From its grass-roots beginnings in 2009, the Tea Party movement has supported hard-line policies toward illegal immigrants and border control.
Tea Party groups may differ on details, but when it comes to immigration, they support deportation of undocumented residents and enforcement of existing laws. Most important, the movement believes the United States should stop the flow of illegal traffic across the U.S.-Mexico border by any necessary means.
The Tea Party proponents are opposed to comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to legal residency or citizenship. They also oppose the DREAM Act or other attempts to spend U.S. taxpayers’ dollars on programs that support undocumented residents or their families.
Some of the most prominent groups in the loosely-connected Tea Party movement are the Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express, Americans for Prosperity, the National Tea Party Federation and Tea Party Nation.
In general, the Tea Party believes that lax immigration policy has damaged the U.S. economy. According to members of the movement, undocumented immigrants have cost the country more than they have contributed to it by driving up health care and education costs.
Most Tea Party members believe that immigrants are taking jobs from Americans. Party proponents reject the premise that there are menial, essential jobs that U.S. citizens don’t want and only immigrant workers will take.
Though the Tea Party movement is by and large a supporter of conservative Republicans, activists have been highly critical of prominent GOP members. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has drawn the Tea Party’s wrath for signing a version of the DREAM Act into law early in his first term, then defending the decision during the Republican presidential debates.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also fell into disfavor with Tea Party activists after he suggested some support for a limited amnesty plan. Gingrich said he believes that undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for decades and followed the laws should have a chance at legal residency.
Former House GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey, chairman of the conservative FreedomWorks group, also drew Tea Party criticism when he suggested that Republicans had to handle immigration issues with “sensitivity.” Armey has argued that Tea Party hard-liners are driving the fast-growing bloc of Latino voters from the Republican party.
Among the 2012 field of GOP presidential primary candidates, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Ron Paul are the Tea Party’s preferred choices.
Minnesota Rep. Bachmann has deplored the DREAM Act, called for the mass deportation of the 11 million undocumented residents and assailed the Obama administration for failing to secure the borders. She supports completing a border fence and using federal troops to stop illegal crossing.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s libertarian philosophies have won favor with factions within the Tea Party movement. He supports bringing all U.S. troops home from foreign deployment and using them to police the borders. Paul opposes the DREAM ACT, believing the federal government should not subsidize college tuitions.
Almost all elements of the Tea Party movement support or are sympathetic with states’ efforts to pass immigration laws. Tea Party groups backed Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 and similar laws that followed in Alabama, Georgia, Utah and Indiana.
One of the movement’s iconic heroes is Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. The Justice Department in December 2011 rebuked Arpaio’s aggressive tactics with illegal immigrants, criticizing his office for discrimination, racial profiling and “a systematic disregard for basic constitutional protections.”
Generally, the Tea Party believes that local police should have the authority to stop and detain people suspected of being in the country illegally. The movement takes the position that, because the federal government has not succeeded in securing the borders, the states have the right to enforce federal laws themselves.
Most Tea Party factions are opposed to guest-worker plans and raising visa limits to bring more foreign workers into the country. Most factions think that restricting immigration would help reduce the unemployment rate and free up more jobs for native-born workers.