Columns » John Brummett

Which goes first, toughness or compassion?

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Asa Hutchinson bears no more responsibility to come up with a solution for our immigration problem than does the other candidate for governor, Mike Beebe.

It’s a federal issue, almost entirely. The next governor of Arkansas will have no vote on that draconian House bill or McCain-Kennedy or any variations.

But Asa is, after all, the only candidate for governor ever to have been in charge of federal border security.

He is, after all, the only candidate to have campaigned in the state last week embracing John McCain, an integral figure in the federal debate whose advocacy for guest worker status and paths to citizenship for illegals has put him crossways with many, if not most, Republicans.

And it is, after all, an extremist wing of Asa’s Republican Party that actually proposed a state solution last year. Who can forget the bill by Jim Holt to make criminals of state officials if they encountered illegal immigrants seeking services and failed to turn them in? Holt wanted one-stop shopping for pregnant illegals: Step right up for your ultrasound and deportation.

So, I asked Hutchinson about all that last week. I wanted to ask him about Paron High School, anyway.

It occurred to me in the process of our discussion that there actually is very broad agreement in mainstream American politics about what to do with and about illegal immigrants. The difference comes down to which part of the two-pronged strategy you insist on first.

I had a column on the issue the other day. It said we need to set up procedures to legitimize workers and put them on a well-assisted path to citizenship. It said that what we need after that is to seal the border honestly and genuinely and keep those not on that path to citizenship on the other side.

Asa sees things loosely the same way, except in reverse order. He told me that if you don’t seal the border first, legitimizing the existing workers makes no sense because you’d merely encourage more illegals.

Hutchinson said we need more unmanned aerial surveillance devices on the border. He said we need a “comprehensive technological wall.” He said we need to assist employers in screening hires for legality.

If we do all that, he said, people either won’t be able to get in illegally or they will be deterred by the greater risk.

Then, but only then, he said, could we set about accommodating the folks working here and bringing up kids and playing by all the rules except the one about documentation.

I’m spinning the compassion and he’s spinning the getting tough.

Hutchinson said he could not embrace the thrust of Holt’s bill in the last regular state legislative session, which was to force officials to turn in illegal immigrants needing services. He said we need to preserve our right to be “Good Samaritans” so that we can provide emergency medical care to a child without insisting on the production of documents by parents. Yet he said we can’t put ourselves in the position of having our generosity abused.

He seems almost Clintonian in the way he bobs and weaves on the issue, and I mean that in a nicer way than perhaps Asa will take it, considering that he once prosecuted Bill Clinton for bobbing and weaving about sex.

Meanwhile, Asa praised that bill offered unsuccessfully in last week’s special session by his nephew, Jeremy Hutchinson, to let tiny Paron High School and no doubt countless other schools stay open without meeting curriculum standards.

Here my difference with him far transcends spin.

In fact, I can’t help but suspect that Jeremy offered the bill at least in part to force Beebe to take the responsible legal position against it as attorney general, thus providing Asa an opening to pander to rural voters.

The only hole in that theory is that it seems that a true conspiracy would have made itself less obvious. Some legislator other than Asa’s kinfolk could have sponsored the bill.

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