Ten years ago, Donald Trump’s running mate was touring the Texas-Mexico border, trying to drum up support for an immigration reform plan that many conservatives viewed as too soft.
Mike Pence, then a Republican member of the U.S. House from that state, had partnered with then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on what Pence was touting as a “21st century guest-worker program.” The proposed legislation would have obligated former President George W. Bush to certify the border was secure before lawmakers could move forward on crafting a proposed guest-worker program, the New York Times reported.
On Friday, Trump tweeted that he had chosen Pence, currently Indiana’s governor, as his running mate. Hutchison told the Tribune she was excited about Pence’s decision to join the ticket.
“He was wonderful to work with and I am a friend of his,” Hutchison said. “I am so pleased that he is going to do this. I know it was a hard decision for him to give up his race for reelection (for governor) but I am very pleased that he did because I think he adds a very good balance with Trump.”
The Pence-Hutchison plan is the most striking example of how Pence’s overall tone on illegal immigration has been less divisive than Trump’s deport-them-all, build-a-wall approach. Now that he’s officially the Republican Party’s nominee for vice-president, Pence’s views on immigration are sure to get a closer look.
Though he was criticized by immigrant rights groups when he moved to block Syrian refugees from resettling in Indiana last year, Pence has also shown a strong interest in finding a middle ground on dealing with illegal immigration.
During his trip to the border with Hutchison, the pair “arrived by small aircraft in the 100 degree heat of a Texas summer” to tour Harlingen, “ground zero for the influx of illegal aliens from countries ‘other than Mexico (OTMs),’” Pence wrote in a blog post at the time. Michael Chertoff, then head of Department of Homeland Security, also joined the tour, a move that some conservative leaders saw as a build-up to a compromise on Bush’s immigration reform plan.
“As I fly back to Dallas, I believe we have made progress in border security but our U.S. Border Patrol and DEA need help,” Pence wrote of the trip. “They need people, technology and funding for barriers and equipment. And they need Congress to come up with a way that people can apply legally outside the United States to meet the needs of our growing economy.”
During a 2014 discussion on C-SPAN with reporters from the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, Pence suggested his views on immigration hadn’t significantly changed in the ensuing eight years, despite the failure of his proposal with Hutchison to gain traction. Pence said on the program that he doesn’t support creating a pathway toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants but suggested there was still a way to move forward on the issue with civility.
“I just always believe that we should not reward people with citizenship whose first act in this country was a violation of the law. And I continue to hold that view,” he said. “But let me say, I think there is plenty of room here for compassion. And there’s plenty of room here for crafting a solution that will deal with this issue in the long term.”
On Wednesday the Conservative Review wrote that Pence was “soft on immigration” because of his efforts during the Bush administration. It also noted that as governor in 2013, he signed a bill exempting state colleges from verifying a student’s immigration status if he or she was enrolled at the school as of July 2011 and wasn’t applying for an additional benefit.
When asked how well his 2006 and 2014 views would go over in today’s current political climate, Hutchison spoke in general terms and said any leader who wants to move forward on immigration must do so slowly.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to do everything in one bill is not the way to success,” she said. “I think taking a piece at a time and getting some improvements and reforms is the best way to go. And then go through the next steps.”
When asked how she felt about Donald Trump as the party’s nominee, Hutchison would only say he won the “nomination fair and square.” Then she immediately shifted to discussing Pence.
“He knows Congress and has experience and he knows how to work with people with different views,” she said.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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