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Fletcher’s Slow Rhetorical Shift on Immigration

Flanked by Latino supporters [1] last week, mayoral hopeful Nathan Fletcher emphasized what he called a proven track record with that community. He touted his recent push for comprehensive immigration reform and two 2012 Assembly votes to change state policies related to undocumented immigrants.

“I’ve also been a longtime supporter of the DREAM Act as a part of comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.

But Fletcher’s backing of that federal legislation and his views on the best approach to immigration appear to have shifted along with his party changes in recent years.

In five years, Fletcher transformed from a Republican who said the federal government needed to do a better job “stopping illegal immigration” to a Democratic champion of a landmark bill that would allow more undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S.

Fletcher’s change in tone is most pronounced when comparing his recent comments with a campaign statement he submitted in 2008 as Republican candidate for state Assembly.

He made a passing mention of the need for immigration reform in a submitted post [2] on SmartVoter.org:

“With every issue – whether it is controlling government spending, protecting the taxpayer, strengthening education, reducing traffic congestion or stopping illegal immigration – we must do better,” Fletcher wrote.

That basically echoes Republican talking points from that time.

Fletcher, like many Republicans, also blamed the federal government, and said its lack of action was making a negative impact on California’s budget in later interviews.

“In so many ways, so many of the problems of the California state government are caused by California state legislators in the sense of the overgrowing things but in that instance, it’s a problem caused by the federal government,” Fletcher told radio host Mark Larson [3] in June 2009. “I mean, their inability to do their job in providing a secure border and then their inability to pay for their inability to do their job by making the states shoulder the burden for what should be a federal responsibility.”

He made a similar comment [4] to KUSI in early 2011 and emphasized the need for beefed-up border enforcement.

“The federal government should do its job,” Fletcher said. “It should have an immigration policy that makes sense. It should secure its border. It shouldn’t make states pay for its failure to do that.”

Several months later, Fletcher had a shot to vote on the so-called California Dream Act legislation.

State legislators voted on two separate measures in 2011 that were considered part of the act, which would complement the federal legislation.

Fletcher voted against both. In May 2011, he voted against AB 130, which allows undocumented college students to apply for private scholarships. About four months later, he voted against AB 131, which allows undocumented students to seek state financial aid.

Gov. Jerry Brown later signed both bills.

But Fletcher’s team said his vote against the state Dream Act reflects a legislative strategy, not his opinion of the measure’s ultimate goal of securing some children’s futures in the U.S. He voted against the bill, a spokeswoman said, because he believed such a measure should come from Congress, not a statehouse.

The chief of staff to former Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo, who wrote the state legislation, said Cedillo recounted repeated attempts to persuade Fletcher to support the bill.

Each time, the former staffer said, Fletcher told Cedillo he favored a federal immigration solution.

“Mr. Fletcher did say he supported the federal DREAM Act,” said Dan Savage, the former staffer.

In the midst of those votes, Fletcher announced he’d run for mayor. Within a month of Fletcher’s announcement, former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson endorsed Fletcher.

Wilson championed Prop. 187 [5], an infamous state measure to strip undocumented immigrants and their children of access to state services.

Fletcher touted Wilson’s support but clarified he didn’t back the controversial law when asked about the issue at a May 2012 debate.

That statement came two months after Fletcher abandoned the Republican Party and registered as an independent [6].

Fletcher’s shifting views got more play in an LGBT Weekly interview [7] published that same month. He once again emphasized the need for federal legislation but this time offered a more fleshed-out explanation.

The question was simple: Do you support the Dream Act?

“My problem is when states come in and try to take on federal issues on their own,” he said. “I opposed Prop. 187 [8]. I oppose what they did in Arizona. It was wrong. I can support a federal Dream Act.”

Almost four months later, however, Fletcher did vote in support of two statewide immigration-related measures. One allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and another prevented police from detaining them based on immigration status.

Those votes seem to conflict with Fletcher’s past contention that only the feds should take on immigration matters.

A Fletcher spokeswoman said those votes didn’t clash with that position – one he still apparently holds – because the votes involved state functions, like issuing driver’s licenses.

In the months before Fletcher took up the Democratic Party label, he began getting more vocal about his support for national immigration reform.

In March, Fletcher announced the creation of San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform [9], a broad group of business leaders, civil rights advocates and labor representatives who support a federal overhaul. He chaired the effort.

But the large coalition hasn’t offered many specifics [10] and Fletcher stuck to its four  principles [11] in interviews about the topic.

Two months after the group’s debut, Fletcher dubbed himself a Democrat. And two months after that, he joined his second San Diego mayor’s race.

Fletcher seems more emboldened to speak about a pathway to citizenship since he’s become a Democrat.

Several Latino leaders, including U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, stood behind Fletcher at a press conference [1] last week when an NBC 7 reporter asked about legislation Fletcher has supported that demonstrates his commitment to Latinos.

That’s when Fletcher mentioned the federal DREAM Act, a piece of legislation he’s not in a position to vote on, but that shares a name with state legislation he voted against.

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