ST. PAUL, Minn. - One of Minnesota's leading GOP candidates for governor applauded Arizona's strict new law against illegal immigration on Wednesday, calling the crackdown "a wonderful first step."
State Rep. Tom Emmer said he supports Arizona's efforts to make immigrants prove their immigration status and require police to probe if they have "reasonable suspicion" a person is an illegal immigrant. He made the comments in a debate with his chief rival, Rep. Marty Seifert, broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio.
"We have certain immigration laws in this country, and when you have laws and you have a civil society that is based on the rule of law, you enforce the law," Emmer said.
The immigration issue flared up two days before about 2,000 Republican activists meet to decide whether to endorse Seifert or Emmer. Both men have promised to drop out if they're not endorsed. The contest is expected to be close and the candidates have been searching for any edge they can find. Until now, immigration has not been a major issue in the governor's race.
Seifert didn't directly endorse Arizona's law but said that state is moving in the right direction.
"In concept, I think that they're moving in the right direction of trying to get control of the situation, which is out of control," Seifert said of the Arizona law after the debate. "I think most people agree with that."
Later Wednesday, he unveiled a list of immigration positions that stopped short of Arizona-style measures. It said he would work to end local policies barring police from inquiring about immigration status, let local law enforcement get training to enforce immigration laws, work with federal authorities to deport illegal aliens who are caught and require government agencies to check the immigration status of welfare recipients.
Seifert said he modeled his proposal on laws in Oklahoma, which passed a tough immigration law in 2007, and other states.
Outgoing GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty has pushed for tougher immigration laws with little success since 2006. Minnesota's Democratic-controlled Legislature has rejected proposals to require police to turn over illegal immigrants to federal authorities and other measures.
Both Emmer and Seifert said they would like to make driver's licenses and state identification cards display a person's citizenship status.
Emmer said he has tried for five years to pass bills that would require voters to show photo IDs before voting. One of the earlier versions would have made candidates for office provide proof of citizenship. Emmer also introduced a bill in 2006 that would have prevented pregnant illegal immigrants from getting subsidized health care for anything but labor and delivery.
Seifert sponsored legislation to block illegal immigrants from getting college aid. He said he also voted in a transportation committee against a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to get state driver's licenses and would veto such a bill if it came to his desk as governor.