A Kinder, Gentler Lou Dobbs?

Ever since he was bounced from his high-profile gig at CNN nearly nine months ago, we have seen a kinder, gentler Lou Dobbs than the commentator who became synonymous with vilifying undocumented immigrants.

The latest from Dobbs came this week, when he told Megyn Kelly at Fox News and George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he disagreed with the growing number of Republican senators calling for amending or repealing the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to babies born in America. Critics complain that illegal immigrants take advantage of the amendment to come to the United States to have “anchor babies” who are eligible for welfare benefits and who are used to eventually get citizenship for their parents. (The key words in the amendment are these: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” Congress adopted the 14th Amendment after the Civil War, in part, to guarantee the citizenship of freed slaves and their descendants.)

“The idea that anchor babies somehow require changing the 14th Amendment, I part ways with the senators on that because I believe the 14th Amendment, particularly in its due process and equal protection clauses, is so important,” Dobbs said on Fox. “It lays the foundation for the entire Bill of Rights being applied to the states.” On ABC, Dobbs said, “It is not in the interest of the American people, in my judgment at least, to roll back the laws … because the result may be inconvenient to some and their political views.”

This is the same Dobbs who often made spurious claims about undocumented immigrants on his CNN program — that there was a surge of leprosy cases likely due to immigrants, that immigrants filled one-third of American prison cells, and so on. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center and others called for Dobbs’ firing after the CNN host suggested that the president had not proved he was born in the United States. In November, Dobbs left the network at a reported cost to CNN of $8 million to buy out his contract.

Only nine days after that, Dobbs began to sound more conciliatory in his remarks about undocumented immigrants. In an interview he did with the American Spanish-language television network Telemundo, Dobbs said, “We need the ability to legalize illegal immigrants under certain conditions.” He added, “What isn’t working is a penalty to those who are in this country illegally for whom we can both be building a bridge to the future in which there is legalization and at the same time constructing an environment in which everyone is clear and unequivocal about the need for border security and a regulated flow of immigration.”

Those comments enraged one of Dobbs’ most ardent fans, William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC — ALIPAC. He had collected pledges of more than $672,000 from people like himself who hoped Dobbs would run for president in 2012. Saying he was “dismayed, angry, sad” and more, Gheen withdrew ALIPAC’s support for a Dobbs presidency.

Dobbs’ rhetoric has continued to be less inflammatory since then. He has advocated a “rational, humane immigration system” several times on his radio show. He told a caller on April 1: “I’m pro-immigrant. I am for higher levels of immigration, not lower, as long as there’s a public policy reason for it. I’m anti-illegal immigration, but I’m also for rational, effective humane immigration policies.”

The more strident anti-illegal immigrant activists who were once Dobbs’ fans aren’t pleased with comments like those, or his remarks this week regarding the 14th Amendment. “Lou, you are full of something we all find foul!” one wrote on ALIPAC’s website yesterday. “Take a stand and don’t appologize [sic] like so many whimpy [sic] republicans or I assure your children and grand children they will have nothing left to hope for in a few short years.”

Evelyn Schlatter contributed to this post.