Florida House GOP candidate rejects former client Fred Thompson's comments on immigration

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Carlos Curbelo, a GOP challenger to Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), said he doesn’t agree with Thompson’s suggestion, in 2007, that immigration reform had caused the nation to be “beset by people who are suicidal maniacs.”

But Curbelo said he does agree with some of the planks of Thompson’s reform proposal at the time, and the substance of some of his arguments.

“Is there a legitimate issue with regards to border security? If the border is porous, that means anyone can get through it — undocumented immigrants that want to work, and terrorists. I do think that’s true. I think most people would agree with that,” Curbelo told The Hill.

Curbelo is now running for Congress in Florida’s 26th district, a heavily Hispanic district where immigration reform is likely to play a central role in the campaign. Republicans believe Garcia is vulnerable, due to the red lean of the district and an ongoing investigation into an illegal election scheme concocted, but ultimately aborted, by his former staffers.

Two other Republicans have entered the race, with others likely to run for the Republican nomination as well.

Just prior to launching his presidential bid, Thompson suggested, according to The New York Times, that the 1986 reform measure that gave amnesty to an estimated $2.7 million illegal immigrants living in the United States had opened the nation to attacks.

“Twelve million illegal immigrants later, we are now living in a nation that is beset by people who are suicidal maniacs and want to kill countless innocent men, women and children around the world,” he said. “We’re sitting here now with essentially open borders.”

He also said, in criticizing a reform proposal then under consideration in the Senate, "I don't imagine they're coming here to bring greetings from Castro. We're living in the era of the suitcase bomb.”

Curbelo said that he believes there's some truth to Thompson's suggestion, though he doesn't support the way he said it.

"We know that drug lords were passing through the border. If people are transporting narcotics, theoretically they could transport dirty bombs," he said. "Perhaps he was trying to express that concern and he did not do it in the most artful way."

The House candidate asserts that, while he advised Thompson's campaign on Hispanic issues, he shouldn't be held responsible for the candidate's comments.

Curbelo’s firm, Capitol Gains, received $33,750 from Thompson’s campaign from October 2007 through February 2008. During that time, Curbelo said, the firm advised Thompson on “debate prep, building a relationship with the Hispanic community.”

“We were more responsible for communications and preparation for interviews. We offered advice on Hispanic issues, such as immigration, such as U.S.-Cuba policy,” he said.

In October of that year, Thompson rolled out his reform proposal, which was one of the toughest offered by a candidate that cycle.

Curbelo says he had no role in crafting policy, and that he “let the senior staff know that in Miami, especially in South Florida, some people would not support some of these policies.”

He suggested in 2010, however, that “no one can say that someone's position on immigration will cost them the Hispanic vote in Florida.”

But many Republican leaders are now pushing for immigration reform and believe it is vital to the party’s chances of making progress with the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group.

President Obama won 70 percent of Hispanic voters in 2012.

While Curbelo distanced himself from Thompson’s words, he did say that he agrees with some of the substance of Thompson’s reform proposal.

Like the rest of his party, Curbelo said he considers strong border control “fundamental.”

But, departing from Thompson and the conservative wing of the party, he’s in favor of a pathway to citizenship.

“I support earned citizenship. I stress the word ‘earned’ because, number one, there has to be an element of justice. The undocumented broke the law. I agree with fines. I agree that every immigrant should have to learn English,” he said.

Curbelo emphasized, however, that he isn’t for amnesty of illegal immigrants, and also suggested, if he were elected, he would compromise on a pathway to citizenship to get a reform measure passed.

“My preference is that we do not create a permanent underclass of [undocumented] residents in this country. But if we can make progress in this country, and find a solution for the undocumented that at least improves the current situation, where they’re in this limbo, I would consider that progress,” he said.

Thompson also proposed cutting funding to cities where local law enforcement aren’t required to request proof of citizenship and to schools that offer in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants.

Curbelo said he disagrees with cutting funding to universities, saying the idea “that we would hold children responsible for the sins of their parents is totally unfair to me.”

He suggested there would no longer be an issue with so-called “sanctuary cities” if border security is increased.

With respect to Thompson’s more controversial statements, Curbelo said he shouldn’t be held “responsible” for what the candidate said.  Although he advised Thompson on his communications, Curbelo says he wasn’t in charge of his messaging during his presidential race.

“Each candidate is responsible for his or her own views. In this campaign, I'm responsible for my views and what I say,” Curbelo said. “I'm not responsible for what anyone else has said.”

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