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May 30, 2006

Republicans on their new immigration platform

Posted by David Postman at 8:36 AM

What do Republicans on the ballot this year think of the party's new immigration policy that opposes citizenship for babies born here to illegal immigrants and supports a guest worker program only for workers who go back home to apply?

Congressman Dave Reichert told me yesterday that he is willing to consider a proposal that would end automatic citizenship for babies born here. "It makes sense to me. This is people taking advantage of the system," he said. Reichert said that he has heard stories of pregnant Mexican women "just moments before the baby is born crossing the border and having the baby in a parking lot ... then claiming they can't leave because their baby is a citizen."

State Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, said denying citizenship to babies born in the United States would be unconstitutional. Reichert said that is something "for the lawyers" to hash out. "I think that has to be part of the entire discussion that has to take place," he said.

The guest worker program endorsed by the party is impractical, Reichert said, because "we will not be able to send 12 million people back." But, as he has said earlier, the U.S. government should try to review the specifics of as many of those people as possible and handle them on a case-by-base basis, with perhaps some being required to return to their home country before getting a guest worker permit.

Congressman Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, has been pushing for a guest worker program that would allow the agriculture industry in central Washington to keep operating. He is concerned that requiring everyone to leave the country before applying to come back as a temporary worker could hurt the ag industry. His press secretary, Jessica Gleason, said this by e-mail this morning:

"Decisions about who has to go home first, for how long, and how to enforce such a requirement will be made as the differences between the House and Senate bill are worked out. Hastings' priorities are ensuring that a guest worker program enhances security and is implemented in a way that meets the needs of our farmers. Whether workers must return home first or not, the transition must be done in a way that does not jeopardize even one harvest season. The fact remains that there is not a ready pool of Americans waiting to fill these farm labor jobs."

She said she didn't know Hastings position on citizenship for babies of illegal immigrants.

I'm waiting to hear back from Rep. Cathy McMorris.

Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick doesn't support either plank added in the platform. On babies, he says the plan is unconstitutional. The Republican-endorsed guest worker plan is unworkable, he said. He said he understands, though, what drove the delegates:

"These are expressions of frustrations. While the solutions may not be perfect, the frustration is real and appropriate given that the United States has failed — as any country has a right to do — to control its own borders."

McGavick had left the convention Saturday when delegates debated immigration. He said he couldn't comment on the tone or the language used. But he said people need to be sensitive when debating the issue.

"We should never let it slide down the slippery slope to racism. We all have to work hard to prevent that."

UPDATE: State Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla says he opposes both of the new immigration planks. Speaking for himself and not the Senate Republican caucus, it is clear Hewitt is a high-ranking Republican uncomfortable with the jump to the right the platform took. Hewitt has worked hard to reach out to Hispanic voters. He sponsored a bill to give in-state tutition at colleges and universities to illegal immigrants. He was honored for his work last year with an award from the Washington Repubican National Hispanic Assembly. "The party over-reached on this one," Hewitt said.

UPDATE: I asked Darcy Burner's campaign if they had reaction to Reichert's comments. Campaign manager Zach Silk said, in part:

"Dave Reichert has been seriously out of touch on this issue from the beginning. First, he voted in favor of the House bill that made it a felony for the clergy to offer aid to immigrants. Now, he's supporting a clearly unconsitutional proposal to end automatic citizenship for babies born here.
It forces you to ask, 'What is he thinking?' "

MORE DOC: Gleason got back to me on Hastings' position on automatic citizenship for babies born to illegal immigrants. Hastings thinks it is worth talking about.

"The Constitution says what it says. Any way you look at it, changing birthright citizenship would require a Constitutional debate that would take years. Congressman Hastings believes the proposal is worthy of debate, but securing our borders and creating a functional guestworker program is a more direct way to solve the problem and that's what he's focusing on right now. "

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