With every Republican candidate scrambling to position themselves as genuine patriotic immigration reformers, Mike Huckabee was given a great boost when he signed NumbersUSA's "No Amnesty" Pledge. NumbersUSA President and CEO, Roy Beck went down in person to South Carolina to appear at a signing ceremony with Huckabee. Beck told supporters that
"Every candidate claims to oppose amnesty, but few define amnesty the way most Americans do. I applaud Gov. Huckabee for defining amnesty correctly, and for pledging to fully enforce laws that would take away the jobs and benefits magnets that draw illegal aliens here – and that keep them here" [Huckabee Has Someone Else Do the Knocking, By Joy Lin, CBS News, January 16, 2008]
Beck has insisted this is not an endorsement or even a quasi-endorsement, and technically this is true. NumbersUSA has invited all candidates of both parties to sign the pledge, and Beck said he would show up at a signing ceremony for all of them. Indeed, NumbersUSA currently ranks Mitt Romney above Huckabee. (See the NumbersUSA Presidential Grid here, with candidates ranked).
But even though this was not an endorsement, NumbersUSA and other patriotic immigration reformers should not do anything that could give cover for Open Borders politicians.
I have an enormous amount of respect for Beck and NumbersUSA. II have praised it and recommended it to patriots for years. More than any other organization, I think it deserves credit for stopping amnesty in 2006 and 2007. Yet it is precisely because of its effectiveness that I am worried that it is lending its good name and credibility to charlatans like Huckabee.
It would be futile to document just how bad Huckabee's record on immigration is, but to give a few highlights:
He happily told a crowd of Hispanic radicals at LULAC, "Pretty soon, Southern white guys like me may be in the minority"
He called a law that would deny welfare to illegal aliens "un-Christian, un-American, irresponsible and anti-life" He also characterized it as 'inflammatory … race-baiting … demagoguery" and said the bill 'inflames those who are racist and bigots and makes them think there's a real problem. But there's not.'"
In the immigration section of his 2007 book From Hope to Higher Ground, Huckabee called for a "pathway towards legal status and citizenship." He said that passions against illegal immigration were "sparked by the unholy spirit of racism" and concluded his section by comparing those who insist that we must "follow the law" to Dred Scott and restrictions on black suffrage, and said the "True American spirit cries out 'Change the Law'"
Roy Beck acknowledged that Huckabee has a less than stellar record on immigration. But, he said, "We simply rate the quality of each candidate's most current campaign promises with an eye to how public and official those promises are". He takes the position that it is up to the voters to determine whether they trust the candidate's promises.
Following Tancredo's withdrawal from the race, I wrote that
"Regardless of who gets the Republican nomination and how serious they are about real immigration reform, Tancredo has forced them to at least give serious lip-service to our cause. It is now up to Americans to make sure they put their money where their mouths are.
This is what the No Amnesty Pledge is supposed to accomplish.
The pledge states:
"I pledge to oppose amnesty or any other special path to citizenship for the millions of foreign nationals unlawfully present in the United States. As President, I will fully implement enforcement measures that, over time, will lead to the attrition of our illegal immigrant population. I also pledge to make security of our borders a top priority of my administration."
Beck explained that Huckabee understood that this pledge also meant that:
I have heard some concerns that a candidate could hypothetically support the pledge but manage to wiggle around it and support some sort of non-citizenship "touch back" amnesty, where the illegal just goes home for a nominal period. But quibbling about the wording misses the point. If Huckabee was truly committed to Numbers' Pledge, it would actually be worth talking about.
Just last month, Huckabee told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that his plan does "have a pathway that gets you back home. But that pathway to get back here legally doesn't take years. It would take days, maybe weeks, and then people could come back in the workforce." [Transcript, December 9, 2007]
He expanded on this statement at the Spanish language Univision debate. He said, "If you can get an American Express card in two weeks, it shouldn't take seven years to get a work permit to come to this country in order to work on a farm."
How exactly he plans on letting the 12-20 million immigrants "on the pathway back home" in weeks, if not days, without putting them ahead of the millions of potential legal immigrants already on the waitlist without increasing visas is beyond me. It is probably beyond Mike Huckabee too.
Huckabee also has a nasty habit of making tough-sounding promises on immigration and reversing them immediately. In just the last month, he has come out against birthright citizenship and giving visas to terrorist sponsoring countries and retracted those positions the next day.
Having politicians sign pledges that they have no intention of living up to serves absolutely no purpose. Rather than ensuring the candidates back their rhetoric with substance, signing the pledge is just another piece of empty rhetoric. At the signing ceremony, Huckabee said,
"I think that sometimes people have misrepresented my position on illegal immigration. I think it's important that I be very clear and if people read the plan that I already have they shouldn't have any doubt but not everybody reads. Our plan is not an amnesty plan or a sanctuary city plan but is a proper plan for the rule of law."
In other words, Huckabee did not even think twice about the meaning of the No Amnesty Pledge. If he had, he either would have had to revise his entire platform or just not sign it the Pledge. But what he did know is that having one the biggest anti-immigration groups in the country go down to South Carolina to appear at a press conference with him would make it look like he really opposed amnesty.
The patriotic immigration reform movement is at a crossroads. Public opinion is overwhelmingly on its side. In the last few years, it has successfully defeated major legislation. At the same time, it has had very little success in voting out open borders politicians or electing immigration reform patriots.
What is now happening, however, is that Establishment candidates are coming to immigration reform leaders to get credibility. This new power is a great accomplishment. But by lending it to men like Huckabee, immigration reformers could lose their credibility.
Some of my colleagues said that Americans for Tax Reform would never have been so cavalier in handing out their "Tax Payer Protection Pledge." Actually, ATR will let someone sign the pledge if their record or even platform contradicts the pledge.
And this is the point. The last thing the patriotic immigration reform movement wants to do is to replicate the mistakes of the once-great American conservative movement—claiming victory because politicians pretend to support its ideals, while the country moves to the Left.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.