August 27, 2013

California Republican Rep. Gary Miller has earned a reputation as an immigration hardliner, but when confronted by a group of young immigrants Friday at a public event in Rancho Cucamonga (which had a $12 entry fee), Miller told them he understands their plight because he, too, is an immigrant, of sorts, moving with his family from Arkansas to California as a young child.

DREAMers, the children of undocumented immigrants, face deportation and other legal persecution (a threat delayed, at least for now, by President Obama’s 2012 deferred action policy), but Miller explained that he personally understands the difficulty they face because he moved across the country.

“You know, I’ve talked to a lot of young people like [you],” Miller told the young activists, captured in footage taken by a Democratic tracker. “I mean, I understand the difficulty. Just like I was born in Arkansas. I came here when I was a year old.”

The pro-Democratic House Majority PAC provided the video, which you can watch here (key exchange begins around 1:23):

But, of course, there’s a big difference between moving across state lines and across international borders. “It’s stunning in its ignorance and revealing in how out of touch some Republicans are with the experience of undocumented immigrants,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration reform group. “And this is a guy who represents a district in California, the state that has the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the country.”

“So for him to say, I get your experience, I came from Arkansas to California, as if that is equivalent to a young kid coming from Mexico or El Salvador and growing up in the American school system and having opportunities denied to you because of your family’s immigration status, I mean, oh my God,” Sharry continued. “I’m going from finding it really hilarious to really disturbing.”

Miller’s San Bernardino County district is nearly half Latino, and immigration reform is popular, but he spent years cultivating a hardline anti-illegal immigrant position when he represented another, more conservative district that covered parts of Orange and Los Angeles counties. And old version of his campaign Web site stated that there were “12 to 20 million law breakers who flaunt our immigration laws” living in the country. His solution was simple: “Send Them Home.”

But as he heads into the 2014 election defending a seat that Obama won by 17 points, he seems to be changing his tune. He told Univision he no longer believes that it’s possible to deport all undocumented immigrants, and BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski caught Miller quietly scrubbing old YouTube videos and statements from his Web sites that advocated a tougher stance on immigration. The scrubbed material blamed immigrants to taking American jobs and referenced “anchor babies,” “illegals” and “amnesty.”

Miller’s spokesperson could not immediately provide a statement, but we’ll update with one as soon we get it.

UPDATE: Miller spokeswoman Megan Bush sent the following statement:

Congressman Miller recognizes that when it comes to our nation’s immigration laws, the status quo is unacceptable. He believes we need an immigration system that is effective, fair, enhances public safety, and supports economic growth.

While the vast majority of individuals seeking entry into the United States are hard-working men and women who want to make a better life for their families, there are some who would come here to engage in drug trafficking, human smuggling, and other violent crimes that put our communities at risk. As such, Congressman Miller believes that any reform proposal must make securing our ports and northern and southern borders a top priority. In addition, he believes that we need a mandatory, effective and workable employment verification system to increase job opportunities for Americans and prevent the exploitation of undocumented workers.

Congressman Miller is proud to represent the hard-working men and women of the 31st District and takes his responsibility to represent the views of his constituents very seriously. Since January, he has met with over thirty groups and hundreds of individuals to discuss this complex issue. As the immigration debate moves to the House, he will continue to listen to the concerns of residents, business leaders, and local law enforcement and will carefully review any proposed legislation before he casts his vote to ensure that it meets the needs of the 31st District.