Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican Senator (turned Democrat) and Governor from Rhode Island announced presidential bid for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States last week. He joins Hilary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders in the race. Although Chafee’s initial announcement focuses in on his opposition to the war in Iraq and how that differs from the other candidates, a look back at his record and public statements on immigration policy provide some clues into how he might handle the immigration issue as commander-in-chief.

As a Senator, Chafee cosponsored an immigration reform bill in 2005 which included a pathway to citizenship, as well as border security measures. In a 2006 gubernatorial debate, Chafee recalled:

“I co-sponsored the McCain bill. He came up with a bill, path to legality but also strong border security. There was a good compromise. Bush supports it and others and that’s the best way to handle these 11 million illegal immigrants that are here working illegally in this country. First, border security. Second, a path to legality. Pay back fines. Learn English. Get in the back of the line of the immigration line. And it’s a big problem. It’s going to take bipartisan work.”

In 2011, Governor, Chafee rescinded the previous governor’s executive order which called for local policy to enforce federal immigration laws and for employers to participate in E-Verify.

“My view is that Rhode Island can grow economically by being a tolerant place to do business… The immigrant-rich areas, I want to see them prosper, and they need it.”

Chafee also supported in-state tuition for young undocumented immigrants in Rhode Island. While state legislators failed pass the legislation, the Board of Governors for Higher Education lowered tuition rates for Rhode Island’s immigrant youth in 2011.

A compassionate and fair approach to immigration policy seems to run in the Chafee family. Chafee’s father, Senator John Chafee (R-RI), was the leading Congressional supporter of President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s “Family Fairness” executive actions, the closest parallel to President Obama’s recent executive actions. Senator John Chafee sponsored several legislative provisions to protect the spouses and children of those able to legalize under the 1986 immigration reform. And when President Bush in 1990 took action to protect up to 1.5 million people from deportation, after Senator Chafee’s proposal had passed the Senate, the applauded it, saying “I am delighted, after four years of hard work, to see this principle triumph.”

While Chafee does not list immigration reform as a priority on his official campaign website, he has an interesting record and has stood on the side of problem-solving and fairness when it comes to reforming immigration policy.

Photo Courtesy of City Year.