Gov. Barbour Breaks with GOP on Immigration

OK, the headline may be a bit overstated, but recent comments on immigration by Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi are different enough from what most of his fellow Republicans are saying to be newsworthy.

In a video interview released earlier this week (see link below), Barbour expressed appreciation for the Hispanic immigrant workers who helped rebuild his state after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and for the need to be more open to highly skilled immigrants from countries such as India.

Barbour is an important figure in the GOP. He is in his second term, chairs the Republican Governors Association, and led the Republican National Committee back in 1994 when the party swept into power in Congress.

When asked what he would say to people in California who are upset about illegal immigration, Barbour responded:

Let me just tell you, I’ve had a different experience than perhaps some other governors. I don’t know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn’t been for the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild, and there’s no doubt in my mind some of them weren’t here legally. Some of them were, some of them weren’t. But they came in, they looked for the work—if they hadn’t been there, if they hadn’t come and stayed for a few months or a couple of years, we would be way, way, way behind where we are now.

Every country—I don’t care if it’s the United States of America or Papua New Guinea, every country has gotta have a secure border. If you can’t secure your border, you’re not much of a country, and we’ve gotta secure our border. But we’ve gotta do so with the recognition that even in our lifetime we’re gonna have a labor shortage in the United States. We don’t want to be like Japan, where the aging population is supported by fewer and fewer and fewer and fewer.

So there’s gotta be a way—a) we gotta secure the border, but b) we’ve got to work through how are we gonna make sure we’ve got the labor we need in the United States. H1B visas—a huge, huge thing. My idea is everybody from Stanford who’s from India that gets a PhD, we oughta stamp citizenship on his diploma, so instead of him going back to India and starting a business that employs 1,800 people, that he’ll start a business that employs 1,800 people in Des Moines, Iowa, instead of India. A lot of this is just common sense, and common sense tells us we’re not gonna take ten or twelve or fourteen million people [currently here illegally] and put them in jail and deport them. We’re not gonna do it, and we need to quit—some people need to quit acting like we are, and let’s talk about real solutions.

You can view the video here, where the subject of immigration comes up at the 5:50 mark.

Although Barbour may be a minority voice on the issue within his party, he is not alone. The host of the show, the Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson, is a former speech writer for Ronald Reagan who wrote back in June on the former president’s more inclusive view of immigrants. And I was joined at a Cato Hill Briefing in July by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on the need for a temporary worker program as a key to immigration reform.

Let’s hope their fellow Republicans are listening.