeal to working people of all ethnicities, incorporating a firm stance on immigration, is a political winner, as Scott Brown has figured out. A strong campaign by Deal would even likely help David Perdue in his Senate race against Michelle Nunn, which is also a lot closer that it should be. (Perdue is also largely silent about the issue.)

Deal’s approach to the issue appears to have been borrowed from Basil Fawlty: Don’t mention immigration! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right.

Mark Krikorian — Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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