More than other 2016 presidential candidates he now faces, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has spent more time trying to forge a federal immigration policy that would get through Congress.
Graham added himself on Monday to the growing list of Republicans seeking to be the next to occupy the Oval Office. He officially declared his presidential run in a speech in Central, S.C., where he grew up.
In office since 2002, Graham has witnessed the thrashing about of immigration reform in committee, back-door negotiations, conference committees and floor votes and played a major role in finding common ground on the divisive issue that has perpetually languished amid electoral politics.
While Graham is focusing his campaign more on U.S. national security, his bipartisan work on immigration stands out among that of other Republican candidates, which makes winning support of the far right a challenge.
Graham has hardly voted in line with all that immigration activists have hoped for over the years. But he has been a consistent GOP vote for immigration reform legislation. His history of work on immigration bills included collaboration with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, costing him conservative support in his 2008 primary. Despite that, he easily won re-election.
Graham also was one of the negotiators on the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill passed by the Senate that ran into Republican opposition in the House and died there.
He didn’t mention immigration in his campaign launch speech, saying the message of his campaign is that he has more experience than anyone in the race on national security. But he did demonstrate his more moderate streak.
“Our differences are real and we will debate them, but you are not my enemy, you are my fellow countrymen. My enemies are those who despise shared values,” said Graham, considered an underdog in the field.
Lupe Lopez, Alliance for Citizenship executive director of the Alliance for Citizenship, noted Graham’s immigration reform support, calling it a “sharp contrast to the rest of the GOP field.”
“Sen. Graham is among the few Republicans who consistently supports immigration reform, going as far as warning his own party of the consequences of blocking a permanent fix to our nation’s broken immigration system,” Lopez said.
United We Dream, which represents young immigrants in the U.S. without legal status, criticized Graham's opposition to President Barack Obama's immigration executive action. Cristina Jimenez, the group's managing director, said the immigrant community "expects any presidential candidate to support deferred action and to make concrete commitments to expanding protections to millions more, without waiting for congressional gridlock to finally lift immigration."