- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2015

Former Sen. Rick Santorum said Monday that curbing legal immigration must be at the front of the 2016 presidential debate, arguing that working-class Americans have suffered from an influx of tens of millions of immigrants over the past two decades

At a time when most of the field is focusing on cracking down on illegal immigration, Mr. Santorum, and to a lesser extent Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, argue the debate must be broader.

“Legal immigration is an issue in this campaign and I think as long as we are around it will be an issue in this campaign,” Mr. Santorum told The Washington Times.

Making his second bid for the White House, Mr. Santorum, a three-term senator from Pennsylvania, has said legal immigration, which totals about one million new residents a year, should be cut by 25 percent.

And he said at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor Monday that the issue must be viewed through the lens of American workers, countering the immigrant-rights advocates who have turned the debate into a conversation on how generous to be toward illegal immigrants and potential future legal immigrants.



“We have to analyze what the impact is …. on those who are struggling the most in America,” he said. “And to do that is not jingoistic. It is not xenophobic. It is simply a rational policy discussion that we should be able to have in this country without being called various names that are not particularly appetizing.”


SEE ALSO: Victims of illegal immigrants’ crimes to testify to Congress


Mr. Walker also suggested this year that he is open to putting potential limits on future legal immigration — though he has not said whether he believes current levels of immigration are too high. And unlike Mr. Santorum, Mr. Walker did not mention the issue in his announcement speech on Monday.

Alex Nowrasteh, of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, said that Mr. Santorum’s argument that immigration hurts workers is undercut by history, which shows wages grow faster when the workforce expands.

“I think it is very easy politically to blame people who either can’t vote or don’t vote, rather than looking at other underlying causes for the lack of economic growth,” he said. “That may jive with the way the Republican base is thinking about it, but that doesn’t seem to be jiving with the way the general electorate is thinking about it.”

Mr. Santorum’s stance has gained some traction on Capitol Hill, where Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, has raised it as part of the debate over President Obama’s push for free-trade negotiating powers.

Polls show voters generally agree, with the vast majority saying legal immigration should either be cut or kept at the same level.

But that remains a minority view in Washington, where the Senate two years ago passed a bill that would boost legal immigration dramatically. That’s also the prevailing view within the GOP presidential field.

Asked whether he believes Mr. Walker is truly committed to tackling the issue with him, Mr. Santorum told The Times, “one of my standard axioms is don’t criticize people who are coming your way.”

“I was sort of out there alone on this issue in the Republican field,” he said.

He credited Mr. Walker with being upfront about how he has changed his position on immigration by moving from pro-legalization to anti-amnesty for illegal immigrants, and speaking about the relationship between legal immigration and American workers.

“He obviously has changed for some reason, and I am anxious to hear why he is doing what he is doing,” he said. “I think it is a good thing. Maybe we are really just really good leaders and made some good arguments and we were convincing to him.”

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