With the 2012 election on the horizon and Republicans scrambling to prove their conservative credentials, it can’t be long until at least one of them jumps on immigration as the hot, new issue to capture right-wing voters.
But for some top Republicans, tackling immigration has a downside: their own hypocrisy.
From sitting governors to rising stars and even presidential aspirants, there are more than a few undocumented skeletons in Republican closets. Here are the top five Republican hypocrites on immigration.
5. Former Colo. Rep. Tom Tancredo
For a time, Tom Tancredo was one of the nation’s leading anti-immigrant politicians. He founded the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, ran multiple political action committees (PACs) solely focused on opposing illegal immigration and called for a three-year freeze on all immigration, legal or not. As a Republican presidential candidate in 2008, he also made cracking down on immigrants his top issue, but his candidacy was largely overlooked. Tancredo opted against running for reelection a year later, but has since returned to the immigrant-bashing business with a new super PAC devoted to supporting candidates who want to make it tougher to come to the U.S.
Those concerns didn’t occur to him in 2001, however, when Tancredo hired a company to renovate his Colorado mansion. Only two members of the crew spoke English, but he didn’t bother to ask about their immigration status. He’d previously bragged about reporting a 14-year-old honors student to immigration authorities after reading a profile that mentioned his undocumented status. When the construction workers found out about his views, two of them went to the press with the intent of exposing his hypocrisy. Mission accomplished.
4. Former Calif. Gov. candidate Meg Whitman
Meg Whitman, the former CEO of online auction site eBay, had a hard-line stance against immigration in 2009, when she called for every illegal immigrant in California to be prosecuted. Throughout the campaign she held fast to her vow to crack down on illegal immigration and emphasized penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Unfortunately for Whitman, reporters soon learned that she had kept an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper for nine years. While the woman did have falsified documents, one of Whitman’s former campaign staffers claimed that she had known exactly who she was hiring, noting that the Social Security administration had continually hounded her for more information about the woman but never received a reply. Whitman claimed she did not receive the letters, and her longtime housekeeper was fired.
3. Fla. State Sen. JD Alexander
JD Alexander, one of Florida’s most powerful lawmakers, has tended to be more moderate on immigration reform than his Republican colleagues, but a lawsuit filed in late August may just reveal what’s behind that.
Alexander, whose family grows citrus, is being accused of firing U.S. citizens and legal immigrants working on his farm, and hiring guest workers instead. Guest workers get their green cards after their employer vouches for them, and face deportation if they get fired or quit. For employers, that means a guest worker is more likely to work even harder than others because they could easily be returned to abject poverty on the mere whim of a manager.
In the Florida Senate earlier this year, Alexander also helped block a Republican amendment to an immigration reform bill that would have required employers to check the immigration status of all potential new workers. Speaking to members of the press, he waffled on the issue and said, “I should have probably voted for it. … I think it’s good policy that we put forward; I hope the House will take it.”
2. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez
As the nation’s first Latina governor, Martinez’s very presence gave hope to immigrant communities in New Mexico. Unfortunately, that was short-lived, as she quickly launched into anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric, promising policies that would prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses — a state policy that helps boost the number of insured drivers on the roads.
When her first attempt to use the state’s taxation mechanism to ensnare immigrant and foreign national drivers in New Mexico was blocked by a district judge, she ordered the legislature to take up a bill to accomplish the same ends during their ongoing special session, which was originally meant to determine the state’s redistricting plans. The New Mexico Senate has previously rejected her plan.
Surprisingly enough, Martinez is herself a product of illegal immigration. She would not have been born in the United States if it were not for her grandparents, who came to the country illegally — a detail she revealed just last month. Martinez has insisted that detail is “irrelevant” to her position, but immigration activists remain determined to not let her forget it.
1. Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney
The former Republican governor of liberal Massachusetts, Romney has been dogged by accusations that he is willing to change his positions based on polling alone — and on immigration, this has proven particularly true. In 2005 he favored a plan by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would have let immigrants stay in the country after paying a fine. Just one year later, when Republicans began whipping up an anti-immigrant frenzy to support their 2006 mid-term reelection efforts, Romney changed his position, blocked his state’s version of the DREAM Act and ordered troopers to begin cracking down on immigrants. Two years later, facing McCain in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, Romney assaulted the plan he once supported, calling it an “amnesty” proposal.
Yet, despite his seemingly hard-line stance, Romney has a little open-secret about his dealings with illegal immigrants. The Boston Globe reported in 2006 that a landscaping company Romney hired to tend his mansion’s lawn was employing illegal immigrants. In spite of that report, Romney did not fire them. Over one year later, a Globe photographer snapped photos of illegal immigrants raking Romney’s lawn. He tried to explain that he wasn’t aware of the situation, and his aides later said he’d fired the landscapers.
Still, a year is a long time to keep illegal immigrants working on one’s lawn — especially considering that as governor, Romney called for the deportation process to take place in 90 days or less. Now that he’s planning on quadrupling the size of his $12 million mansion in Calif., it leaves one to wonder how many of those construction workers will be U.S. citizens.