Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman have both struggled to define their position on immigration during an election year in which the Latino vote is critical and tough laws in a neighboring state have made headlines. Whitman arguably has had a more difficult road, trying to find a middle ground between conservatives who favor stricter regulations and Latinos whom she needs to win.
The GOP candidate, who has advocated penalizing employers who hire illegal immigrants, was also dogged by several days of scandal after it was revealed she had employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper for nine years.
California Watch has been tracking every comment, promise and deflection by Whitman and Brown on the issue of the immigration over at Politics Verbatim. This post is the second in a series that is tapping those records to lay out both candidates' stances in detail. Up until Election Day, we'll also be tackling important topics like the environment, jobs and taxes.
On immigration, Whitman and Brown actually share some common ground. Both support a guest-worker program for agricultural laborers and oppose sanctuary cities. They agree the U.S.-Mexico border needs to be secured.
The clearest policy difference between the two is how they would deal with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.
Brown believes in a path to citizenship, calling it “the only human thing to do.” He supports the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would make citizenship possible for those brought here illegally as children. He has also said he believes students should be able to attend state universities regardless of immigration status and that such legislation would be "one of the first bills I sign" after dealing with the budget.
“I want to treat everyone whether they're documented or not as God's child,” he said during the Fresno debate.
Whitman considers a path to legalization “amnesty” and is staunchly opposed to it. Like fellow Republican and U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, she has largely avoided addressing the issue of illegal immigrants already living here. Her statements have focused instead on securing the border and strengthening controls for preventing illegal immigration.
She has mocked Brown's position on illegal immigrants attending state universities as out of touch with fiscal reality. "I believe that in this time of fiscal crisis and strain on our public colleges and universities, our priority must be to help kids who are legal residents go to state supported colleges," she said in a press release recently.
Under AB 540, college students who attended a California high school for at least three years can already attend community colleges and state universities at the in-state tuition rate, regardless of legal status. According to a Sacramento Bee analysis, illegal immigrants make up less than 1 percent of college enrollment through the state system.
The controversial Arizona law has been somewhat of a stumbling block for Whitman. Many conservatives in her party support the stringent legislation, which allows police to detain anyone suspected of being illegal, and accused the GOP candidate of softening her stance after the primary – something Whitman has strongly denied. She has said she supports Arizona’s right to enact the legislation but does not believe it's right for California – partly because it will face too many legal hurdles and partly because “we have a much bigger state with much bigger geography."
Brown has called the law "legally problematic."
Like Whitman, the attorney general has taken heat from his party over his immigration stance. Latino and civil rights groups have railed against his support of Secure Communities, a program that requires local law enforcement to send the fingerprints of people booked into jail to federal authorities. As attorney general, Brown refused to allow San Francisco to opt out of the program. Several counties, including San Francisco, have since appealed to the federal government.
Although they both oppose sanctuary cities, Brown had Whitman have starkly different takes on what, if anything, should be done about them. Brown says he would not take action against cities like San Francisco, whose local authorities do not enforce federal immigration law. His goal, he says, is to implement “comprehensive reforms” that will eliminate the need for sanctuary cities. Whitman’s opposition to sanctuary cities goes beyond ideology. If elected governor, she would withhold funds from cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, she says. In August, government representatives told the San Francisco Chronicle such a move appeared to be beyond the governor's authority.