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January 31, 2015

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Rick Perry walks tightrope on immigration issue


Jae C. Hong / AP

Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry answer a question during a Republican presidential candidate debate at the Reagan Library Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, in Simi Valley, Calif.

Rick Perry

Rick Perry

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

The outcome of the conservative skirmish of the moment in the Republican presidential primary — a back-and-forth between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry on immigration — will have implications for either candidate should he make it to the general election, particularly in the battleground state of Nevada.

As Romney tries to woo conservative voters by taking a hard-line stance on immigration, he runs the risk of antagonizing Nevada’s growing Hispanic voting bloc, which is expected to be a key swing vote in the general election next year.

Conversely, Perry’s moderate approach to immigration as governor of a border state could antagonize conservative voters while appealing to Hispanics.

As governor of Texas, which deals with both border security issues and a large population of illegal immigrants, Perry adopted a fairly pragmatic stance on immigration, mostly eschewing the caustic rhetoric that has typified the immigration debate.

Even Democrats acknowledge that Perry’s record could be attractive to Hispanic voters who traditionally hew to their side.

“I don’t know if there’s a danger of (Democrats) losing the Latino vote (to Republicans), but he would definitely gain Latino support for his positions,” said Andres Ramirez, a veteran Nevada Latino activist and vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s Hispanic Caucus.

During his time as governor, Perry has opposed immigration policies popular with the conservative base he is now courting in his bid to become president:

• He’s described building a fence along the nation’s border with Mexico as preposterous and an idiocy.

• He supported a guest worker program for immigrant labor.

• He does not support an Arizona-style immigration law for Texas that would require police to investigate citizenship status when probable cause exists.

• And — in the move that has garnered the most recent attention in the primary fight — he signed a bill allowing in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants in Texas.

But he hasn’t always supported moderate immigration policy positions. This year, he pushed legislation that would outlaw “sanctuary” cities by allowing, but not requiring, local police to investigate immigration status.

Since entering the presidential campaign, Perry has toggled between taking a harder line on immigration and defending his moderate record as governor.

During a recent debate, Perry accused his critics of heartlessness for opposing in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants. He then distanced himself from the comment, describing it as inappropriate.

His latest talking points have included stressing border security before debating immigration reform and opposing amnesty.

“We need to mimic what the state of Texas has done,” said Perry’s spokesman Katherine Cesinger. “Texas has increased the boots on the ground, increased the aerial assets in the sky, increased the patrol on the water. He would take that to the next level (as president).”

Perry’s immigration record may antagonize the conservative voters he needs to win in the presidential primary, which could be particularly problematic given his strategy depends on positioning himself as a darling of the conservative right on each of the fronts they care about — both social and fiscal.

“Ticking off even a small percentage of them and letting them go to (Rick) Santorum, or Newt (Gingrich) or (Michele) Bachmann is problematic when you look at the math of it,” said one Las Vegas-based Republican strategist.

Indeed, Perry’s waffling on immigration has accompanied his latest drop in the polls, with a recent Washington Post poll finding two-thirds of Republican and GOP-leaning voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants.

But immigration likely won’t be the deciding issue in the primary. And if Perry pulls through, his record could draw Hispanic voters from Democrats, particularly as President Barack Obama’s approval rating with Hispanics has dropped.

Likewise, as Romney latches on to immigration as a wedge to drive conservative voters away from Perry he could have the reverse problem should he make it to the general by espousing harsher immigration policies that might antagonize Hispanic voters needed for a Nevada win.

Romney’s camp denies his positions on immigration — which include building the border fence, pushing English-immersion education, supporting Arizona’s immigration law and opposing in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants — would alienate Hispanic voters.

“Gov. Romney has consistently supported legal immigration and opposed illegal immigration,” his spokesman Ryan Williams said. “Gov. Perry has supported liberal policies that encourage illegal immigration.”

Democrats are already working to shift the narrative away from Perry as a champion of pragmatic immigration policies.

“You’re absolutely right that he’s taken a very pragmatic, moderate approach to immigration in Texas,” Ramirez said. “But Perry is not advocating for his approach in Texas to be applied to the rest of the country.”

