POLITICS

Rick Santorum Compares Undocumented Parents To Bank Robbers

Hey, breaking the law is breaking the law.

WASHINGTON -- It's "tragic" when people are split from their families because they do something wrong, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Thursday. But he fully supports deporting parents of U.S. citizens because it's "consistent" with what the country does to people who commit crimes.

"It’s like someone who robs a bank because they want to feed their family," the former Pennsylvania senator said in a speech at the National Press Club. "Do I feel bad that they don't have enough money and they felt the need to rob a bank and provide for their family? Of course I feel bad, we all feel bad. ... But that doesn't obviate the fact that they've broken the law and that there are consequences to breaking the law."

Santorum seemed frustrated about being asked whether he is all right with the fact that his hardline positions on immigration -- the focus of Thursday's speech -- would split up families. After all, he said, the U.S. separates families all the time by sending people to jail.

"It's a tragic thing -- I don't like it, I wish they weren't separated," he said. "But the fact of the matter is that we are a nation of laws."

Santorum's speech was an attempt to put himself back into the spotlight on immigration, or perhaps in the spotlight at all, given his lagging poll numbers. Business mogul Donald Trump has received considerable attention for his deport-them-all policies and arguments for limiting legal immigration. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received press earlier this year for saying legal immigration should be restricted. 

Santorum noted multiple times that he's said the same for years.

"Until this summer, I was the only candidate who had a message focused on helping American workers by putting common-sense limits on this surge of immigrants," he said, adding later that he wanted to "encourage all the candidates and all Americans to listen to my vision for how we make America stronger."

Santorum said during his speech that he, like Trump, believes children of unauthorized immigrants should not gain automatic citizenship, as they are guaranteed under the 14th Amendment, although he added that it's not his "highest priority" to make such a policy change. He said the courts needed to determine whether birthright citizenship was truly required by the 14th Amendment. 

One of his higher priorities is driving out undocumented immigrants, in part by finding and deporting those who came to the U.S. legally and then overstayed their visas. Undocumented immigrants who commit crimes would be found and deported when they were picked up by police, who would be required to either cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or lose federal grants, Santorum said.

Only one group of unauthorized immigrants would be spared: those who are doing agricultural jobs Americans don't want, according to Santorum. He said some people in that category could stay if their employer paid a fee each year. 

Further unauthorized immigration should be prevented by sending more patrol agents and resources to the border and building more fencing, he said. Unlike Trump, who said a border wall should be built by the Mexican government, Santorum said he would have American workers build a fence.

If Mexico didn't cooperate with preventing unauthorized immigration into the U.S., it could be punished by suspending border crossing cards -- a proposal that would likely do considerable damage to the economies of towns along the border that get business from Mexicans who cross for the day.

Although most of the GOP candidates have argued for ramping up border security and upping deportations, Santorum is on the extreme end in his calls to restrict legal immigration, which he said should be reduced by 25 percent. He said this should be done by eliminating the visa lottery and so-called chain migration, when immigrants bring over family members, but not increasing other visa categories.

He said he's not anti-immigrant, and anyone who defines him that way is a hypocrite unless they're for open borders.

"If you're not for that, then you can't call anybody who wants to have a discussion as to what the limits are anti-immigrant," he said.  

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