The Immigration Hard-Liner: Tom Tancredo

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Most presidential candidates have at least a few policy priorities. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) has one chief goal: ending illegal immigration. His campaign slogan is simple yet harsh: "Secure the borders. Deport those who don't belong. Make sure they never come back."

One of the most conservative Republicans in the 2008 field, the five-term congressman has a solid pro-gun, antiabortion voting record. But his hard-line stance on immigration has earned him national fame. Brash acts by other candidates are heroics in Tancredo's world, and they get him attention -- such as when he refused to participate in a recent GOP debate sponsored by Univision, because it was conducted in Spanish.

Tancredo has an amiable manner who comes across as the firebrand next door. But the former state House member and Education Department official has a nose for controversy. In 2005, he suggested during a Florida radio interview that if Muslim terrorists launched a nuclear strike against the United States, "you could take out their holy sites."

The grandson of Italian immigrants, Tancredo believes that newcomers should learn English and assimilate quickly. It is a view that has defined his political career. In the 1970s, when he was a member of the Colorado legislature, Tancredo sought to end public funding of bilingual schools and services for illegal immigrants.

Given his sporadic campaign schedule and meager fundraising, Tancredo has never made a secret of his real ambition: to influence the immigration debate to prevent any drift toward accommodation. "Americans across the country are paying the high price of a government unwilling to do its job and a Congress too gutless to make it," Tancredo said in Iowa in April.

The Tancredo drumbeat is one reason why President Bush was unable to sell his guest-worker proposal to GOP members of Congress. In 2005, the congressman helped push through a House bill that included a border crackdown and tougher employer sanctions but no path to citizenship. Passage of the bill effectively ended a bipartisan House and Senate push for broader immigration reform, one of Bush's chief goals when he took office in 2001.

Tancredo was elected in 1998 during a growth period for Colorado conservatism, but his state is tilting Democratic now. Whatever the fate of his presidential bid, Tancredo has announced that he will retire from the House after his current term.

[Full coverage of Tancredo on]

-- Shailagh Murray

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