Dirty Little (not) Secret
Pence’s Love Affair With Immigration Reform
Will Mike Pence’s love of immigrants complicate his new political marriage?
Though Mike Pence—Donald Trump’s brand new running mate—is maximally conservative on most of the issues grassroots conservatives care about, he has a history on immigration that could upset the mogul’s xenophobic base.
But nobody’s perfect.
Despite his wishy-washy history on LGBT rights, abortion, the Iraq War, and other topics that typically galvanize Republican primary voters, Trump shored up conservative support by being as far-right as possible on immigration.
His veep has the opposite problem.
On abortion, LGBT rights and the Iraq War Pence has stood firmly with the right wing of the Republican Party.
But on immigration … well, that may just undercut Trump a bit.
That’s because Pence has spent his political career decrying anti-immigrant rhetoric, pushing to make comprehensive immigration reform politically workable, and even sticking up for the “Mexican” judge Trump said was racist.
Pence’s grandfather immigrated to the United States from Ireland when he was a teenager. That family story has become a favorite of the Indiana governor to describe his views on immigration policy. In an interview with Fox News in December 2014, the governor cited his grandchild-of-immigrants status as a significant influence on his political thought.
“All you need to know about Mike Pence is that I’ve grown up as a spectator to the American dream,” he told host Bret Baier. “That Irishman’s brogue accent still rings in my ears.”
And in 2013, he gave an inclusive message to attendees of an Indiana Latino Institute lunch.
“We’re working every day to make Indiana more prosperous and more welcoming to every Hoosier of every background,” he told attendees, according to the Indy Star. “In every real sense, apart from those who claim native American heritage, we are all children of immigrants in this country.”
He added that when he teamed up with George W. Bush in 2006 to try to get comprehensive immigration reform passed, he told the president that his family’s experience informed his views.
“I said, ‘We’re a nation of immigrants. I don’t just get it. I lived it,’” Pence told the audience, recalling a conversation with Bush.
And yes, his 2006 efforts already make Trump supporters irate. That year, he tried to create compromise legislation that could make Republican immigration hardliners get on board for the immigration-overhaul efforts that moderate Republicans and Democrats were pushing. Pence joined up with Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to push for a proposal that would tighten border security and then implement a curious self-deportation plan.
“As the grandson of an Irish immigrant, I believe in the ideals enshrined on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed introducing the proposal. “America always has been, and always will be, a welcoming nation, welcoming under the law any and all with courage enough to come here.”
He then suggested that the nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants—would all voluntarily leave the country and then gain legal status through corporate-run “Ellis Island centers.” In other words, American businesses would set up immigrant-processing facilities in other countries to connect workers with businesses looking to hire, and then fingerprint them and give them health screenings. It wasn’t amnesty, he argued, since immigrants would have to leave the country for about a week before getting legal status.
When Pence pitched the idea to conservatives in a speech at The Heritage Foundation, he used the same term that got Mitt Romney in huge trouble in his 2012 presidential bid.
“The solution is to set up a system that will encourage illegal aliens to self-deport and come back legally as guest workers,” he said at the think tank.
He also characterized it as “a plan where justice and mercy meet.”
Of course, the word “mercy” sounds a bit like the word “amnesty,” and that’s how his foes branded the effort.
“It really is amnesty,” said Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King in a debate with Pence on CNBC in 2006.
“How many are too many? That’s the obvious question to ask, how many are too many to come into the United States?” King added.
Other influential immigration hardliners joined the pile-on. Tom Tancredo, then a Colorado congressman famous for being the House’s loudest foe of immigration reform, said Pence’s plan was “just the 1986 amnesty with a trip home tacked on.” And Phyllis Schlafly’s group, Eagle Forum, ripped him as a sell-out to globalists. VDARE, a white supremacist site that argues immigration will make America a Third World dystopian wasteland, said he was “slumming with the open borders lobby.”
In short, proposal went over like a lead balloon, and Bush’s reform efforts failed. But that didn’t stop Pence . After his effort failed, he kept arguing that an immigration compromise was politically doable, saying on Fox News in 2011 that “the rational middle ground that President Bush called us to a year ago that is neither mass deportation nor amnesty” could still get through Congress.
Spoiler: Ten years later, it still can’t.
As governor, he criticized two of Trump’s most anti-immigrant statements: his pitch for a ban on Muslim immigrants and his criticism of Judge Gonzalo Curiel as biased against him because his parents are Mexican immigrants. Pence’s criticism wasn’t exactly blistering in either case.
But at a time when some loyal Trump surrogates manned the barricades, Pence defected.
“I think comments that suggest that Muslims should be banned from the United States are offensive and unconstitutional,” he told reporters in December. “The United States cannot and should not discriminate on the basis of religion. The free exercise of religion is at the very heart of our constitutional guarantee for all persons in this country. And so I find those comments to be offensive and unconstitutional.”
He also defended Curiel—who was born in Indiana.
“Every American is entitled to a fair trial and an impartial judge, but of course I think those comments were inappropriate,” he told reporters, as the Indy Star reported. “I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to question the partiality of the judge based on their ethnic background.”
When it comes to opposing race-based discrimination, the Republican ticket is now, officially, one-for-two.