Haley Barbour's Immigration Straight Talk

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Most Republicans lean rightward on immigration, and immigration politics have only become more polarized this year by the controversy and general popularity of Arizona's SB 1070 law. But Haley Barbour, the straight-talking governor of Mississippi who heads the Republican Governors Association (and who was discussed in media circles as a possible darkhorse, or at least back-bench presidential candidate in 2012), shows little fear in bucking the party line.


Barbour talks in a recent Human Events interview about securing borders, but also about the need for some Republicans to get over the idea of rounding up illegals and deporting them. Barbour takes a long view of immigration policy, arguing that America will need a strong labor base in the future. Not what one typically hears from a powerful figure in the Republican establishment.

Skip ahead to 5:50 in the video to see the question on immigration and Barbour's remarks. Here's what Barbour said:

Let me just tell you, I've had a different experience than perhaps some other governors. I don't know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn't been for the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild, and there's no doubt in my mind that some of them weren't here legally. Some of them were, some of them weren't. But they came in, they looked for the work--if they hadn't been there, if they hadn't come and stayed for a few months or a couple of years, we would be way, way, way behind where we are now.

Every country--I don't care if it's the United States of America or Papua New Guinea, every country has gotta have a secure border. If you can't secure your border, you're not much of a country, and we've gotta secure our border. But we've gotta do so with the recognition that even in our lifetime we're gonna have a labor shortage in the United States. We don't want to be like Japan, where the aging population is supported by fewer and fewer and fewer and fewer.

So there's gotta be a way--a) we gotta secure the border, but b) we've got to work through how are we gonna make sure we've got the labor we need in the United States. H1B visas--a huge, huge thing. My idea is everybody from Stanford who's from India who gets a PhD, we oughtta stamp citizenship on his diploma, so instead of him going back to India and starting a business that employs 1,800 people, that he'll start a business that employs 1,800 people in Des Moines Iowa instead of India. A lot of this is just common sense, and common sense tells us we're not gonna take ten or twelve or fourteen million people and put them in jail and deport them. We're not gonna do it, and we need to quit--some of the people need to quit acting like we are, and let's talk about real solutions.

Barbour does prioritize border security in his remarks, but you can tell he takes that as a given. It's not his main rhetorical point. The idea of rounding up illegals and deporting them both is and isn't a straw horse. There aren't too many people who actually talk about rounding up illegal immigrants, but most hard-liners oppose "amnesty." Which means letting illegal immigrants stay...which means not rounding them up.

Barbour, to my knowledge, is the only powerful figure in the GOP trying to push the party leftward on immigration. If he does enter the presidential field, questions on immigration will get thrown his way in early primary debates, and things will get interesting, with the rest of the field climbing all over each other to bash him.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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