Ohio Governor John Kasich has seemingly positioned himself above the Trump induced anti-immigrant frenzy that has consumed the Republican primary. While the other GOP presidential hopefuls fall all over themselves trying to show the GOP base who'll deport the most immigrants, who'll be the first to cancel President Obama's executive action and who'll build the biggest wall, Kasich talks about legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the nation's shadows--although he stops well short of offering them a path to citizenship.
At Saturday's Republican debate Kasich claimed he'd send Congress an immigration reform plan within his first 100 days in office. A week earlier, just before his impressive second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Kasich even seemed to show compassion toward undocumented immigrants. "I couldn't even imagine," he said, "how we would even begin to think about taking a mom or a dad out of a house when they have not committed a crime since they've been here, leaving their children in the house. I mean, that is not, in my opinion, the kind of values that we believe in."
So it's worth asking: Do Kasich's actions as governor of Ohio match his kinder gentler tone on the presidential campaign trail?
Unfortunately, not so much.
Under Kasich Ohio has enthusiastically joined Texas and 24 other GOP-led states in a brazenly partisan lawsuit aimed at blocking President Obama's plan to defer the deportation of nearly 5 million undocumented youth and parents of U.S. citizens, including an estimated 82,000 Ohio residents. Shortly after the President announced his actions--known as DAPA and DACA expansion--the Republican governors and attorneys general sought out a sympathetic judge who predictably enjoined the deferred action guidance which is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the very moms and dads that Kasich spoke so compassionately about on the GOP primary debate stage continue to live in fear that their families will be torn apart at any moment.
That's exactly why 25 undocumented parents and their children from around Ohio met with Kasich at the statehouse in Columbus last year shortly after he announced his candidacy for president. Participants included Ohio mom Olga Flores whose 4-year-old son is currently battling cancer; an immigrant father of two small sons who recently lost their mother to a drunk driver; and a mother who has lived in the U.S. for 25 years and has lost her dad, sister and brother to deportation. The families begged Kasich to protect them, explaining how they and their children live their lives in fear, worried that a trip to the grocery store or school could end in a traffic stop and deportation. Their hopes were lifted when the President's executive actions were announced, so they told Kasich, only to be crushed by the partisan lawsuit Ohio, under Kasich's leadership, has engaged in.
Are these the very same moms and dads Kasich claims he could not imagine deporting? If so, why is he standing idly by while Republican governors and attorneys general--including Ohio's Mike DeWine--target a program which will offer them a temporary reprieve from deportation and a chance to support their families?
Kasich's response? He told the undocumented parents and children that it was Attorney General Mike DeWine, his fellow Republican, who signed the Ohio onto the Texas case, not him--a curious response from the state's chief executive, and one that brings his leadership into question. He also, predictably, blamed president Obama for not getting an immigration reform package through the GOP-dominated U.S. House of Representatives. Let's not forget the House was led by Kasich's long-time House colleague and fellow Ohioan, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Never mind that had that Republican leadership allowed a vote immigration reform would have been enacted and the 25 families Kasich met with last summer would be earning their way toward citizenship.
Nor can Kasich defend his support for the Texas attack on DAPA and DACA expansion on economic grounds. Blocking the deportation deferrals hurts Ohio's economy which stands to gain an estimated $41 million dollars in tax revenue to be paid by the undocumented Ohioans who'll qualify for the program. Ironically, the same holds true for the state of Texas which bases its right to challenge the President's immigration actions on costs in will incur through the issuance of driver's licenses to qualified undocumented immigrants. In fact, according to the Council of Economic Advisors, the immigration actions will increase Texas' GDP by $8.2 billion to $19.2 billion over the next ten years. And in South Carolina--where Kasich is hoping shore up his candidacy with a strong finish in Saturday's primary--the deportation deferrals will increase the state's GDP by as much as $2.3 billion.
Sadly, it doesn't take much to sound reasonable on immigration in this year's Republican primary. But actions speak louder than words--especially the words of a politician running for office. When it comes to actually protecting vulnerable families in Ohio and across the nation, John Kasich needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.