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Huckabee on Immigration: Don't Punish the Kids

In a Wednesday interview with NPR’s On Point, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an ’08 GOP candidate for president and a potential candidate again in 2012, said he did not favor repeal of the 14th Amendment — which grants citizenship to all children born on U.S. soil, regardless of their parents’ immigration status — and said that all children of illegal immigrants should have a path to citizenship. 

Asked if he would favor changing the Constitution, Huckabee said, “No. Let me tell you what I would favor. I would favor having controlled borders.”

He also spoke about illegal immigrants’ children who have come to the U.S. after birth. “You do not punish a child for something the parent did,” he told On Point host Tom Ashbrook. “…I’d rather have that kid a neurosurgeon than a tomato picker.”

Huckabee’s positions likely represent dividing lines in the GOP presidential primary. As the illegal immigration issue has flared up again in American politics, the issue of birthright citizenship has become a hot topic in GOP circles, as various people have called for its repeal or reinterpretation by the courts. (Listen back to On Point’s Monday segment on the issue.)

Here’s how Huckabee explained his defense of the rights of children of illegal immigrants:

TOM ASHBROOK: …In Arkansas, you were open to helping immigrants, and children…What about now? There’s an awful lot of pushback against that sort of position.

Mike Huckabee (AP)

MIKE HUCKABEE: Well, let me be clear, because I’m not for an amnesty program. Here’s what I did favor, and I still favor it, and this makes people mad at me…and if it does, so be it. But here’s the issue. When a kid comes to his country, and he’s four years old and he had no choice in it — his parents came illegally. He still, because he is in this state, it’s the state’s responsibility – in fact, it is the state’s legal mandate – to make sure that child is in school. So let’s say that kid goes to school. That kid is in our school from kindergarten through the 12th grade. He graduates as valedictorian because he’s a smart kid and he works his rear end off and he becomes the valedictorian of the school. The question is: Is he better off going to college and becoming a neurosurgeon or a banker or whatever he might become, and becoming a taxpayer, and in the process having to apply for and achieve citizenship, or should we make him pick tomatoes? I think it’s better if he goes to college and becomes a citizen. So, I did support a bill in my state, and I would support it today. I don’t want anyone to think I’ve backed away from it – that you do not punish a child for something the parent did. And if in fact the provision in the law says that in order to obtain the scholarship, you have to be in the process of applying for citizenship and becoming legal, then I’d rather have that kid a neurosurgeon than a tomato picker. I’d rather him be a taxpayer than a tax taker. And for that I offer no apology.

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