Arizona congressman Jeff Flake is moving further away from his previous push for comprehensive immigration reform as conservative Rep. Trent Franks nears a self-imposed April 7 deadline on a decision to join Flake in the Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat.
Flake has championed comprehensive immigration reform for years, but has backed away from that push in the past year. The move has become more pronounced since he announced last month he would run in the primary to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl.
In a new position paper, Flake says he no longer supports any effort on comprehensive reform until the border is secure.
“In the past I have supported a broad approach to immigration reform — increased border security coupled with a guest worker program,” the paper says. “I no longer do. I’ve been down that road and it is a dead end.”
The paper and Flake’s change in position was first reported by The Arizona Republic on Wednesday.
That moves him closer to Franks, who told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he is leaning toward running even more now that he’s seen polling results and had more time to talk with his family.
“This is not a decision I had designs upon making. But now that it is here I feel like I have a responsibility to give the people a chance to choose between my perspective and Mr. Flake’s,” Franks said. “We have significant differences on constitutional issues, on national security issues, on border security and illegal immigration issues. At least we did until today.”
When he announced he was running on Feb. 14, Flake said the border needed to be better secured before he would push any other immigration deal. The new paper makes it clear he now believes border security must be complete before immigration reform is tackled in any way. He blames increasing drug-cartel violence in Mexico that “is fueling lawlessness north of the border.”
Flake co-sponsored a 2007 comprehensive immigration reform law that would have allowed a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Border politics and illegal immigration are hot-button topics in Arizona, and there is plenty of precedent for taking tougher positions during campaigns. Sen. John McCain famously backed away from his support for comprehensive immigration reform while running for re-election last year.
Flake is the only declared candidate in the Republican race, and has already won significant support. No Democrats have announced their intent to seek Kyl’s seat. On Wednesday, former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington told the AP that he was backing Flake after earlier considering a run of his own.
“I’ve really just decided that I’m too much of a free enterprise entrepreneur, that’s really where my heart and soul lies and that’s what I’m going to continue to do is work in the private sector,” Symington said.
Also Wednesday, the conservative Washington-based Club for Growth announced that its members had contributed more than $350,000 to Flake’s campaign. The nonprofit supports candidates who run on a strict platform of lower taxes and less government regulation.
Flake’s fundraising prowess doesn’t surprise Franks, who said he expects his fellow Republican to raise a lot of cash.
“My guess is that he will probably report in the neighborhood of $2 million,” Franks said. “But I’ve always been competitive in every campaign I’ve ever run, financially.”
Symington said he’d very surprised if Franks walked away from his secure House seat.
“My view of that would be that it would be a mistake,” he said. “That would harken back to an earlier day … when (Arizona congressmen Sam Steiger and John Conlan) went at it” in 1976. “They just hammered each other in the Republican primary, and then Dennis DeConcini came in from Pima County, a Democrat, and won the Senate seat.
“We would be well advised not to get into that kind of fight in a Republican primary this year,” Symington added.