Election Issues and Immigration #2: The Immigration Record of Mike Pence

Alexander J. Segal's picture

The Selection of Mike Pence

After much speculation, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, selected Indiana Governor Mike Pence of Indiana as his running mate. Prior to his single term as Governor of Indiana, Pence served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (2001-2013). During his tenure in the House, Pence also served one term as Chair of the House Republican Conference (2009-2011). Pence generally has a reputation as a solid conservative (however, his selection has notably angered many social conservatives) and is not known for his flamboyance, arguably providing some balance to the ticket. However, Pence is a curious choice in other respects. Before the decisive Indiana Primary, Pence endorsed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, albeit while spending much of his endorsement announcement praising Trump. That contrasted with many reports, including one by the National Review's Tim Alberta, that Pence had expressed to friends that he “loathed” Trump.1

While it is impossible to say what effect Governor Pence will have, if any, on the positions that Trump adopts during the election, Pence's time in government provides a window into his positions on immigration. In this post, I will examine Pence's record on immigration and compare it to the positions taken by Donald Trump during his campaign. To learn about some of Trump's inconsistent immigration positions over the years, please see my blog post [see blog]. To see other entries in my series of posts about immigration issues and the November elections, please see my introductory post [see blog].

Mike Pence on Immigration

In Congress, Pence generally voted with his party on immigration issues. In 2006, Pence supported The Board Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which proposed numerous border security measures including a 700-foot wall along the Mexican Border.

In 2009, Pence supported legislation to end birthright citizenship for children of non-permanent resident aliens who are not performing active service in the armed forces [see blog on subject].2

Pence spoke on a variety of immigration issues in a lecture he gave to the Heritage Foundation on June 2, 2006 [see link].3 In his lecture, Pence supported drastically increasing the number of border patrol agents. Pence opposed amnesty, which he defined as “allowing people whose first act in America was an illegal act to get right with the law without leaving the country.” However, his solution was to encourage such aliens to “self-deport” before allowing them to seek readmission as employment-based guest workers. Under Pence's proposal, an alien who self-deported would be able to seek admission as a guest-worker by applying at an “Ellis Island Center” run by private employers but sponsored by the U.S. government. Pence stated that a virtue of his program would be that many aliens would only have to depart the United States for a week before returning as a temporary worker. He proposed letting the program run for three years before reassessing it based on Department of Labor employment statistics, and subsequently looking to deport those aliens who were present illegally but declined to self-deport. Pence proposed allowing guest workers under his plan to seek citizenship after two three year increments on guest worker status.

As Governor of Indiana, Pence sought to prevent Syrian refugees from being settled in his state. Interestingly, Pence was harshly critical of suggestions, most prominently floated by Donald Trump, that Muslims should be barred from entering the United States as immigrants or nonimmigrants. Pence even went as far as to describe the proposals as “unconstitutional.” However, in an interview after being announced as the presumptive Vice Presidential nominee, Pence stated that he supported Trump's more recent proposal to “suspend immigration from countries where terrorist influence and impact represents a threat to the United States.” Pence supported Trump's proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and agreed with Trump's assertion that Mexico would pay for it.4

Will Pence Have an Effect on Trump's Immigration Proposals?

It is too early to say whether the addition of Pence to the Republican ticket will have any discernable effect on Trump's immigration proposals. During his initial statements since being selected as Trump's running mate, Pence has adopted and defended the positions of Trump, thus indicating that his role will likely be defending Trump's proposals rather than adding many of his own.

Interestingly, Pence's proposal for encouraging aliens who entered the United States illegally and never gained status to self-deport bears certain similarities to not only Mitt Romney's proposal to encourage self-deportation in 2012, but also Donald Trump's proposal in that Pence sought to provide ample opportunity for aliens who self-deported to return to the United States with legal status and, eventually, a path to citizenship. While Trump proposed deportations as opposed to self-deportations, he has also expressed an interest in allowing many of the very people he would order deported to expeditiously return to the United States with legal immigration status. Pence's proposal, while certainly more humane than Trump's, can just be well described as “touchback amnesty” for the ease it would have allowed aliens who self-deported to have a pathway to citizenship. Pence's insistence that his proposal was not for amnesty or “touchback amnesty” because an alien would have had to self-deported for as little as a week is unconvincing.

While I disagree with some of his Pence's immigration proposals, such as for building a wall across the U.S.-Mexican border (unrealistic), touchback amnesty (I support a long pathway to citizenship for certain otherwise law-abiding persons here illegally so long as it is tied to demonstrable border security benchmarks and strict background checks), and ending birthright citizenship, Pence brings a wealth of policy experience and a generally pro-legal immigration perspective to the Republican ticket. While Pence has not always struck the perfect balance between promoting legal immigration and immigration enforcement, his record on immigration issues has been far superior to that of Trump's or Hillary Clinton's. Accordingly, Trump could do far worse (as he often has) than to seek the counsel of Pence and other experienced Republicans in developing a solid and coherent platform on immigration issues. Unfortunately, the preponderance of the evidence from the 2016 campaign thus far would indicate that it is far more likely that Pence will be defending Trump's immigration proposals than that he will have the opportunity to cause Trump to consider developing a better immigration platform.


  1. Alberta, Tim, “Why Cruz is Going All-In on Indiana,” National Review Online, (Apr. 20, 2016), available at http://www.nationalreview.com/article/434265/ted-cruz-indiana-primary-strategy
  2. http://www.ontheissues.org/IN/Mike_Pence_Immigration.htm
  3. Pence, Mike, “Border Security and Immigration: Building a Principled Consensus for Reform,” heritage.org, (2006), available at http://www.heritage.org/research/lecture/border-security-and-immigration-building-a-principled-consensus-for-reform
  4. Johnson, Jenna, “In introducing Mike Pence, Donald Trump keeps the spotlight on himself,” Washington Post, (Jul. 16, 2016), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/07/16/in-introducing-mike-pence-donald-trump-keeps-the-spotlight-on-himself/
Election Issues and Immigration #2:  The Immigration Record of Mike Pence