Friday, January 6, 2012

Will Santorum's immigration stance help him in Florida?

The Republican presidential race has already begun, just one extended hangover into 2012. And because Florida Republicans were insecure about losing their place in the spotlight (as if that could be possible), and decided to move their primary ahead of all other major states, the national focus will soon be on the Sunshine State.

And so, when it recently became clear that formerly overlooked candidate Rick Santorum was headed for a dead-heat finish against frontrunner Mitt Romney in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, the question was asked: Would the late-closing, weakly funded Santorum be ready for the big-game Florida primaries in just four weeks?

There are two primaries between Iowa and Florida. That’s a lot of political space in which Santorum can catch Anybody-But-Romney syndrome, which has afflicted every potential Romney challenger who briefly surged to prominence only to fall rapidly thereafter. But thanks to his Iowa showing, Santorum should now have the resources and the standing at least to get to the sunshine.

So, with the former Pennsylvania senator apparently on the way, maybe the question should be: Is Florida ready for Santorum?

Santorum’s views on social issues such as education (his children have been home-schooled and he believes government should stay out of “indoctrinating” children), and his hard line on abortion and birth control will certainly get a lot of attention.

But the issue that may truly test Santorum in Florida is immigration.

Being tough on illegal immigration has been Santorum’s calling card for years. To Santorum, former conservative House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s approach to illegal immigration is too soft. “False compassion” is what Santorum called Gingrich’s proposal: tough enforcement, but rather than deporting 10 million undocumented immigrants, looking at each case individually and offering a path to citizenship for those who have been here a significant time and who have made positive contributions to their communities.

That’s a difference of almost seven million people between Gingrich and Santorum. According to the Pew Research Center, “Nearly two-thirds of the 10.2 million unauthorized adult immigrants in the United States have lived in this country for at least 10 years and nearly half are parents of minor children.”

Santorum’s answer to Gingrich was simple and to the point: “You can’t be here for 20 years and commit only one illegal act … because everything you’re doing while you’re here is against the law.”

That plays well in Iowa, but it will be interesting to see how it goes over in a state with large immigrant — and business and agricultural — groups that understand illegal immigration is a thorny problem with thistles that can penetrate everything from families to economies.

What makes Florida particularly tricky for immigration-focused Republicans is that the alliance of Cuban-Americans, the business community agricultural interests that has opposed harsh immigration enforcement measures such as those favored by Santorum,represent three of the Republican Party’s strongest constituents in the state. That triumvirate is so strong it managed to foil state immigration measures favored by Gov. Rick Scott during a session in which Scott seemed to get everything else he wanted, including such controversial measures as privatizing prisons, dumping teacher seniority and digging into public employees’ pockets.

And on Santorum’s part, he hasn’t shown a willingness to back away from the illegal immigration issue. Will Santorum show greater political dexterity in Florida? Or will his political commitment to the issue be enough to carry the day with Florida Republicans?

Certainly, his self-identification with his Italian immigrant grandfather and father will help him, particularly in the Cuban-American community, where such stories abound. But even more than stories, the thing that could tilt that group toward Santorum would be an endorsement from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, the darling of South Florida Cuban-Americans and the Florida tea party.

Rubio has said he would stay neutral in the presidential contest. But conservative candidate Santorum’s sudden emergence as a potential challenger makes a Rubio endorsement tantalizing — and gives the Florida senator even more clout. Expect a spike in Rubio-as-VP rumors.

That would be the same Florida senator who received the hearty support of Romney when Rubio was accused of embellishing his family story about leaving Cuba.


To deter the boats, Australia must rule out permanent resettlement

THERE can be no solution to the problem of illegal immigrants/boatpeople -- neither to the humanitarian tragedy of people drowning trying to get here or the policy crisis of the government losing control of its borders and its immigration system -- until all prospect of permanent resettlement in Australia is removed for people who arrive illegally by boat.

To do this would not contradict the Refugee Convention, which people write about but never read. The only requirement in the convention is that people fleeing persecution not be sent back to the countries they are fleeing from.


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