The Corner

The Gillibrand Rebranding

That was quick. It took less than a week for rookie New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to jettison her support for immigration law enforcement under pressure from Hispanic politicians. Apparently the rule of law means one thing in upstate New York, which Gillibrand represented in Congress, and another thing in New York City, where she has been hearing from the illegal alien lobby. Last week, that lobby mounted a public relations war declaring that the new Senate appointee would face a very short Senate sojourn if she continued to oppose amnesty for illegal aliens and to back a raft of measures acknowledging the difference between legal and illegal immigration. 

Gillibrand has emerged from that ordeal a new woman. According to the New York Times, she is now OK with so-called sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that declare themselves immigration-law free zones and prohibit their employees from reporting immigration violations or cooperating with federal law enforcement authorities. As a Congresswoman, she had voted to penalize such cities, New York being one of them. Perhaps before casting her previous vote, she had heard about the grilling New York City officials got in Congress in 2002 after a gang of five Mexicans–four of them illegal–abducted and brutally raped a 42-year-old mother of two near some railroad tracks in Queens. The NYPD had already arrested three of the illegal aliens numerous times for such crimes as assault, attempted robbery, criminal trespass, illegal gun possession, and drug offenses, but had never notified the INS about their presence in the U.S.

The new Gillibrand is also pledging to help repeal a federal bill that discourages states from allowing illegal aliens to pay low in-state tuition fees.  

This is just the start of her transformation. The Latino officials who met with her last week in the offices of El Diario are far from happy; they have a list of other measures from the pre-Enlightenment Gillibrand– such as allowing employers to require English in the workplace and allowing properly trained police officers to enforce immigration laws–that will have to go if she wants to avoid a bruising battle to hold on to her Senate seat in 2010. 

The Gillibrand rebranding speaks to how well Hispanic politicians and advocates have learned the political ropes. If the public at large, which continues to believe that illegal immigration is against the law, fails to exert comparable pressure on its representatives, it can hardly complain if those representatives listen to the best organized lobbies. But the Gillibrand story provides a window into the future of immigration policy in this country, and possibly of the rule of law. 

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor at City Journal and the co-author of The Immigration Solution.

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