When it comes to immigration policy, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s positions rank among the most moderate in the field of Republican presidential candidates.
Among his most controversial ideas is a Driving Privileges Card that allowed undocumented immigrants to drive without licenses in Utah.
Like GOP rival Rick Perry, the Texas governor, Huntsman has been a supporter of allowing the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates. Utah already had a version of the DREAM Act when Huntsman became governor, and he threatened to veto efforts in the state legislature to get it repealed.
“I don’t want to see a bifurcated society,” he said during a 2011 town hall meeting in Iowa. “I don’t want to people who have no say in their journey in life to find themselves trapped because they have no education.”
Huntsman said he believes that children of undocumented immigrants are blameless and should not be forced to live their lives “hiding in the shadows.”
“I don’t want to punish young kids for the sins of their parents,” he said during an interview with Wolf Blitzer of CNN.
He does support securing the U.S.-Mexico border, however, and stopping the flow of illegal migrants into the United States. He says mass deportation of 11 million people is impossible. “There’s got to be an alternative to sending them back,” he said during a campaign stop in Iowa. “That’s unrealistic.”
“We can secure the border through means of fences, through technology, through the deployment of our National Guard troops,” he said during a stop in Iowa. “We can get it done.” During a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Huntsman admitted that he does not like the idea of building fences on borders.
“I hate the thought of a fence on the border,” he said. “I mean, for me, as an American, the thought of a fence to some extent repulses me because it is not consistent with the image that we projected from the very beginning to the rest of the world.
“But the situation is such today that I don’t think we have a choice, and before we begin the conversation of processing 11 or 12 million undocumented workers, we’ve got to secure the border.”
He said his most important assignment on immigration as president would be to restore the American people’s confidence in the federal government. That would put an end to the immigration lawmaking by the states. Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and others have passed their own laws trying to deal with the illegal immigration problem.
“The thing we need to do most on illegal immigration, because there has been zero leadership in Washington, we've created this patchwork of solutions in the states, which makes for a very complex and confusing environment,” he said. “When elected president,
I'm simply going to prove to the American people that we can secure the border. That's what they want done, and I'm not going to talk about anything else until we get it done.”
Huntsman says that until the borders are secured, discussions about comprehensive reform “has zero in the way of any intellectual credibility.”
Huntsman supports freeing up more visas for highly skilled and highly educated immigrants. He would overhaul the H1B visa process.
“We need to bring in brain power to this country to shore up our economic might,” he says. As governor, Huntsman supported a guest worker plan to bring more immigrant labor into the state. The Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative-leaning think tank, has criticized Huntsman’s performance as governor. The group didn’t like his support for the DREAM Act and also disapproved of his decision to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driving privilege cards from the state.
The cards permitted illegal immigrants to operate motor vehicles legally. In 2009, Huntsman signed a bill that extended the use of the cards and enabled them to comply with the federal Real ID Act.
Huntsman defends the driving cards as right for his state and notes that the legislature and his successor have kept them. The number of cards distributed has remained relatively constant, suggesting they have not been magnets for drawing undocumented immigrants to Utah.
Applicants don’t need Social Security numbers to get the cards but do have to obtain Individual Tax Identification Numbers from the Internal Revenue Service and prove they reside in state.