November 30, 2007
By Stephen Dinan - Groups that support a crackdown on illegal aliens haven't
settled on their champion in the race for the White House, but there's
little doubt which Republican scares them most — former Arkansas Gov. Mike
"He was an absolute disaster on immigration as governor," said Roy Beck,
president of NumbersUSA, a group that played a major role in rallying the
phone calls that helped defeat this year's Senate immigration bill. "Every
time there was any enforcement in his state, he took the side of the illegal
As Mr. Huckabee rises in the polls, his opponents are beginning to take
shots at him on immigration. Just as problematic for the former Arkansas
governor, however, is that the independent interest groups that track the
issue are also giving him the once-over, and don't like what they see.
"Huckabee is the guy who scares the heck out of me," said Peter Gadiel,
president of 9-11 Families for a Secure America, a group instrumental in
fighting for the REAL ID Act that sets federal standards for driver's
Some leaders said Mr. Huckabee reminds them of President Bush, who pushed
for legalization of illegal aliens and a new supply of foreign guest
workers, despite his base calling for better border security and
"I would say that Huckabee comes from the same perspective on the issue that
George W. Bush came from — that out of a strong sense of compassion, he
tries to identify with someone who comes to the United States, even if they
came illegally," said Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center
for Immigration Studies.
Mr. Huckabee yesterday defended his record, but he said if voters are
looking for the toughest guy, he's not their man.
"Is my answer satisfactory to all the Republicans? The answer's 'no.' " he
said. "Some people want me to be a lot harsher. I think my answer is the
honest and the right one."
The former governor said the borders should be secured and said he opposes
sanctuary cities shielding illegal aliens and opposes amnesty, though he
does think illegal aliens can be put on a path to citizenship — something
many conservatives equate to amnesty.
But he said he finds a lot of anger and frustration directed at immigrants
who don't speak English.
"Unfortunately, instead of being angry at the federal government for totally
failing us in this, they sometimes get angry at the people themselves," he
He also said he's willing to take the heat for pushing for illegal alien
students to be able to get taxpayer-funded financial aid and college
"Our country is better than that, to punish children for what their parents
did in breaking the law. If that costs me the election, it costs me the
election, but somewhere along the line we cannot just pander to the anger
and hostility without challenging it," he said.
Mr. Huckabee said he will produce a full plan to address illegal entry at
some point, and he said he hasn't worked out specifics yet for who would get
a path to citizenship and how.
"At some point, they do have to go back and start, they do have to pay a
monetary fine, there has to be some type of restitution made for the law
that has been broken, but it has to be reasonable and commensurate with the
violation," he said.
As Mr. Huckabee's campaign gains attention — he is polling in first place in
Iowa, the site of the first nominating contest — his immigration stance is
getting a closer look. Fellow candidate Mitt Romney questioned him about his
financial aid plan during Wednesday night's debate, and the video of that
made the rounds of the immigration-control groups yesterday.
None of the groups has endorsed any candidates in the Democratic or
Republican races, and they are divided on who the best candidate is.
On Thanksgiving, Mr. Beck wrote an e-mail to his supporters praising the
immigration plan of Fred Thompson, a former senator who is running for the
Republican nomination and who has called for attrition through enforcement.
"I really was blown away. I said, my gosh, this is an incredible platform,"
Mr. Beck said in an interview this week.
James J. Boulet Jr., executive director of English First, which wants to
make English the official language of the government, said Mr. Romney had
the best official record on that issue, opposing bilingual education during
his term as Massachusetts governor.
Both Mr. Romney and Mr. Thompson have said they wouldn't create a new
pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens, and Mr. Romney also has hinted he
wants illegal aliens to go home through attrition. But Mr. Beck said Mr.
Thompson's plan is the most detailed at this point, and he praised Mr.
Thompson's call to even end some immigration programs such as the diversity
"The fact that he has OK'd these positions on such a volatile topic shows he
really takes voters' concerns seriously and he believes there ought to be
more than just sound bites about it," Mr. Beck said.
Reps. Ron Paul of Texas, Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Duncan Hunter of
California all win near universal praise from the group leaders, but the
leaders question whether any of the three have a shot at winning the
nomination. Most of the leaders dismissed Arizona Sen. John McCain, a
longtime advocate of legalizing illegal aliens, saying he appears to have
little shot of winning the nomination.
As for Rudolph W. Giuliani, several leaders said his record as New York
mayor was worrisome — he ran a sanctuary city, which means the identity of
illegal aliens was kept from authorities in some cases — but they are
impressed with his tough border-security position.
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