What are the chances that New York’s new senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, will maintain her support for immigration enforcement after being rushed by a massive line of illegal-alien advocates and other members of the liberal elite? Gillibrand is said to harbor ambitions for much higher office. If she holds onto her immigration principles despite the intended sacking, she will have distinguished herself early on as a unique politician worthy of further attention.
Gillibrand seems to have backed just about every measure to strengthen the immigration rule of law during her single term in Congress representing an Albany-area district. She opposed amnesty and driver’s licenses for illegal aliens; she supported using local police to enforce immigration laws. She co-sponsored the SAVE Act, which would have required employers to verify the legal status of their employees, expedited deportation of illegals, and boosted border technology. She wanted to protect employers who require their workers to speak English from being sued as civil rights violators.
Needless to say, these positions are anathema to the open-borders lobby, so earlier this week, the New York Times published what was virtually a set of serial press releases from that lobby denouncing her. “Borders on xenophobia,” “extremist,” a “slap to immigrant New Yorkers,” and a “disappointing choice” were among the predictable jabs from New York City politicians, Spanish-language newspapers, and advocates. Particularly amusing was the charge from the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition that Gillibrand’s “past positions are pretty much out of line with the rest of New York State.” Tell that to Eliot Spitzer, whose plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, which Gillibrand opposed, went up in flames just a little bit before he did himself. The New York Times, however, buttresses the conceit that Gillibrand represents just a small and irrelevant portion of New Yorkers, noting that she comes from an “overwhelmingly white district along New York’s eastern fringe,” as if only white New Yorkers support the rule of law.
The advocates know just what is needed: reeducation. “I think she needs to be educated, frankly,” says the past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who is optimistic that she will “modify” her immigration positions now that she is in the Senate.
“Frankly,” her views are even more valid today than they were two years ago, when she entered Congress. Amnesty will achieve just what it has achieved every other time it has been tried: encourage more migrants to cross the border and wait for their illegal status to be erased, thus putting further downward pressure on the labor market. The administrative costs of regularizing millions of illegals would be enormous, as they were during the 1986 amnesty, and even more burdensome at a time when government should be eliminating unnecessary expenses. Since society’s bonds face greater strain during an economic crisis, it is all the more important to buttress respect for the law. The perception that government is unable to enforce the law and maintain order has far-reaching consequences for how people conduct themselves in the public and economic realms. And low-skilled, low-educated Hispanics, who make up the vast majority of illegal aliens, consume a large share of services for the needy, including government health care and remedial education.
As a political appointee, Gillibrand will undoubtedly feel beholden to her patrons. But if she wants to be returned to the Senate in 2010, New York’s powerful patronage machine will not be enough; she will actually have to appeal to voters. Standing firm on the rule of law would give her enormous credibility, not just as she tries to hold onto her Senate seat but thereafter as well. A New York City councilman is holding a rally at City Hall today to demand that Gillibrand change her immigration positions. The public should let her know that she is not, in fact, “out of line with the rest of New York State,” despite what she will be hearing from the illegal-alien lobby.
— Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor at City Journal and the co-author of The Immigration Solution.