Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Can a Republican presidential candidate be immigrant-friendly and still make it through a primary?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will find out if he decides to pursue the nation’s highest office in 2016.

The governor recently said that he backs giving undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition in New Jersey. That’s not exactly radical — 15 other states have already removed that educational barrier, including neighboring New York.

But his position could place Christie to the left of other Republican candidates on the issue of immigration.

Think back to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He got slammed during the 2012 GOP primary for supporting in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Some would argue that it helped sink his campaign.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney embraced the concept of “self-deportation” — making life so hard for unauthorized immigrants that they eventually leave the country.

The Republican National Committee doesn’t want a repeat of last year, and they say they’re done with the harsh rhetoric.

Maaaaaybe that will be the case. Or maybe Christie, if he runs, will have a hard time explaining his immigration record to more conservative factions of the party’s base.

Advertisement

This isn’t the first time the New Jersey governor has taken a moderate stance on immigration, either. He’s stated — correctly — that being in the country without authorization isn’t a criminal offense, it’s an "administrative matter."

And as a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, he prosecuted far fewer illegal immigration cases than in other states, like Kansas, with smaller populations. That prompted immigration hawk and former CNN host Lou Dobbs to lay into Christie during a 2008 broadcast.

"This man is an utter embarrassment,” he said.

None of this makes Christie an immigration radical. It does, however, mean that he will be tested on his stance if he decides to run for president, and so will the Republican party.

Advertisement

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.