As President Barack Obama travels to Texas this week to grapple with a surge of migrants hitting the border there, tea party favorite Joe Miller is highlighting immigration as a key issue in the race for the U.S. Senate seat in Alaska that's currently held by Democrat Mark Begich.
Miller, who's in his second run for Senate, released a video this week that lays out his "uncompromising" views on immigration, and calls his Republican primary opponents soft on the issue.
The video, which was released on YouTube and distributed in an email newsletter from a website owned by Miller, is titled: "Joe Miller is the only AK GOP U.S. Senate candidate 100 percent against amnesty."
"I don't know about you, but I'm absolutely outraged by what I see going on down by the Mexican border," Miller says in the video.
"The country's being destroyed by a violation of the rule of law, and amnesty's just one more way in which we're getting torn down," he added.
Miller's two opponents, Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan, say that his charges are inaccurate.
Treadwell, who Miller says is for "limited amnesty," said in an interview that Miller is "fudging the facts."
In Treadwell's view, some people who arrived in the country illegally should potentially be allowed to stay if they pay "severe penalties" — and some people may have to leave, Treadwell said.
"I don't support amnesty," Treadwell said. Immigration, he added, deals with peoples' lives, "and it deserves more than demagoguery in the campaign."
Sullivan, who Miller says is "equivocal" on amnesty, was traveling in the community of Galena and unavailable for an interview, said spokesman Mike Anderson.
Anderson didn't directly respond to a question about what Sullivan thinks should happen to the estimated 11 million people who immigrated to the United States illegally, though he said in an email that "Joe's characterization of Dan Sullivan's views on amnesty and immigration are inaccurate."
"Dan supports a piecemeal approach to deal with immigration reform in an effective manner," Anderson said.
Miller has been trying to carve out the far-right territory in the Republican primary; he's also called his opponents "climate change alarmists."
Immigration isn't as important for Alaskan Republicans as it is for GOP members in other states closer to the southern border, but it's still a "red meat" issue here, said Ivan Moore, an Anchorage political consultant who is not working with any of the candidates in the Senate race.
"What he's trying to do is fire up the base, and it'll probably succeed to a certain extent," Moore said, referring to Miller. "I think there's probably a fairly significant subset of the primary voting population who care very much about that issue."
Miller, in a phone interview, said immigration is "becoming more and more of a matter in the public eye, in part because of what's going on right now with the illegal alien minor children that are being transported across the country."
On Wednesday, Obama met with officials in Texas, where he promised to work to secure the border with Mexico while simultaneously treating the surge of children who have arrived there with "care and compassion," CBS reported.
In the last eight months, authorities have apprehended more than 50,000 children who have arrived at the border alone; that's more than double the rate they arrived in the preceding fiscal year.
Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the surge, which would in part go towards detention centers, surveillance, and immigration judges — though it's far from clear whether members of either party will agree.
In an interview, Miller said he does not oppose immigration on principal. But he added that he wanted to see the border sealed, and anyone who wants to enter the U.S., he said, should "apply in a proper fashion from their country of origin."
"Any nation that decides that it will not have territorial integrity will cease to be much of a nation," he said. "It's ridiculous to think this nation should basically be the custodian of everyone in the world that's in need."
Miller added that Alaska is "permeated with problems at the voting booth," and should require a "voter ID with a picture on it."
As evidence of the necessity for new voter identification rules, Miller cited the case of Rafael Mora-Lopez, a Mexican national who used a stolen identity to work as an Anchorage police officer and vote in national and local elections. (Mora-Lopez, however, had a passport and Alaska drivers license, and would still have been able to vote under one recent proposed voter identification bill.)
Miller also mentioned the work of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lobbied the Alaska Legislature in support of a new voter identification law around the same time that Treadwell, who supervises elections in his capacity as Alaska's lieutenant governor, announced he'd found 14 people suspected of "actually voting in both Alaska and another state" — though 12 of those people were later found to have been wrongly identified.
Treadwell said in a phone interview that after working on a study of elections with academics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, he believes Alaska's elections are "secure," and noted that it's not easy for residents to get identification cards across the state.
"If Joe wants to try to disenfranchise people in hundreds of villages who can't get an ID in their village, go right ahead," Treadwell said. "That's not the Alaskan way."
Treadwell added that it was a "scandal" that the U.S. Justice Department had not been more aggressive in prosecuting Mora-Lopez for voting illegally. The former police officer ultimately pleaded guilty to passport fraud and making a false citizenship claim.
Treadwell said that he would turn back all of the immigrants that have arrived at the border as part of the recent wave, and change a 2008 law that gives extra protection to people who emigrate from countries south of Mexico.
And he said the Obama administration's "absence of enforcement" and lack of efforts to secure the country's borders was inviting people to violate immigration laws.
Sullivan's position is that the U.S. should first secure its border, and "after that, we can look at modernizing the process of entering the country legally," said Anderson, his spokesman, in an email that also blamed "Washington's inaction" for the country's worsening immigration problems.
Sullivan believes the young immigrants who arrived at the border as part of the recent surge "should be returned to their families, and not allowed into the United States," Anderson said.
As for voter identification laws, Anderson added: "Dan does not support laws that hinder ballot access for legitimate voters."
Miller said in his interview with Alaska Dispatch News that "we don't have real clarity" on Sullivan's position on "amnesty."
But, Miller added, an examination of Sullivan's backers offers some insights. One example Miller gave was Karl Rove, the former strategist for President George W. Bush who co-founded an independent group that has run television ads in Alaska boosting Sullivan's candidacy — though those ads were produced without the involvement of Sullivan's campaign.
Rove last year was supportive of comprehensive immigration reform efforts that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for some immigrants who arrived in the country illegally.
"These are big amnesty backers that, you know, obviously expect a return for their investment," Miller said.
Anderson responded: "We have supporters in Alaska and all across the country ... But there's no way Dan Sullivan is going to agree with their own personal views 100 percent of the time. He has his own beliefs."
The comprehensive immigration reform effort in 2013 was one that Begich voted for in June of that year, when it passed the Senate but failed to get through the House of Representatives.
A spokesman for Begich said the senator was unavailable for an interview Wednesday. The spokesman, Max Croes, did not directly answer emailed questions for Begich about how the U.S. should address the recent surge of young immigrants, or about Begich's position on Obama's recent $3.7 billion request to Congress to help address the surge.
Croes noted, however, that the bill Begich voted for would have doubled the number of agents along the U.S.'s southern border, and instituted an Internet-based system to help businesses determine the eligibility of their employees.
Croes added in his email that Begich "strongly opposes" efforts to institute voter identification laws, which Croes said would "curtail access to the ballot box or make voting more difficult."
"Plans like voter ID don't make sense for rural Alaska, and unfairly (target) Alaska Native peoples' right to vote," Croes said.