By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY
ATLANTA — The Associated Press sat down recently with the two Republicans competing for Georgia's open Senate seat to discuss three key issues. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue will meet in a runoff July 22, and the winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in the fall. Below is a discussion on comprehensive immigration reform and a bill that passed last year in the Senate but has since stalled. Candidate remarks have been edited in some places for length.
AP: Would you have voted for or against the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed in the Senate last year?
KINGSTON: I would have voted no. I do not support amnesty and there is not a political consensus for comprehensive immigration reform. There is, the possibility for increment reform with, I think, four basic tenants. Number one, no amnesty. Number two, securing the border first. Number three, no welfare for illegal aliens. And then number four, cracking down on those who knowingly hire.
PERDUE: I would not have, and the reason is, there are several reasons. One, it had an amnesty in there that I didn't support. Secondly, it gave the head of the national homeland security discretion over enforcing the laws related to the border. My feeling on this thing is, in business, when you get a complicated problem, we break it down into its components. And the first component is to secure the border.
AP: As you just mentioned, you are against amnesty for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status. Do you believe they can and should be immediately deported? And if not, what would you propose the federal government do if not offer a pathway to citizenship?
KINGSTON: If you enforce existing laws, which would be part of the crackdown on those who knowingly hire, I think a lot of this works its way out. People would actually be inclined to leave on their own. They are very used to passing back and forth in the border. But we have to make a philosophical decision, are we a nation of laws? And any time you relax your immigration laws or interpretations of those laws, you get an influx of new illegals because word of mouth, people are watching, what is the policy of the White House? And in this case, what is it this year versus last year? Case in point of the children who have come over now from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. That was because of an Obama administration change in policy, and the policy change did not address Mexican children. So Mexican children are being turned around immediately and Honduran kids are not. It was a crisis created by the White House.
PERDUE: The Senate bill was over 1,000 pages, and it laid all of this stuff out and gives everybody a reason to not do it and here we are months later with nothing going on. I think the first thing we need to do is get a bipartisan agreement on the first component, and let's secure this border. It's a national security issue. And frankly we're all being irresponsible for not doing it. And it's not just Mexico. It's Canada, it's the ports, it's the airports. This is a very open country. And with the technology we are seeing in terrorists hand right now, we should all be concerned. ... Right now we are bringing in over 1.1 million legal immigrants, and that is over twice the high-water marks of the 1880s to the 1920s and even during the Reagan era, it's more than twice. We have got to address the different components of that to see what is the right number, whether getting back to 500-600,000 is the right number. What is the right number? Nobody is talking about that. And look, I believe that when you secure the border then you can enter into a dialogue around what do you do about the people that are here.