If some conservatives believe Rick Perry is soft on illegal immigration, what would they make of Chris Christie’s statement three years ago asserting that undocumented immigrants aren’t criminals?
In 2008, when Christie was the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, he told a church forum that “being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime.”
Christie, who was appointed to that position by President George W. Bush, went on to say that an immigrant lacking documents is a civil wrong. “The whole phrase of 'illegal immigrant' connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime,” he said then. “Don't let people make you believe that that's a crime that the U.S. attorney's office should be doing something about."
At the time, those statements earned Christie the wrath of TV host Lou Dobbs, then the loudest voice leading the crusade for tougher immigration policies, who called Christie "an utter embarrassment" and accused him of failing to aggressively prosecute immigration cases. (Watch video below.)
Perry has earned the mistrust of many in the party after reaffirming his support for a program in Texas that grants an in-state tuition discount to the children of illegal immigrants and for opposing the building of a fence along the U.S border with Mexico.
During an event at the Reagan library this week in Simi Valley, Christie, now New Jersey's governor, ripped Perry’s tuition stance, calling opposition to tuition grants “a common-sense position.”
Christie has talked of the need for greater enforcement of federal immigration laws and has opposed giving undocumented aliens driver's licenses—but last year also called on Congress to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan reform bill.
“The president and the Congress have to step up to the plate, they have to secure our borders, and they have to put forward a common-sense path to citizenship for people,” Christie said in an interview on ABC.
The advocacy group NumbersUSA, which seeks to tighten immigration levels, has given Christie an “F” on the issue, although to be fair, it takes a dim view of just about every entrant in the GOP presidential field. Michele Bachmann earns the highest marks with a B, Mitt Romney gets a C-, and Perry, a D-.
(President Obama, incidentally, earns an F-, a grade that does not exist in most schools.)
While Christie has been seen in some circles as a potential game-changing candidate, capable of uniting GOP voters wary of both Perry and Romney, he does not fit the mold of a hard-core conservative. Take, for example, his past statements on climate change. Where Perry has called global warming theories “phony,” Christie has said, “When you have over 90% of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.”
Christie supports the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan, which calls for some tax increases to help reduce the deficit, a nonstarter for many budget hawks in the party. On healthcare, Christie declined to join a multistate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate. And while he has said he opposes same-sex marriage, he seemingly takes no issue with civil unions.