Yesterday evening, the Aspen Institute held their annual "Conversation with Republican Governors" as part of the McCloskey Speaker Series at their Aspen campus. We were in attendance for the sold out event. Immigration was tipped as an issue that would receive attention, which initially piqued our interest.
The four Governors who took the stage were Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Pat McCrory of North Carolina, and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma. The accomplished Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson moderated the discussion.
Isaacson introduced the Governors briefly and explained the format: he would be asking each of them a raft of specific individual questions, followed by a few questions for the whole panel to discus, concluding with a Q&A from the audience. With only about an hour available, no time was wasted.
The affable panel navigated deftly across topics, repeatedly addressing the seemingly comfortable issue of jobs and the economy and expressing an intriguing interest in the oft-overlooked matter of mental health. The unique atmosphere lent itself to both casual and serious moments, with an authentic ease (for politics, anyway) present throughout.
We were starting to wonder if we had imagined the immigration listing on the program description. Finally, in the last question of the first segment of the program, the topic arrived. Disappointingly, the canned question sidestepped the need for any substantive grappling with the myriad important (and complicated) immigration policy issues that face states.
Isaacson: "As a family of immigrants from India, how does that inform your thinking on the immigration debate, and what do you feel about the tone of the immigration debate as it has recently turned?"
Haley: "So I think that what we have to remember, and I've always believed is that we're a country of laws and that's what's made us strong - we have to always be a country of laws - so it's incredibly frustrating for a lot of people when they see the illegal immigrants being able to come across. It really is astonishing that after all these years DC can't figure out how to build a wall, it really is. After all of what they spent.
"Having said that, we are a country of immigrants. I am the proud daughter of Indian parents that reminded us every day how blessed we were to live in this country. They resent when people come here illegally. Let's keep in mind, these people who are wanting to come here, they want to come for a better life too. They have kids too. They have a heart too. So we don't need to be disrespectful. We don't need to talk about them as criminals. They're not. They're families that want a better life and they're desperate to get here.
"What we need to do is make sure we have a set of laws that we follow and that we go through with that. So I think that there are some things that have been said that are unfortunate and wrong, but I think we also need to remember - especially for all of us, but I say for Republicans, because tone and communication matter. And people matter. And we don't ever need to talk about this in a cold-hearted way. And we need to remember the fact that -- "
Isaacson: "Kinder than necessary?"
Haley: "That's right, be kinder than necessary."
Of course the tone of the discussion matters. And we commend Governor Haley for her recognition of the failure of the federal government in the matter of immigration enforcement credibility. The missed opportunity here is a neglect of the basic issue of numerical limits. Will those limits prioritize the "better lives" of Americans and legal immigrants already in our country?
Unfortunately, that would have been it for immigration, except that we were very fortunate to be able to ask a question during the audience Q&A.
Good: "Thank you very much. I just wanted to ask - one of the huge issues this month has been the Steinle murder in San Francisco and the sanctuary policy discussion that's happening. And I was wondering if you have sanctuary cities or jurisdictions in your states and if there's anything you can do about that as Governor."
Isaacson: "Why don't we let Governor Ducey take that since you're on the front line."
Ducey: "Well, I think all of our hearts go out to this family and this situation and I think there's many people that would say - I, I shouldn't say that - if, anyone that's saying that this is a non-issue or that this just happened in California and the media decided to cover this, I'll tell you the state of Arizona we have had 5,000 illegal individuals arrested in the last four years that have been released while awaiting deportation. Of those 5,000 there's been 147 significant crimes committed during that time. So, I'm not a fan of this idea of a 'sanctuary' that would stop police officers from enforcing the law. I think Governor Haley said it very well - we are a nation of immigrants, we will legally let one million people into this country this year, at the same time, we are a nation of laws, and as a governor your first charge is for the public safety of your citizens and of your state. And that's something we're going to continue to focus on in Arizona."
As it turned out, Governor Ducey was a good fit for this question, as he has a DHS-recognized sanctuary city in Tucson. Other jurisdictions have city councils that have declared sanctuary policies as well - such as Phoenix and Chandler, AZ, and Tulsa and Oklahoma City, OK. There's also several in North Carolina. Gov. Haley is the only one without a sanctuary policy declared in her state - though all governors are virtually certain to be faced with more situations arising from the Obama Administration policies that release criminal aliens back into our communities.
Also, Governor McCrory - to his credit - came back to the sanctuary issue unprompted on a later, unrelated question.
McCrory: "By the way I feel the same way about sanctuary cities. I strongly disagree with sanctuary cities because we have police officers in each of our cities who swear an oath not only to the constitution of their state but to the Constitution of the United States. So it's our job to enforce the laws of our states and of the United States and there should be no exceptions by the President or by a Governor or by a police officer or by a mayor."
We look forward to Messrs. Ducey and McCrory focusing their opposition on sanctuary policies in the coming years of their terms. Perhaps with enough constituent encouragement both will succeed in forcing a change.
Of particular note: Gov. Ducey's mention of the one million permanent legal immigrants that the United States accepts per year is an extraordinary rarity. This unprompted acknowledgement does a great service to the debate (it is a number rarely disclosed by the media, and thus often unknown by voters). Many plaudits to the new Arizona executive!
There are many other aspects about this discussion that could be explored from an immigration perspective if you're interested in watching the entire event. Many of you that live in the states presided over by these governors may want to dig in to the conversation about job training, skills gaps, and creating jobs. All of these are vastly influenced by the one million legal, permanent immigrants per year - many of whom will be seeking immediate employment and jobs training.
Progress made will likely result from continuing to hear from you!
ANDREW GOOD works on the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA and is the former executive director for the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus
Updated: Wed, Oct 28th 2015 @ 10:52am EDT