In a remarkable turnabout reminiscent of the famous John Kerry flip flop, ""I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) effected a dramatic reversal last week in his position on illegal immigration.
Not more than a month earlier, Graham, or "Grahamnesty" as he was labeled, had been a strident supporter of the most extensive amnesty program in U.S. history, one cloaked in the deceptive rhetoric of humanitarianism and comprehensive immigration reform. The hypocrisy and betrayal were clearly evident a large majority of the American public.
Has Graham committed political suicide? The fallout from Graham's turnabout will provide months of edifying politics. Chronicling and reviewing Graham's reversal of his pro-amnesty position is instructive, providing an example to elected officials of the consequences they face if they pursue their own agendas despite vocal opposition by their constituents, and lose sight of their role as public servants.
The Rise of Sen. Grahamnesty
Graham, in concert with senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA), crafted and promoted S.1639, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007. What was purported to be a comprehensive solution to the problems presented by runaway illegal immigration in the United States turned out to be a massive amnesty program. It would have rewarded criminal behavior with billions of dollars in entitlements for health care, social security, legal assistance and other benefits. At a time when Americans are concerned about national security and have demanded that government secure our borders, this bill offered nothing to solve the border security problem. To add insult to injury, in 2006 Graham voted for an amendment that would essentially ensure that the border fence with Mexico would never be built. The amendment stipulated that the Mexican government must be consulted prior to construction of any border structures and fences.
S.1639, the McCain-Kennedy bill championed by Graham, would have granted immediate amnesty to anywhere from 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens, making them permanent legal residents of the United States. It would have authorized the importing of additional "temporary" foreigners as guest workers with full legal status and renewable work permits. Under the provisions of S.1639, undocumented immigrants would have been eligible for social security benefits, even if they identified themselves with stolen or forged documents. In addition to free public education, health and hospital care, food stamps, welfare and in-state college tuition rates currently provided to existing illegal aliens, the bill would also have given them free legal assistance at American taxpayers' expense. Also, S.1639 would have increased the number of eligible family members that illegal immigrants could bring to the United States. Clearly, under S. 1639, the benefits conferred upon those who violated U.S. immigration laws were bountiful rewards, not disincentives, for crossing the border illegally.
As Graham embarked on a mission to vigorously support passage of S.1639, his mostly conservative constituency began to complain about his attempt to hoodwink them with an amnesty plan for those who entered the country illegally. According to some reports, the volume of dissenting calls to his office necessitated additional phone capacity. Angry constituents complained that as calls increased, staff members eventually declined to answer calls altogether. Publicly, Graham asserted that the majority of his constituents supported what he was doing and dismissed the complaints as coming from "loud folks." Graham believed that most voters accepted the flawed logic of granting amnesty now for breaking the same law that would henceforth be vigorously enforced. Allowing amnesty in order to slow the future flow of immigrants didn't make sense, but Graham paid no heed.
To make matters worse, in May, Graham addressed the National Council of La Raza ("The Race") to apprise them of his efforts to legislate amnesty for illegal aliens. As part of his speech to the largest Hispanic advocacy organization in the United States, Graham declared that to those opposing amnesty he would "tell the bigots to shut up." In this offensive statement to La Raza, Graham blatantly disparaged as insensitive racists the vast majority of law-abiding American citizens who favored upholding existing immigration laws.
Ironically, La Raza is a Hispanic rights organization that lobbies for racial preferences, bilingual education, open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens. La Raza received $15.2 million in federal grants in 2005 and actively funds the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, or MEChA, one of the most anti-American groups in the country. MEChA rejects the notion of assimilating to American culture and advocates the "Reconquista" or repatriation of the "stolen" American southwest, including Colorado, California, Arizona, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Oregon and parts of Washington State to Chicanos. In April, thousands of Mexican expatriates, many here illegally, and some affiliated with La Raza, MEChA and other Hispanic rights groups, joined others in a massive protest of U.S. immigration laws, whose very existence they find offensive and a violation of their rights to be in an America that they feel rightfully belongs to them.
The fallout experienced by Graham following his wholehearted endorsement of amnesty for illegal aliens and his conspicuous pandering to La Raza was extensive. According to an Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion poll, 63% of his constituents disapproved of his support for S.1639. His approval rating plummeted to 31% and campaign contributions critical for the senator's re-election in 2008 ground to a halt. The blogosphere responded with a proliferation of "Dump Lindsey Graham" websites, with one displaying a Lindsey Graham countdown clock. In response, a Graham spokesman commented with flagrant disdain that "Lindsey Graham has never governed by the polls - real or bogus - and is not about to start now." The spokesman added that well-informed South Carolinians, who constituent the majority of state residents, support the provisions of the "immigration reform proposal." It was evident to many South Carolinians that their senator was placing the interests of Hispanic supremacist, illegal alien support groups above that of lawful American citizens and that he refused to respectfully engage his constituency in a reasonable debate on the problems of illegal immigration and border security.
Apparently the backlash and political implications for Graham were significant enough for him to reconsider his position and co-author with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK) an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill. Last Friday, the Senate passed the $3 billion in emergency spending for immigration and border enforcement. The Graham-Pryor amendment stipulates that the U.S. government must achieve full operational control over the U.S.-Mexico border. It requires an increase in the number of border patrol agents for a total of 23,000, allocates funding for 45,000 detention beds to end "catch and release" procedures that set illegal aliens free for lack of detention space, and calls for the acquisition of four unmanned aerial vehicles and 105 ground-based radar and camera towers. Further, the amendment provides for the expedited removal of illegal aliens. It also addresses visa overstays by requiring detention under Department of Homeland Security provisions and allows local law enforcement to obtain immigration status information in sanctuary cities, municipalities that have adopted a non-cooperative stance with federal immigration enforcement laws. In a complete volte-face, Graham said that he likened the passing of his amendment to "having been robbed 12 million times and finally getting around to putting a lock on the door." He is now advocating better electronic employee verification systems, merit-based entry requirements and assimilation programs that include learning English.
In the face of overwhelming public disapproval - that may yet result in his forfeiting re-election - a humbled Graham reversed his La Raza-consonant position on amnesty and cowered to voters' demands. He recognized that his support for securing national borders and enforcing immigration laws were important prerequisites for recapturing lost political capital. As Dan Stein, president of the Federation of Immigration Reform (FAIR) so aptly stated,
"The American public has made it absolutely clear that they want the government to secure the border and enforce our immigration laws - and that none of these efforts should be conditioned on rewarding people who have broken our laws."
It is evident that the American people want to see a reduction of the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border and the enforcement of existing laws to secure the border. Wise politicians can take a lesson from Graham's experience. Politicians who want to remain in Congress should heed the will of the people and enact legislation worthy of true public servants.