- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2015

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is the most vociferous advocate for a strict immigration policy that respects American workers among the crowded field of 2016 presidential hopefuls, Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Thursday.

Mr. Stein, who faced off against Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist at a debate sponsored by The Washington Times, said other potential Republican candidates are coming around to backing a crackdown, but Mr. Santorum has gone the furthest.

“Santorum is really the only one who is drilling down in to the nuts and bolts and is looking in to the job market and how immigration is really hurting American workers,” said Mr. Stein, who wants to see both curbs to illegal immigration and a lower level of legal immigration into the U.S.

This month in a speech in Iowa, Mr. Santorum said the U.S. immigration system isn’t working and the country must better secure the border and create legal programs for workers with different skills.

Mr. Norquist, who backs a more generous immigration policy, said the 2016 candidates are still developing their stances and it’s too early to pick a champion from his point of view.

Mr. Stein and Mr. Norquist found little middle ground, even differing over how to pursue border security legislation in the newly all GOP-controlled Congress.

SEE ALSO: Glenn Beck accuses Grover Norquist of ties to Islamists

Mr. Norquist said that the government must make border security it’s first priority — by possibly expanding the drone program already being used in Texas — in order to pave the way for a bill expanding and revamping guest worker programs that would allow verified skilled workers to come in to the country and contribute to the economy.

He argued that verified guest worker programs will lead to less crime and more legal immigration in the long run, making border security easier to maintain.

Mr. Stein, however, said immigration enforcement must focus on the interior.

“In the end, border security that involves just lining up more border patrol without effective interior enforcement, with state and local verification of the aliens’ right to get benefits, is going to ring hollow with the average voter who recognizes that the public confidence and the efficacy of DHS to regulate immigration has virtually disappeared,” the FAIR president said.

He said a key component of interior enforcement is E-Verify, the government’s program that allows businesses to check whether potential hires are authorized to work. The system is currently voluntary, but crackdown advocates say it should be mandatory.

Mr. Norquist agreed that the government should implement a system to monitor immigrant workers and verify their legal status, but was hesitant to name E-verify as the solution.

Mr. Stein called for Republican leadership to stand up to Senate Democrats to push a bill to the White House, despite President Obama’s promises to veto such a bill arguing that the president’s resistance would set the stage for a strong voter response in 2016.

Mr. Norquist argued that it was pointless for Congressional Republicans to go head-to-head with Mr. Obama, who’s put off trying to work with Congress even on goals the president says he supports.

“Obama’s the guy who killed immigration reform in 2007, he was president for all of 2009 and all of 2010 and he had 59 and 60 Democrats and a handful of Republicans in the Senate who could have voted with him for some type of immigration reform,” Mr. Norquist said. “If somebody wakes up every morning for 700 days in a row and says ‘I want to go to the gym,’ and for 700 days you don’t wake up and you don’t go to the gym, at some point you say, ‘I don’t think he wants to go to the gym.’”

He added, however, that Republicans won’t even be able to pass a border security bill, an issue that has bipartisan support, if they continue to hold it hostage by attaching controversial amendments to the legislation in the hopes of passing it through.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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