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  1. So, Anjeanette Damon slanders Hispanics by asserting they condone illegal immigration? Like so many lefties, this broad doesn't understand that Hispanics, like many others who live in this country legally, have no love for law breakers. They are, as so many times stated, hard working, honorable and good citizens. They (legal Hispanics & others) came here the right way and they expect others to do the same. BTW, the illegal immigration ado is not about ethnicity, it is about people flagrantly violating our laws by sneaking into the USA via the back door.

  2. Psst hey republicans if you want to beat Obama here is a winning strategy . Come up with a immigration plan that provides a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants. With a more moderate position on this matter republicans can steal the Hispanic vote .Otherwise Obama will get those votes because of republicans stupid immigration plans . Even the legal Hispanics that have no love for law breakers are not going to vote for someone advocating laws like Arizona and Alabama .

  3. Some things to think about ..............Six hours was enough, between the 6 a.m. start time and noon lunch break, for the first wave of local workers to quit. Some simply never came back and gave no reason. Twenty-five of them said specifically, according to farm records, that the work was too hard. On the Harold farm, pickers walk the rows alongside a huge harvest vehicle called a mule train, plucking ears of corn and handing them up to workers on the mule who box them and lift the crates, each weighing 45 to 50 pounds. ....

  4. The report makes four main arguments:

    First, Georgia is already beginning to see a severe labor shortage from workers avoiding the state due to its immigration law. This shortage is likely to reverse a decades-long trend in which fruit and vegetable crops gained an increasing share of the state's total farm value and enlarged Georgia's agricultural sector. Early reports from the state already estimate economic losses for the 2011 growing season to be between $300 million and $1 billion.

    We further estimate Georgia would see close to $800 million in lost farm gate value per year--the price of a crop when sold by a farm--if it replaced all of its handpicked crops with mechanically harvested crops as a way to avoid the problem of securing adequate migrant labor. Farm gate value is only a metric of the amount of money at the time of sale from the farm itself, not the ultimate price that consumers might pay. So these figures are conservative at best in terms of total economic loss to the state.

    Second, the effects of a lack of migrant labor will be felt most acutely by small farmers, who are already at a comparative disadvantage with larger growers. We estimate that the average small farm will lose $1.2 million per year in farm gate value by switching to machine-grown crops: a loss that will sink most small farms.

  5. Third, Georgia's economy is a complex and intertwined machine. Losses in the agricultural sector have a multiplier effect that resounds throughout the economy. A loss of close to $800 million per year in crop value to Georgia's economy will signicantly increase unemployment and hurt the state as a whole.

    By some estimates, each job in the agricultural sector supports three other "upstream" jobs, including in professions such as processing and transportation. H.B. 87 may ultimately mean not simply the loss of migrant jobs but jobs for American citizens in industries that rely on agriculture as well. Similarly, many small communities in Georgia rely on the money and consumption power of migrant workers to stay afloat, and they are in danger of seeing signicant losses to their already strapped economies.

    Finally, just as changes in the agriculture sector affect Georgia as a whole, changes in Georgia's ability to produce food affects the country as a whole. Losing hand- picked crops in Georgia such as berries, peaches, and onions would force us to import these crops from other countries. This change leaves our food security, health, and safety standards in the hands of others. Similarly, food prices will increase with longer travel times.

  6. "We are in a darkened room, walking around with our arms out," worried Ben Evans, a South Georgia cotton gin operator, about the future. Evans must wait until the seven-day-a-week, 12-hour shifts begin before he can determine how much his business, which runs on all-Hispanic crews, will be affected by the labor shortages.

    Evans's frank assessment also could describe where Georgia is in coming to terms with the challenges its number-one industry faces in the wake of last year's legislative action.

    H.B. 87's full effects may not be observable in Georgia for many months or even a few years. But we hope that the preliminary findings laid out in this report provide a cautionary tale for legislators in other states considering their own version of anti-immigrant legislation.

    A federal solution to the issue of undocumented labor in the agricultural industry, the Ag JOBS bill, has been on the table for more than 10 years. But legislative opposition from the same breed of immigration restrictionists that promoted these state-based anti-immigrant measures has blocked it from enactment.

    More to the point, this crisis in agriculture is just a symptom of the broader dysfunction in our broken immigration system. The only real solution to these problems is a comprehensive federal strategy. These state-based efforts are merely costly, counterproductive skirmishes that distract and prevent progress on reforming our immigration system.

    Tom Baxter has been a journalist in Georgia for 36 years. He is currently a fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas.