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Rick Santorum
stated on October 31, 2015 in a speech at the Republican Party of Iowa's Growth and Opportunity Party in Des Moines:
"I am the only person in this field who is against amnesty. Every other person in this field wants to allow people who are here illegally to be able to stay here, in one form or another."
true false
Rick Santorum spoke on opening night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Rick Santorum spoke on opening night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Rick Santorum spoke on opening night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Jason Noble
By Jason Noble November 8, 2015

Rick Santorum claims he's the only candidate who doesn't support amnesty

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum cast himself as the only candidate in the 15-person Republican field who opposes legal status for undocumented immigrants.

"I am the only person in this field who is against amnesty," Santorum said during remarks at the Republican Party of Iowa’s Growth and Opportunity Party event on Oct. 31. "Every other person in this field wants to allow people who are here illegally to be able to stay here in one form or another."

Of the 15 candidates in a GOP race that has focused heavily on immigration, is Santorum really the only one who’s "against" amnesty?

As previous fact checks on similar statements have noted, "amnesty" is a tough word to define, and can mean different things to different people. Santorum offers a pretty succinct definition in his statement, though, by noting that other candidates would "allow people who are here illegally to be able to stay here, in one form or another."

In a follow-up email, a campaign staffer said Santorum defines amnesty as "providing legal status to illegal immigrants."

Fellow presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has made similar statements, which we’ve previously found to be Mostly True. Santorum’s statement differs in important ways, however. In August and again in September, Cruz said "a majority" of GOP candidates have supported amnesty — wording that acknowledges some candidates’ views may have shifted over time.

Santorum, by contrast, asserts that every other candidate currently supports an immigration policy that could be defined as amnesty. That’s a much higher standard — and a harder one to support.

Let’s review each candidate individually, starting with those who have clearly indicated support for citizenship or legal status that meets Santorum’s definition of amnesty:

Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor has made clear that he supports immigration reform that would provide legal status to the millions of undocumented people currently living in the U.S.

Marco Rubio: The Florida senator was a member of the so-called Gang of Eight who pursued comprehensive immigration reform that included a path to citizenship. He has since taken more hardline views on immigration but still supports legal status for undocumented people currently living in the U.S.

Lindsey Graham: The senator from South Carolina was also a member of the "Gang of Eight" who led efforts to pass immigration reform in 2013, and supports a pathway to citizenship.

Carly Fiorina: The former Hewlett-Packard CEO said in June that she was open to legal status for the undocumented.

John Kasich: The Ohio governor has said he "doesn’t like the idea of citizenship" but believes it may be necessary.

George Pataki: The former New York governor supports legal-resident status for undocumented immigrants who have no criminal history and agree to 200 hours of community service.

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Jim Gilmore: The former Virginia governor supports legal status allowing undocumented immigrants to work in the United States, but opposes a pathway to citizenship.

Other candidates supported citizenship or legal status in the past, but have tempered or reversed their views since entering the presidential race:

Rand Paul: In 2013, the Kentucky senator told undocumented immigrants in a speech that "We will find a place for you" and implied (according to the New York Times) that he supported a pathway to citizenship. In more recent presidential campaign materials, though, Paul states that he "opposes amnesty" and believes the U.S.-Mexico border must be "secured" before "issuing any visas or starting the legal immigration process."

Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor has indicated support for a pathway to citizenship in the past, but used much tougher rhetoric this year, stating that he opposes "amnesty" and is unwilling discuss legal status until the border is secure.

Chris Christie: In 2010, the New Jersey governor plainly said he supported a path to citizenship. Last May, however, he said he opposed a pathway to legal status.

Donald Trump: Trump’s views on immigration have evolved over time, but his position now is among the toughest in the GOP field. He reportedly was supportive of the DREAM Act in a 2013 meeting with immigration activists and said just last July that he could support a "merit-based" system for allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. Since then, though, he’s advocated for deporting all of the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the country.

Finally, in direct contradiction to Santorum’s claim, some candidates have simply never supported amnesty as his campaign defines it.

