UPDATED: Cain Says Gov. Christie's Factual Description Of Immigration Law Makes Him "Liberal"

October 04, 2011 10:48 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), who's been flirting with a possible presidential run, will announce his 2012 intentions at a press conference this afternoon. Despite his astronomical popularity with GOP elites and the media, Christie's relatively moderate positions on various issues will make him an easy target for attacks from the right if he chooses to enter the race. Last night on Fox News, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain offered an example of the criticism Christie would face, denouncing the governor and former U.S. attorney's statement that "Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime" as a "liberal" stance.

CAIN: I think he has more liberal positions that a lot of people don't know about, yet.

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): For example?

CAIN: Well, his position on if you are here illegally, that's not — that shouldn't be a crime. Well, a lot of conservatives believe that is a crime and I've talked to some people in New Jersey who live there and they say he has a lot of liberal positions. I don't know all of them, but I think all of that will come out.

The problem is, whatever "a lot of conservatives believe," Christie merely stated a fact: "Illegal presence," as opposed to entry, is typically a civil infraction and not a criminal one. Here's how the National Immigration Forum explained the law in 2007:

There are criminal and civil violations of immigration law.  Civil violations include, for example, illegal presence and failure to depart after the expiration of a temporary visa.  Criminal violations include illegal entry, re-entry after deportation, and failure to depart after an order of removal.  To make matters more complicated, those in this last category are committing a criminal offense only if the government can show that they "willfully" failed to depart; but most removal orders are entered in absentia.  If failure to depart is not "willful" (if, for example, the person was not aware that there was a removal order entered against them), the offense is a civil violation.

At the time, Christie defended his comments by saying, "I can only enforce the laws that they give me." According to Cain and many on the right, however, U.S. attorneys should ignore the laws conservatives don't like, and it's "liberal" to give an accurate description of reality.  

UPDATE: According to multiple reports, Christie is expected to announce that he will not run