South Carolina governor urges tolerance for immigrants in State of Union response

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 12, 2016 8:31 PM

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, giving the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, took a softer tone on immigration than the harsh rhetoric often heard from her party's presidential candidates.

The 43-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants noted in a speech delivered from Columbia, the South Carolina state capital, that "immigrants have been coming to our shores for generations to live the dream that is America."

She added: "During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country."

Immigration has been a dominant theme in the Republican presidential campaign for the Nov. 8 election to replace Obama.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has aroused controversy with his fiery comments on immigration. He has said that if elected, he would build a wall on the southwestern border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants and force Mexico to pay for it.

The billionaire businessman has said he will deport the country's 11 million illegal immigrants and began his campaign last June by saying Mexico was sending its criminals and rapists to the United States.

Haley, whose televised remarks came after Obama delivered his final State of the Union speech to Congress, [nL2N14W0O8]

attacked the Democratic president's fiscal policy and landmark healthcare law, known as Obamacare. She promised that if a Republican wins the November election, working families' taxes will be cut and "runaway" U.S. spending will be constrained.

'TERRORIST THREAT'

On foreign policy, Haley said the United States faced "the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it."

Lethal attacks by militants last year, including in Paris and San Bernardino, California, have made national security a major campaign issue. Some of Haley's fellow Republicans have urged a pause in Obama's program to bring refugees from Syria and Iraq to the United States, citing a possible militant threat.

Trump reacted to the California shootings by saying Muslims should be temporarily banned from entering the United States, which drew a swift condemnation from Democrats and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

Another leading Republican contender, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, has said Christians, but not Muslims, should qualify for refugee status.

Haley, born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, has been touted as a possible vice presidential candidate in the November election to replace Obama, who is completing his second term in office.

She won praise last year for leading an effort to remove the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds following the massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston.

The flag, carried by Confederate troops on the losing side in the 1861-1865 Civil War, is seen as a symbol of racism and slavery by many. But others proudly hail it as an emblem of Southern heritage.

In some of her most eloquent remarks, Haley recalled the Charleston shootings and subsequent reaction.

"Our state was struck with shock, pain and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win. We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs."

In a criticism of the growing divisiveness and acrimony in U.S. politics, Haley advised: “Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true ... when the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference."

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)