By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
The leading contender for the Republican nomination in the New Jersey gubernatorial campaign is opposing an immigration panel’s recommendations that the state extend licenses to drivers regardless of their immigration status and allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates.
Former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, however, was careful in his statements last weekend at a Parsippany town hall not to dish out the hardline rhetoric that has come to be expected from Republican candidates on the issue of immigration. Such rhetoric did not work well for them in last year’s elections, when most hardline candidates for Congress lost their races.
Christie said he was opposed to the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Immigration Policy, appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine in 2007, and whose report sparked a heated debate a couple of weeks ago. The Parsippany audience applauded his remarks warmly, New York newspaper El Diario/La Prensa reported Tuesday.
But when an audience member asked him what he would do as governor about undocumented immigrants, Christie stopped short of attacking the immigrants themselves.
Fred Snowflack, editorial page editor of local newspaper The Daily Record, narrated:
… Christie stepped back, or rather, stepped away from dishing up the “illegals should be kicked out of the country” verbiage so popular these days in conservative circles.
He said it’s important not to “demagogue this issue.” He added, “We can’t make these people villains.”
It was the United States government, after all, that let them into the country. That means, he said, that illegals are entitled to such basic services as medical care for serious illnesses.
“I don’t want people dying in the street,” he said, admitting that, yes, extending hospital care to illegals costs money.
As for not providing such services to illegals, Christie said, “That would be contrary to what we are as a party and as a people. Our Republican Party is a caring and compassionate party.”
This was not the first time Christie spoke in opposition to measures that would favor undocumented immigrants. (Corzine has said he favors in-state tuition for the undocumented, but not the driver’s license proposal.) When the panel published its report, the Republican issued a statement criticizing it:
“Providing drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants in these dangerous times is a clear national security risk,” Christie said, referring to the panel. “And Governor Corzine’s support of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants when his budget slashes property tax relief and increases taxes on so many New Jerseyans is astonishing.”
Christie’s latest remarks, however, show an awareness that the immigration issue can backfire for hardline candidates. Particularly in a state where about one-in-five residents is foreign-born.