Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has largely had the Republican field for governor to himself, but the camp of one potential primary challenger has portrayed Putnam as soft on immigration and undocumented immigrants.
Tony Fabrizio, a pollster hired by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran who may challenge Putnam in the 2018 primary, cast Putnam as not being conservative enough.
"He was for amnesty," Fabrizio told Politico July 10, while criticizing Putnam’s positions on a long list of issues.
That a-word can be a powerful weapon in a Republican primary. But we found that Putnam’s record on immigration can’t be boiled down to a soundbite.
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As a member of Congress from 2001-10, Putnam represented a Central Florida district that included agribusiness interests that wanted immigrant labor. Putnam supported legislation that would have benefitted undocumented farm workers, and he supported changing immigration laws which included a path to citizenship.
But he also took some stances that didn’t benefit undocumented immigrants, such as opposing the DREAM Act and increasing enforcement.
Defining amnesty is tricky
The challenge in fact-checking attacks about "amnesty" is that it is a vague term and people with opposing views about immigration may define it differently.
Some view amnesty as blanket permission for undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States, while others view amnesty as any measure that is favorable to any undocumented immigrants, even if it includes a list of tough measures they have to meet. (Dictionary definitions generally view amnesty as a pardon.)
However, there is one key piece of legislation that was undoubtedly amnesty, and it was signed by Republican President Ronald Reagan.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 said that illegal immigrants could become legal permanent residents if they could prove they were in this country by Jan. 1, 1982, and met a few other minimal requirements. The law was widely described as an amnesty program.
By contrast, the legislation written by eight senators (including Marco Rubio) in 2013 had several hurdles before undocumented immigrants could get legal status and on a path to citizenship. When Rubio said that the bill wasn’t amnesty, we rated his statement Half True.
Putnam supported some bills that would benefit undocumented immigrants
Fabrizio pointed to stances Putnam took in favor of expanding visas for workers and in favor of changing immigration laws. Here are some examples:
Work visas: In 2003, three Arizona Republicans in the House and Senate introduced the Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act, which would have given migrants temporary work visas for three-year terms and then allow them to seek lawful permanent resident status. Those who were already here illegally would get a separate visa and have to wait six years to apply for legal status and pay a $1,500 fine.
Critics derided the legislation as amnesty, but sponsors said it wasn’t amnesty because illegal crossers would have to get in the back of the line. Putnam was one of 12 cosponsors of the house. The legislation never reached a vote.
AgJobs: Putnam co-sponsored AgJobs bills in 2007 and 2009 that would have provided a "blue card" to undocumented farm workers already in the United States. After paying a fine, they could eventually apply for a green card to get permanent legal status if they continued to work in agriculture. The legislation was also intended to overhaul rules on farm worker visas. These measures died without reaching a vote.
In 2009, Putnam defended the legislation as an "effort to have a stable, legal workforce for agriculture, so this country won't be as dependent on others for food as it is for fuel."
Path to legal status: During his tenure in Congress and after he left, Putnam made statements in favor of legislation that included a path to legal status and eventual opportunity for citizenship.
In June 2013 while he was Florida’s agriculture commissioner, Putnam told reporters that he supported the "Gang of Eight" bill which he saw as a benefit to multiple industries including agriculture.
"It makes improvements at the border and employee verification, while also creating a more modern visa program so that jobs in our economy can be filled when there is a shortfall of domestic labor," he told the Lakeland Ledger. "That has been particularly acute in agriculture."
Arizona-style law: In 2011, while agriculture commissioner, Putnam was against a proposal in Florida to adopt an Arizona-style law to give police the ability to request immigration documents. He called for a national solution to immigration laws instead and said Florida couldn’t cut and paste legislation from Arizona, a border state.
Putnam also supported some measures that wouldn’t benefit immigrants
Putnam’s campaign spokeswoman Amanda Bevis pointed to stances Putnam took that showed he was against sanctuary policies created by cities or states that won’t share immigration information with federal officials and votes in favor of securing the border.
Border security: Putnam took several votes in favor of border security measures and funding enforcement. For example, he was one of multiple cosponsors of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and voted for the legislation. The law signed by President George W. Bush authorized about 700 miles of fencing between the border of the United States and Mexico.
Against other benefits: In 2008, Putnam voted that undocumented immigrants should be ineligible for federal housing assistance.
After meeting with President Barack Obama and lawmakers at the White House in 2009, Putnam said in a statement that he was in favor of securing borders and making reforms to help draw workers to the country.
But he stressed that one option is off the table:
"Immigration is a complex issue, so there are any number of reforms possible, but granting amnesty to people who are here illegally must not be one of them."
On his campaign website video about immigration, Putnam makes no mention of a path to citizenship and speaks of supporting President Donald Trump’s policies.
"As governor we will work with President Trump to cut funding for sanctuary cities, we will support tighter border security and vetting for refugees from Muslim countries," he said.
Fabrizio said that Putnam "was for amnesty."
While in Congress, Putnam supported legislation that would have expanded work visa categories for undocumented immigrants and put them on a path to legal permanent status. After leaving Congress, he supported the 2013 immigration legislation, which wasn’t blanket legal residency but did include a path, albeit a long one, to legal status.
Putnam’s campaign points to examples of legislation he supported that weren’t favorable to undocumented immigrants such as toughening up border security and opposing the Dream Act.
The claim is partially accurate, but lacks important context. We rate this claim Half True.
The statement: Says Adam Putnam "was for amnesty."
The ruling: While in Congress, Putnam supported legislation that would have expanded work visa categories for undocumented immigrants and put them on a path to legal permanent status. After leaving Congress, he supported the 2013 immigration legislation, which wasn’t blanket legal residency but did include a path, albeit a long one, to legal status. Putnam’s campaign points to examples of legislation he supported that weren’t favorable to undocumented immigrants such as toughening up border security and opposing the Dream Act. The claim is partially accurate, but lacks important context.
We rate this claim: Half True.
Politifact Florida is a partnership between The Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald to check out truth in politics.