Donald Trump has accused Nikki Haley of siding with Democrats on the border. In South Carolina, friends and foes alike do not recognize that portrait of the former governor.
Former President Donald J. Trump and his allies have spent weeks painting Nikki Haley as a bleeding heart on immigration as he seeks to dispatch her as his last remaining rival for the 2024 Republican nomination.
In Mr. Trump’s telling, Ms. Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and the daughter of Indian immigrants, is a “globalist” who flip-flopped on her support for Mr. Trump’s hard-line policies before she served as his ambassador to the United Nations. Ahead of a showdown between the two candidates in South Carolina’s primary on Feb. 24, his surrogates have accused her of being a secret liberal who supports open borders and won’t do enough to curb the flows of migrants and refugees into the nation.
But it’s a portrait nearly unrecognizable to many who knew her as governor: the Republican state lawmakers who counted on her support for immigration restrictions; the longtime immigrant rights activists in South Carolina who fought her on legislation; the conservative religious leaders who were disappointed with her opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in the state. Mr. Trump’s attacks are complicated by her record as a staunch conservative on the issue, they said, even as she maintained support for legal immigration when her party shifted its focus toward more extreme immigration cuts.
Larry Grooms, a South Carolina state senator who in 2011 helped lead the passage of the immigration restrictions Ms. Haley now promotes on the trail, said it has been disheartening to hear Republican colleagues who were in the trenches with him on that law now take part in Mr. Trump’s attacks against her on the issue.
“It was one of the toughest battles that I ever fought in the Legislature, and if it wasn’t for Nikki Haley rolling up her sleeves and pushing the ball, it would have not passed,” he said, calling distortions of her record wrong and “unfair.” He has endorsed Ms. Haley.
From the time she entered politics in 2004, Ms. Haley has held views on immigration that have remained largely consistent, according to a review of her past statements, legislative record and interviews with both supporters and detractors. She has long been in favor of improving legal pathways to the United States, while aggressively curbing illegal ones. And she often frames her beliefs in her own origins.
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