Ben Carson: In a 2014 op-ed in National Review, the retired neurosurgeon proposed a guest-worker program for immigrants, but said all participants would have to apply from outside the United States — meaning undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. would have to leave and apply to re-enter.

Bobby Jindal: Despite an op-ed endorsing legal status in 2013, the Louisiana governor has repeatedly refused to take a position on the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S since becoming a presidential candidate. He argues that the border must be secured before devising a policy to address those already living here.

Ted Cruz. He has repeatedly stated that he’s the only candidate in the race who has never supported amnesty – statements that have been found to be Mostly True. Cruz voted against the 2013 Senate immigration bill and opposed a 2014 House proposal to grant more limited legal status to undocumented immigrants.

Correspondence with Santorum’s campaign team makes clear his statement was aimed at drawing a contrast with Cruz, who’s lately been gaining momentum in the GOP race. A Santorum aide pointed to a series of amendments Cruz offered to the 2013 reform bill, which laid out additional conditions for granting legal status to those who are undocumented. Among other measures, those amendments removed the bill’s pathway to citizenship and made it more challenging for undocumented residents to receive legal status. Santorum’s campaign says those amendments amount to support for amnesty, but they could just as easily be read as efforts to weaken the bill and undermine the amnesty measures it contained.

Our ruling

Santorum said, "I am the only person in this field who is against amnesty. Every other person in this field wants to allow people who are here illegally to be able to stay here, in one form or another."

While it’s true that seven of 15 GOP candidates currently support policies that meet Santorum’s definition of "amnesty," four candidates who once supported such policies no longer do, and two more have consistent records of opposition. The last, Jindal, hasn’t outlined his position.

We rate Santorum’s claim False. 

Our Sources

Wall Street Journal, "Jeb Bush Says He Has a ‘Grown-Up’ Immigration Plan," March 13, 2015

Politico, "Rubio veers right in latest immigration twist," Oct. 20, 2015

The Hill, "Graham to GOP: Don't be 'delusional' about immigration reform," June 15, 2014

The Washington Times, "Carly Fiorina is open to legal status for adult illegal immigrants, citizenship for their kids," June 15, 2015

Politico Magazine, "The Real GOP Split on Immigration," Jan. 14, 2015

CNN, "Pataki challenges Trump to debate on immigration, as Trump slams critics," July 8, 2015

Jim Gilmore campaign website, "Immigration and Border Enforcement"

The New York Times, "G.O.P. Opposition to Immigration Law Is Falling Away," March 19, 2013

Rand Paul campaign website, "Rand Paul Opposes Amnesty and Believes We Must Secure The Border While Encouraging Legal Immigration"

Washington Post, "Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) Interview With The Fix's Chris Cillizza and The Post's Dan Balz," May 23, 2006

BuzzFeed, "Huckabee Openly Backs A Path To Citizenship – When He’s Not Running For President," July 28, 2015

Chris Christie gubernatorial website, "In Case You Missed It: Video & Transcript of Governor Christie’s Interview with Jake Tapper on ABC’s ‘This Week’," July 26, 2010.

Fox News Latino, "Chris Christie says he opposes path to citizenship, questions Rubio's readiness," May 19, 2015

BuzzFeed, "That Time Donald Trump Had A Meeting With DREAMers And Said "You Convinced Me" On Immigration," Aug. 26, 2015

CNN, "What is Trump's actual position on illegal immigration?," July 25, 2015

The Guardian, "Donald Trump wants to deport 11 million migrants: is that even possible?," Aug. 27, 2015

National Review, "Remove the Illegal-Immigration Carrots," June 18, 2014

CNN, "Jindal won't say how he'll handle 11 million undocumented immigrants," July 30, 2015

The Hill, "Cruz: GOP immigration plan is 'amnesty'," Jan. 30, 2014

Ted Cruz Senate website, "Sen. Cruz Files Additional Amendments to Immigration Legislation," June 19, 2013 

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Rick Santorum claims he's the only candidate who doesn't support amnesty

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