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Rick Santorum on Immigration

Former Pennsylvania Senator Says Undocumented Immigrants Are Criminals

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Rick Santorum on Immigration

Rick Santorum thinks border security is top priority. Photo: Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, turned to more strident rhetoric on immigration as the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination wore on.

At a December stop in Spencer, Iowa, Santorum took the position that it is impossible for anyone in the country illegally to make positive contributions to the United States. He said he believes any action by an undocumented immigrant is inherently illegal.

“You can’t be here for 20 years and commit only one illegal act,” he told the Spencer Daily Reporter, “because everything you’re doing while you’re here is against the law.”

Santorum’s comment was an attack on Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich who has supported some type of legal status for undocumented immigrants who have been in a country for decades and contributed to their communities.

Santorum believes that all undocumented immigrants are criminals, though U.S. law considers people found in the country without proper documentation to be guilty of civil violations, not criminal felonies. He believes Gingrich’s position amounts to amnesty and that it will encourage more immigrants to come to the United States illegally.

“The principal thing we need to accomplish is securing the border,” he said repeatedly during campaign stops.

“I do believe what Newt (Gingrich) is suggesting is amnesty,” Santorum says.

Just Another 'Romneyism'

He also has attacked rival Mitt Romney for trying to have it both ways on immigration policy. He called it “classic Romneyism” that the former Massachusetts governor favors a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants but, according to Santorum, defines that as “going to their home country, applying for citizenship or permanent residency just like everybody else, and getting back in line.”

Santorum says people without documents should not be able to hold jobs, and “if we enforce the law, more people will leave.”

The former senator said often during the campaign that he won’t answer questions about what the government should do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country until the border is secured.

“We can have the discussion (afterwards about) how long they’ve been here, whether they had other types of records,” he said during the Republican debate in September at the Reagan Library. “But to have that discussion right now and pull the same trick that was pulled in 1986 (when) we said, well, we’ll promise to do this if you do that — no more. We are going to secure the border first, and that’s the most important, then we’ll have the discussion afterwards.”

The mention of 1986 refers to when Congress passed a massive immigration reform bill, that President Reagan signed, giving amnesty to millions of immigrants.

Santorum supports building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and enhancing it with high-tech surveillance systems. He opposes comprehensive reform legislation that includes guest worker programs with paths to citizenship or legal status.

However, Santorum supports increasing the visa allotments for skilled and highly educated immigrants. He believes they would help the U.S. economy.

Opposes DREAM Act for Students

He differs with Republican rival Rick Perry, the Texas governor, over the DREAM Act. He would not allow the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates. At the Tea Party debate in Tampa in September, Santorum accused Perry of trying to curry favor with Latino voters by signing a version of the DREAM Act into law. Santorum thinks it’s a misuse of taxpayer dollars to give these tuition breaks.

“Why are we subsidizing them?” he asked during a debate in Orlando. “Not that they can’t go. They can go. They just have to borrow money, find other sources to be able to go. Why should they be given preferential treatment as an illegal in this country?”

Santorum said during a New Hampshire debate that he would deny illegal immigrants all government benefits: “We should not be offering to people, particularly those who broke the law to come here or overstayed their visa, we should not be offering government benefits.”

Santorum favors legislation that would make English the official language of the United States and make immigrants learn it to come here.

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