GOP debate: September 7, 2011 (immigration, Rick Perry, Romney, Bachman, Huntsman, Cain, Gingrich, Santorum)
Tonight's the night for the first major GOP debate, sponsored by Politico and NBC News and featuring Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. I'll replace this text with a discussion of the immigration portions of the debate after a transcript becomes available. In the meantime, see each of those links for background information, and feel free to leave comments on the debate below. I predict that any immigration questions that are asked will be weak and the candidates will be able to dance around them.
UPDATE: Video added, together with a transcript of the immigration segment
1. The immigration questions were asked by Jose Diaz Balart of Telemundo, brother of massive/illegal immigration fans Lincoln Diaz Balart and Mario Diaz Balart. They're Cuban-American, but most of the illegal aliens in the U.S. are from Mexico. And, those most concerned about continued illegal immigration are not professional racial power boosters like the Diaz-Balarts, but non-Hispanic Americans. Apparently MSNBC thinks only Hispanics are concerned about and qualified to ask about immigration.
2. As I predicted, the questions asked were incredibly weak. The answers to those questions could have been more easily obtained by looking at the candidates' previous statements and websites. Apparently MSNBC doesn't have web access or something and couldn't ask the follow-up questions that would reveal the flaws in the candidates' plans. Or, they didn't want to try to reveal those flaws and are generally happy with a group of (let's face it) stiffs.
3. The weakest candidate of those asked about immigration was Jon Huntsman. However, all of the rest come in a close second. All of them would - after the secure the border charade - support some form of comprehensive immigration reform (aka amnesty). None of them are strong opponents of "reform", amnesty, legalization, regularization, or whatever term you want to use. None of them are even willing to support attrition: enforcing our immigration laws now to encourage illegal aliens to return home.
If you want to help force the candidates to support attrition - instead of "secure the border and then we'll discuss amnesty" - there's only one solution: use the question authority plan and find smart, experienced lawyers to cross-examine them on their policies. Otherwise, if one of them wins, they'll push amnesty (to one degree or another) just like George W Bush did.
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WILLIAMS: I want to introduce another line of questioning by introducing yet another colleague of ours, Jose Diaz-Balart, from our sister network Telemundo.
Hey, my friend, how are you?
DIAZ-BALART: Good evening. Nice to see you all. Nice to see you all.
I want to talk about a subject that was very dear to the heart of President Reagan, which is immigration reform.
As you know, he was the last U.S. President to sign immigration reform in 1986. All of you, I think, have said that you don't think immigration reform should be discussed until the border is secure.
And, Governor, I'd like to ask you, border state governor, what specifically, in your mind, would make the border secure?
PERRY: Well, the first thing you need to do is have boots on the ground. We've had a request in to this administration since June — or January of 2009 for 1,000 border patrol agents or National Guard troops, and working towards 3,000 border patrol. That's just on the Texas border.
There's another 50 percent more for the entire Mexican border. So you can secure the border, but it requires a commitment of the federal government of putting those boots on the ground, the aviation assets in the air.
We think predator drones could be flown, that real-time information coming down to the local and the state and the federal law enforcement. And you can secure the border. And at that particular point in time, then you can have an intellectually appropriate discussion about immigration reform.
For the President of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say that the border is safer than it's ever been, either he has some of the poorest intel of a president in the history of this country, or he was an abject liar to the American people. It is not safe on that border.
DIAZ-BALART: Governor, specifically, do you agree or disagree with some of the issues that the governor of Texas says, as far as what you would consider enough to be able to declare the border safe?
ROMNEY: Well, first, we ought to have a fence. Secondly…
DIAZ-BALART: The whole fence, 2,600 miles?
ROMNEY: Yes. We got to — we got to have a fence, or the technologically approved system to make sure that we know who's coming into the country, number one.
Number two, we ought to have enough agents to secure that fence and to make sure that people are coming over are caught.
But the third thing, and I learned this when I was with border patrol agents in San Diego, and they said, look, they can always get a ladder to go over the fence. And people will always run to the country. The reason they come in such great numbers is because we've left the magnet on.
And I said, what do you mean, the magnet? And they said, when employers are willing to hire people who are here illegally, that's a magnet, and it draws them in. And we went in and talked about sanctuary cities, giving tuition breaks to the kids of illegal aliens, employers that, employers that knowingly hire people who are here illegally. Those things also have to be stopped.
If we want to secure the border, we have to make sure we have a fence, technologically, determining where people are, enough agents to oversee it, and turn off that magnet. We can't talk about amnesty, we cannot give amnesty to those who have come here illegally.
We've got 4.7 million people waiting in line legally. Let those people come in first, and those that are here illegally, they shouldn't have a special deal.
HARRIS: Speaker Gingrich, your perception on immigration reform? And you've been, I think, in some ways, a little different on your initial positions.
GINGRICH: I think we have to find a way to get to a country in which everybody who's here is here legally. But you started by referencing President Reagan.
In 1986, I voted for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which in fact did grant some amnesty in return for promises. President Reagan wrote in his diary that year that he signed the act because we were going to control the border and we were going to have an employer program where it was a legal guest worker program. That's in his diary.
I'm with President Reagan. We ought to control the border, we ought to have a legal guest worker program. We ought to outsource it, frankly, to American Express, Visa, and MasterCard, so there's no counterfeiting, which there will be with the federal government. We should be very tough on employers once you have that legal program.
We should make English the official language of government. We should insist –
GINGRICH: We should insist that first-generation immigrants who come here learn American history in order to become citizens. We should also insist that American children learn American history.
And then find a way to deal with folks who are already here, some of whom, frankly, have been here 25 years, are married with kids, live in our local neighborhood, go to our church. It's got to be done in a much more humane way than thinking that to automatically deport millions of people.
