NORTH CANTON, Ohio — Gov. John Kasich defended Monday his support of an immigration overhaul that includes the legalization of nonviolent illegal immigrants, telling supporters on the eve of the Ohio primary that it is unrealistic to think that the federal government is going to boot illegal immigrants out of the country.
The issue of illegal immigration has been a dividing line in the GOP presidential campaign, including here in Ohio, where businessman Donald Trump has vowed to finish the fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and make the Mexican government pay for it, and promised to make people living in the country illegally to return to their country of origin before they get a chance to enter the country legally.
During a question-and-answer session, Mr. Kasich was asked to explain how he could support legalizing illegal immigrants working in the United States when they likely have either evaded taxes or fraudulently obtained a Social Security number.
“It seems it is intrinsically impossible for illegal immigrants to be crime-free and it seems your path to legal status for them is an empty gesture,” the questioner asked. “Please tell me how I am wrong.”
With 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in tow, Mr. Kasich pushed back.
“First of all, I think we would rather have people who came being able to earn a living, OK,” Mr. Kasich said. “I think most people would feel that way — maybe you don’t, but I do.”
Mr. Kasich said that criminal illegal immigrants should be deported, but others would be allowed to stay.
“Here is the fact, you don’t actually think folks that we are going to drive around in Canton, Ohio, and yank people out of their homes and ship them to Mexico, leaving their kids on their front porch? You really think that is going to happen?” Mr. Kasich said, sparking a response of “No!” from the crowd. “Of course it is not going to happen. So I am trying to come up with the best way. It is called common sense.”
Mr. Kasich is locked in a tough battle with Mr. Trump in Ohio ahead of the primary here on Tuesday.