Sen. Lindsey Graham, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, said Monday that his re-election last year is proof that Republicans can support “amnesty” for illegal immigrants without losing their jobs.
Mr. Graham said that his push for a pathway to citizenship for nonviolent illegal immigrants has landed him in hot water with some voters and joked about how it earned him some colorful nicknames along the way.
“I am called ‘Lindsey Grahamnesty’ and ‘Lindsey Gomez,’ ” Mr. Graham quipped. “To all the Gomezes out there, I will try to honor the family name.”
Mr. Graham drove home the point that Republicans should support an immigration fix that grants nonviolent illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
“Anytime you touch this, it is ‘amnesty this,’ and ‘amnesty that,’ ” Mr. Graham said. “The one thing I am here to tell you is you can talk about immigration reform. You can vote for immigration reform in the reddest of red states and still win because I am still here.”
The South Carolina senator delivered the message at the “No Labels Problem Solver Convention,” hosted by the nonprofit group No Labels, in New Hampshire, telling the crowd that deporting the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States is unrealistic and simply providing them with legal status does not go far enough.
“I hate the European model of second-class citizens,” Mr. Graham said. “If we are going to let you stay here all of your life, we will let you be part of the country.
Several of Mr. Graham’s presidential rivals have called for offering illegal immigrants a path to legal status, but they shot down the idea of citizenship.
Donald J. Trump, the GOP front-runner in the race, has called for the deportation of all illegal immigrants.
Under his plan, Mr. Graham said, illegal immigrants would have to pay taxes, learn English, get in the back of the immigration line and wait 10 years before they can get a green card.
Mr. Graham supported President George W. Bush’s push to overhaul the immigration system in 2006. In 2013, he was part of the bipartisan group of eight senators, which also included Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, another GOP presidential hopeful, that pushed immigration legislation through the upper chamber in 2013 that provided illegal immigrants with a quick path to legal status and the chance to earn citizenship.
The House, though, refused to act on nearly identical legislation.
On Monday, Mr. Graham said it is time for the House to “up your game.”