HARRIS: Senator, your solution?
SANTORUM: Well, my solution is very similar to Newt Gingrich's.
Look, I'm the son of an Italian immigrant. I think immigration is one of the great things that has made this country the dynamic country that it continues to be, people who are drawn because of the ideals of this country. And so we should not have a debate talking about how we don't want people to come to this country, but we want them to come here like my grandfather and my father came here.
They made sacrifices. They came in the 1920s. There were no promises. There were no government benefits.
They came because they wanted to be free and they wanted to be good law-abiding citizens. So we have to have a program in place that sets that parameter that says, you're going to come to this country, come here according to the rules. It's a very good first step that the first thing you do here is a legal act, not an illegal act.
HARRIS: A quick follow-up, 30 seconds.
So there are 11 million people that — fait accompli. They're here. What do you do with them if you are able to secure the border?
SANTORUM: Well, I think we can have the discussion, that whether what we do with people, how long they've been here, whether they had other types of records. But to have that discussion right now and pull the same trick that was pulled in 1986 — we said, well, we'll promise to do this if you do that — no more. We are going to secure the border first, and that's the most important thing to do, then we'll have the discussion afterwards.
HARRIS: Congresswoman, you said the fence — that you believe the fence is fundamental as an integral part of controlling the border. Let's say that in 2012 or 2013, there's a fence, the border is secure, gasoline is $2 a gallon.
What do you do then with 11 million people, as the Speaker says, many of whom have U.S.-born children here? What do you do?
BACHMANN: Well, again, understand the context and the problem that we're dealing with.
In Mexico right now, we're dealing with narco terrorists. This is a very serious problem. To not build a border or a fence on every part of that border would be, in effect, to yield United States sovereignty not only to our nation anymore, but to yield it to another nation. That we cannot do.
One thing that the American people have said to me over and over again — and I was just last week down in Miami. I was visiting the Bay of Pigs Museum with Cuban-Americans. I was down at the Versailles Cafe. I met with a number of people, and it's very interesting. The Hispanic-American community wants us to stop giving taxpayer- subsidized benefits to illegal aliens and benefits, and they want us to stop giving taxpayer-subsidized benefits to their children as well.
HARRIS: A quick 30-second rebuttal on the specific question.
The fence is built, the border is under control. What do you do with 11.5 million people who are here without documents and with U.S.- born children?
BACHMANN: Well, that's right. And again, it is sequential, and it depends upon where they live, how long they have been here, if they have a criminal record. All of those things have to be taken into place.
But one thing that we do know, our immigration law worked beautifully back in the 1950s, up until the early 1960s, when people had to demonstrate that they had money in their pocket, they had no contagious diseases, they weren't a felon. They had to agree to learn to speak the English language, they had to learn American history and the Constitution.
And the one thing they had to promise is that they would not become a burden on the American taxpayer. That's what we have to enforce.
HARRIS: Thank you.
HARRIS: Mr. Cain?
CAIN: Let's make sure — let's solve all of the problems. It's not one problem.
I do believe we can secure the border with a combination of boots on the ground, technology, and a fence, but we've got three other problems. And to get to it, we've got to secure the border.
Secondly, let's promote the path to citizenship that's already there. We don't need a new one, we just need to clean up the bureaucracy that's slowing the process down and discouraging people.
The third thing we need to do, enforce the laws that are there, and the way we do it, empower the states. I believe that the people closest to the problem are the best ones to be able to solve that problem. Empower the states to do what the federal government hasn't done, can't do, and won't do. This is how we solve the entire problem.
HARRIS: Thank you.
HUNTSMAN: I would just have to say that I agree with so much of what has been said here today.
President Reagan, when he made his decision back in 1987, he saw this as a human issue. And I hope that all of us, as we deal with this immigration issue, will always see it as an issue that resolves around real human beings.
Yes, they came here in an illegal fashion. And yes, they should be punished in some form or fashion.
I have two daughters that came to this country, one from China, one from India, legally. I see this issue through their eyes.
We can find a solution. If President Reagan were here, he would speak to the American people and he would lay out in hopeful, optimistic terms how we can get there, remembering full well that we're dealing with human beings here. We have to agree.
But let me just say one thing about legal immigration. Let's not lose sight of the fact that our legal immigration system is broken. And if we want to do something about attracting brain power to this country, if we want to lift real estate values.
For example, why is it that Vancouver is the fastest-growing real estate market in the world today? They allow immigrants in legally, and it lifts all votes (ph). And we need to focus as much on legal immigration.
HARRIS: Congressman, your thoughts?
PAUL: Obviously, it's a very big problem. I think we need to remove the incentive — easy road to citizenship. Nobody has mentioned the fact that they qualify for benefits as well, you know, the welfare benefits. We shouldn't have to give — the state of Texas shouldn't be forced to provide free health care and free education.
But there is a mess down there, and it's a big mess. And it's the drug war that's going on there. And our drug laws are driving this. So now we're killing thousands and thousands of people. That makes it much more complicated. But the people who want big fences and guns, sure, we can secure the borders — a barbed-wire fence with machine guns, that would do the trick.
I don't believe that's what America is all about. I just really don't.
We can enforce our law. If we had a healthy economy, this wouldn't be such a bad deal. People are worrying about jobs. But every time you think about this toughness on the border and I.D. cards and real ideas, think that it's a penalty against the American people, too.
I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in. In economic turmoil, the people want to lead (ph) with their capital. And there's capital controls and there's people control. So, every time you think of fence keeping all those bad people out, think about those fences maybe being used against us, keeping us in.