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Solution or stunt? Hawley proposes allowing states to deport undocumented immigrants

Senator Josh Hawley proposed a measure granting states legal authority to enforce federal immigration law, raising constitutional and implementation questions.

ST. LOUIS, Missouri — Several days after Republican governors in Texas and Florida sent buses and planes of migrants to liberal corners of the country, Senator Josh Hawley applauded their pushes to highlight illegal border crossings.  

Florida's governor Ron DeSantis sent vehicles to Texas to round up asylum seekers there, drive them back to Florida, then fly them to Martha's Vineyard. Police in Texas have now opened a criminal investigation into the DeSantis administration for possibly luring and preying on those vulnerable migrants.

During the ongoing criminal investigation, Hawley celebrated the move and described the actions as "totally reasonable" during an interview on "The Record."

"I love the way that the rich liberals freak out anytime they actually have to encounter illegal immigrants," Hawley said. "You know, they don't want any of these folks in their communities. They don't want to have to pay for anything for them. But they're happy to have small towns in Texas completely overrun with literally millions of illegal immigrants. They couldn't care less about that. But if you send them to their enclaves, their rich beach communities, 'Oh, my gosh, we can't have that.' It's an outrage. So I think it's hypocrisy of the worst kind."

Hawley referred to the busloads of migrants as "illegals," and disputed the characterization from Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, an elected Democrat, who told reporters at a recent news conference that migrants were in the U.S. legally at the time they were taken. 

"You cannot cross the border illegally and then claim asylum and have your illegal border crossing baptized as being okay," Hawley said. "That's not how it works. You're welcome to claim asylum in the United States. There's a process for doing that. But what you cannot do is illegally cross the border, then say, 'Oh, wait, I want asylum,' and therefore my violation of U.S. law on the border is okay."

Days later, Hawley proposed an idea of his own and sponsored a Senate bill to give states individual authority to deport migrants out of the country. His proposal, however, raises a number of constitutional and implementation questions.

Pressed to explain his proposal, Hawley said federal laws and procedures would still remain in place. 

States would still "have to follow federal law," Hawley said. "It would be federal law, federal procedures. None of the federal procedures would change."

Migrants facing deportation are allowed a hearing before an immigration court, which operates under the federal Department of Justice. 

In a 1993 Supreme Court case Reno v Flores, former justice Antonin Scalia wrote, "It is well established that the Fifth Amendment entitles aliens to due process of law in deportation proceeding."

Hawley said those practices would remain in place, but states could send law enforcement resources to assist with the deportation. 

"States have tried this before, by the way," Hawley said. "Twenty years ago, the state of Arizona, which was getting overrun at that time with another surge in illegal immigration, they tried to say, 'Well, listen, we'll enforce federal law.' And the Supreme Court wouldn't let them because they said federal law doesn't allow that. My bill would change federal law, and it would say, 'Let's give the states that authority.'"

Immigration and the GOP

A new NBC News poll shows voters favor the Republican party on border security (56% to 20% for Democrats), and immigration (46% to 29% for Democrats). The border is still a flashpoint for voters, but the economy and abortion are also issues that will get voters to the polls for the midterms.

The playbook for drawing votes has certainly shifted over time. Former president Ronald Reagan's platform embraced immigrants. 

In 1981, Reagan said, "Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force."

"If they're a basic part of our workforce, but they're here illegally, then that's a huge problem," Hawley said. "It probably means they're taking away jobs from legal citizens."

In 1988, Reagan said, "We lead the world because unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation."

Hawley said Reagan "was wrong about illegal immigration. He was also wrong about amnesty."

Watch The Record live Wednesdays at 3 p.m. on KSDK.com and 5+.

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