One Republican Candidate Isn’t Attacking Undocumented Immigrants

by ESTHER YU-HSI LEE –

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, defended undocumented immigrants as “law-abiding” Americans who are “valuable” to growing the economy on Thursday — setting himself apart from the rest of the GOP field, which has used much harsher language to describe the immigrant population.

“A lot of these people who are working, these people who came here illegally, who are now here and are law-abiding, are providing valuable services,” Kasich insisted, while outlining his immigration plan, in an intense exchange with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham. “I see them in the hotels. I see them in the restaurants.”

“Let’s not start pitting one American against another,” Kasich added, stating that this population of immigrants could help grow the economy. “Let’s grow the pie so there’s more jobs for everyone. I’m talking about the people who are here — ”

“They’re not Americans, Governor,” Ingraham shot back. “They’re not Americans. They violated our laws.”

Kasich later indicated in the interview that he would not commit to “shipping [undocumented immigrants] out of the country,” an idea that involves deporting the entire current undocumented population. Instead, the people who would face deportation are those who try to come into the country after the completion of a border wall. Kasich also said that he would “punish” employers who hire undocumented workers, though he didn’t outline specifics.

Just the day before, Kasich defended undocumented immigrants in a similar way, saying that they are “contributing significantly” to the country.

Kasich’s stance stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the GOP field of presidential contenders who have parried on the topic of where the undocumented population fits on the spectrum of American identity. Last year, another Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a primary architect of the Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, told a group of DREAMers, “you don’t have a right to illegally immigrate into the United States.” DREAMers are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as youths. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has gone only so far as to say that the undocumented population should be able to get legal status, which some argue leaves them in a permanent subcitizen status.

Kasich’s most recent comments are more sympathetic than the ones he expressed to actual undocumented immigrants who met with him just last month. Immigrants and advocates who privately met with him told ThinkProgress that the governor would “make some phone calls,” but that he wouldn’t agree to remove his state from the lawsuit that’s spawned a federal court order to prevent President Obama’s controversial executive action on deportation relief from taking effect.

Still, based on the way that the 11.4 million undocumented population already contributes to the country, they are in fact, in many ways, American. An April 2015 Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy report found that the population as a whole paid $11.84 billion in state and local taxes in 2012. And a Pew Research Center study found that half of the nation’s undocumented population have lived here for an average of 13 years or more, with as many as four million having U.S.-born children.

The Ohio governor’s plan could shore up public support. At least 65 percent of Americans support a plan to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States and eventually become citizens, a new Gallup poll released Wednesday found. He would also likely score political points among Latino voters, some of whom have close ties to the undocumented immigrant community. The same poll found that 77 percent of Latino voters would support a pathway to citizenship.

Reinforcing the border wall isn’t entirely necessary, especially because border apprehensions are down and more immigrants are giving themselves up at border patrol stations to seek asylum. Donald Trump, another Republican presidential candidate, recently proposed for Mexico to pay for a border wall, a plan that was shot down by Mexican government officials who said that Trump’s statement “reflects an enormous ignorance for what Mexico represents.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress 

 

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