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Pearce offers immigration compromise

Rep. Steve Pearce continues to push back on President Donald Trump’s immigration proposals, but last week the New Mexico congressman offered qualified support for the president in the aftermath of his highly controversial statements about the deadly race-fueled confrontation in Charlottesville, Va.

I spoke with Pearce briefly about both issues late last week after inquiring about an op-ed he submitted to the Journal criticizing a new Senate bill that would dramatically slash the number of green cards granting permanent legal status to foreigners. I was also keenly interested in Pearce’s take on the violence in Charlottesville that directly led to death of one counter-protestor and indirectly to the death of two police officers.

Let’s look at the immigration issue first.

Pearce, a Republican running for governor of New Mexico in 2018, has long said he opposes Trump’s plan to build a wall on New Mexico’s southern border. Last week he also panned a new GOP bill introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue that would award visas based on merit.

The bill, which Trump has enthusiastically endorsed, would reduce the number of green cards issued over the next decade, eventually granting permanent legal status to around 500,000 immigrants per year, down from the million green cards currently granted annually. Trump vowed during his campaign to take a harder line on immigration and move to protect American jobs.

“We can’t even fill the jobs we’ve got right now,” Pearce told me, referring specifically to New Mexico. “I appreciate the fact that the attempt is to get American workers jobs, but in New Mexico I don’t think that’s a problem. I don’t believe people are coming in taking jobs from citizens; I think the bigger deal is we’ve got to have the workers for our functionality.”

For years, Pearce has advocated for expanding the number of work visas granted to foreign immigrants. He reasons that many people don’t necessarily want to live in the United States, but they would like to come here to work and make money to bring home to their families. Pearce’s proposal has never gotten much traction on Capitol Hill, primarily because of Democratic opposition to anything less than a full path to citizenship. But it’s always seemed to me to be a decent compromise between the “seal the border” and “open the border” extremes.

In an op-ed submitted to the Journal this month, Pearce again said “a need-based guest worker visa program should be part of any immigration reform plan.”

“That will help to ensure, for example, that the best and brightest minds from overseas are working alongside our own top-notch researchers at Sandia National Labs, and the dairies in Hobbs and Las Cruces have qualified and talented workers when they need them,” he wrote.

The Cotton-Perdue bill would require 60 votes in the narrowly-divided U.S. Senate, which means that its odds of passage are slim, at best.

Now, about Charlottesville. The day after the shooting, Pearce posted a message on Facebook.

“The car attack by a white supremacist in Charlottesville yesterday was an act of terrorism, plain and simple,” he wrote. “This violence and hatred has no place in our communities. I condemn this act and any like it.”

In my brief discussion with him late Thursday, Pearce first noted that “I come at this from the perspective of being on the receiving end of a recent shooting.”

Indeed, you may recall that the congressman was on the scene when a madman shot at Republicans practicing for the annual congressional baseball game this summer.

I asked Pearce – who has strongly supported Trump – if the president missed an opportunity to help heal the nation after last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville. Trump denounced racism as “evil” one day but then said both sides – the white supremacist demonstrators and their counter-protesters – were equally to blame the next day. That remark set off a firestorm of controversy.

As for the racists, Pearce told me that “I absolutely feel that the white supremacist movement is very unproductive.”

“The rhetoric from both sides is extraordinarily high, and I just think we need to calm it down,” Pearce said. “Trump’s been back and forth on it, and it’s the erratic nature of that that leaves him open to question. I don’t think he disrespects any race. I think he was just trying to find the ground that says ‘everybody has got a lot of positions here.’

“I’m not sure exactly what he is trying to achieve, and I haven’t talked to the White House about it, so I don’t know if he missed an opportunity or not,” the congressman added. “We just need to be establishing that both sides have a right to their opinions, and that is part of a free society. That’s where I come down on it.”

E-mail: mcoleman@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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