RICHMOND, Va. — At a stop on his book tour Tuesday, Mike Huckabee again defended his decision as Arkansas governor to grant the children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition at state universities.
But he also went a step further, hinting that those children should be put on a path to citizenship — a position more in line with Democrats and DREAMers than some of Huckabee’s more conservative Republican peers who are also weighing bids for the presidency.
“I don’t believe that it is a just thing to punish someone who had nothing to do with the breaking of the law,” Huckabee told a crowd hosted by the Family Foundation, a Christian advocacy group that lobbies the Virginia legislature. “What I want to do is see, what can we do to put that person in a position where they do abide by the law and become a citizen? I would like that person to become a very generous tax-paying citizen rather than somebody who is going to take taxes away from the rest of us.”
The question about immigration was put to Huckabee by a member of the audience at the Richmond Convention Center, who asked Huckabee to clarify remarks he made Sunday on “Meet The Press.” “You don't punish a child for something his parents did,” Huckabee said on that program, as he did again Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Huckabee did temper that conciliatory message with some red meat for the crowd, as he insisted on improved border security and even a cultural litmus test for immigrants to America.
“Here’s what I’d like to know: Do you want to come here to make America a better place?” Huckabee said. “... If you do, then we have a very different line for you to get in than those who say, ‘No, I want to change America. I want it to be more socialistic, I want it to give me things for free. I want it to cater to my culture. I want the banks to all have a number where my language can be entered and I can get money withdrawals in the language of my choice.’ ”
“I think at that point we say, ‘Appreciate your interest, but we’re probably not the right fit for you,’ ” Huckabee added.
But the former Arkansas governor, former Fox News host and author of books including, most recently, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, meanwhile expressed sympathy for the children of illegal immigrants and reiterated, as on “Meet The Press,” that they should not be held accountable for their parents’ immigration status.
As an example, Huckabee related the true story of one son of illegal immigrants who started in Arkansas schools as a child and went on to graduate from the state's largest high school as the valedictorian.
“Does he get the scholarship and go on to college so that he can become perhaps a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, a teacher?” Huckabee said. “Or do we say, ‘No son, you’re as far as you can go. You need to pick tomatoes.’ ”
“I don’t know how in the world that we’re going to punish that kid for something he had no control over,” Huckabee added.
And although he spoke to a crowd of Christian conservatives who could comprise his base of supporters should he run for president, Huckabee was unequivocal.
“If that bothers you to the point that you’d say, ‘I’d never vote for you,’ then you’re never going to vote for me, because that’s something on which I will not recant,” he said.
The crowd applauded Huckabee’s response.
But the issue will not likely be so easily resolved for Huckabee on the presidential campaign trail, where immigration reform promises to be one of the hot-button topics of the election cycle.
Huckabee has said he is moving toward a presidential bid and was one of a host of likely Republican presidential candidates who convened Saturday in Iowa for Rep. Steve King’s freedom summit.
King, for his part, has been a staunch and vocal opponent of immigration reform and will be doling out a key endorsement to a candidate in advance of the Iowa caucuses.
Among conservative Republicans who are likely to run for president, many, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have labeled immigration reform as “amnesty.”