DENVER – Supporters of a plan to provide legal status and a path to citizenship to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants got a boost this week in the form of a $300,000 television advertising blitz designed to build support for a bipartisan push to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
The ads feature excerpts from an April 20 speech given by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) in Las Vegas, Nevada, and were paid for by the American Action Network (AAN), a conservative advocacy group.
“Our current immigration system is a disaster,” Rubio says as the ad begins. “What we have now is de facto amnesty.”
“No food stamps, no welfare, no ObamaCare” Rubio continues – a reference to the provisions of a bipartisan immigration plan the Florida Republican helped author. “It’s not ideal, but it’s tough, it’s fair, and it’s enforceable.”
But some conservative critics quietly grumble that those assurances are misleading, since federal immigration rules already bar most immigrants – including legal immigrants – from receiving most public benefits.
Laws designed to keep foreigners who may become a “public charge” out of the U.S. have been in place since the Ellis Island era of immigration to America.
“Public charge has been part of U.S. immigration law for more than 100 years as a ground of inadmissibility and deportation,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. “An individual who is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible to the United States and ineligible to become a legal permanent resident.”
The AAN ad also avoids any direct mention of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants, even though such a pathway is a major element of the so-called “Gang of Eight” plan. And that’s no coincidence, say critics.
“They know that most people don’t want to see citizenship – amnesty – for illegal aliens. And that’s exactly what this is,” said former GOP Congressman Tom Tancredo. “You can put as much lipstick as you want on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”
Many Americans remain uneasy with the idea of giving U.S. citizenship to undocumented foreigners. A poll conducted last month revealed that fewer than one in five Americans – just 18 percent of respondents – said they backed U.S. citizenship for those who entered the U.S. illegally.
Supporters of immigration reform may also have a credibility problem on the issue of enforcement, which Rubio addressed during the 30-second spot with a reference to provisions of the bill calling for “billions in new border security funding [and] the toughest enforcement measures in history.”
“[T]hey have produced legislation … that will give amnesty now, legalize everyone that’s here effectively today and then there’s a promise of enforcement in the future,” a skeptical U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) said of the plan last month. “Even if you pass laws today that appear to be effective, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be enforced.”
Mark Krikorian, director of the non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies, was more blunt in a recent National Review column.
“[O]nce the amnesty is safely out of the way, does anyone think Speaker Pelosi and President Clinton II (or President Bush III) won’t seek the watering down even of these triggers in order to get people their green cards faster?” Krikorian wrote.
Recent polling suggests that many Americans share Sessions’ and Krikorian’s skepticism.
Most respondents in a May 5 – May 6 Rasmussen Reports survey said they don’t believe the government will follow through on promises of improved enforcement.
When asked how likely it is that the federal government will secure the border and prevent illegal immigration, 57 percent said it was “not very likely” or “not at all likely,” while 30 percent said it was “very likely” or “somewhat likely.”
That 30 percent represents another decline in the number of those who believe the government will secure the border or crack-down on illegal immigration, “down from 38% in March and 45% in January,” according to Rasmussen.
The AAN ad, entitled “Disaster,” is embedded below.