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Refuting Jon Tester’s Anti-Immigrant Positions

Sen. Jon Tester supports anti-immigrant policies and impedes immigration reform.

Jon Tester (D-MT) is facing a tough run for re-election to the U.S. Senate, but he just keeps giving progressives more reasons not to vote for him. His track record on immigration issues has been abysmal, as I’ve written about before. Make no mistake about it — Tester is probably the worst Democrat in the Senate on the issue of immigration, and he is one of the most vocal. The way he talks about the issue, you would think Montana wasn’t one of the states with the least number of immigrants in the whole country.

Despite outrage over his despicable vote against the DREAM Act, Tester hasn’t decided to leave immigration policy to states that actually have a dog in the fight. You won’t see him bragging about his DREAM Act vote, mind you — after all, Daily Kos famously called him an “asshole” for that reprehensible vote, and he doesn’t want to rekindle the ire of the netroots crowd. However, he has continued to make his anti-immigrant positions a core part of his campaign, jumping at every opportunity to link immigration to national security concerns. For instance, when a college in California was found to be enrolling foreign students without proper accreditation, Tester quickly issued a press release noting that “several of the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001, had entered the country using student visas.”

Recently, Jon Tester put up two web pages on the issue of immigration that are so ignorant you would think Tester locked anti-immigrant zealots Mark Krikorian and John Tanton in a room with a bottle of whiskey and posted whatever they came up with.

In fact, these two immigration pages are so wrong-headed that they require some analysis and interpretation to fully make sense of them. One web page outlines his unsophisticated view of the immigration issue in four paragraphs. His other page lists his immigration “accomplishments.” (By accomplishments, Tester seems to mean ways he has screwed immigrants and wasted federal money.) I’ll review both of the pages together.

Jon’s position on immigration is simple: people who wish to immigrate to the United States must follow the rules, and we must enforce them. That’s why Jon opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants.

During his first year as Senator, Jon helped put a stop to a bill that would have granted amnesty to illegal immigrants living in the United States.

Jon voted in 2007 to defeat the Immigration Reform Bill, telling his colleagues, “We don’t need hundreds of pages of expensive new laws when we can’t even enforce the ones we’ve already got on the books.”

Where do we start? Polls have consistently shown that the people think our immigration system is broken and want some form of immigration reform. The last time our immigration laws were substantively changed was in 1996, and almost everyone agrees that those changes were ineffective — in fact, they created more problems than they solved. People are frustrated by the federal government’s failure to act, and don’t believe that “enforcement only” solutions are going to work. As a result of the federal government’s inertia, states like Arizona, Utah, and Georgia have begun to enact their own immigration policies, which raise significant constitutional concerns including due process violations and racial profiling. While I strongly oppose state level enforcement of immigration laws, and I believe that these state laws are misguided, it is difficult to fault the states for at least trying to take action when the federal government will not.

Yet, Jon Tester considers it an “accomplishment” that he has ignored the will of the public and done absolutely nothing to fix our immigration system. In fact, he is proud that he helped derail immigration reform in 2007, and has continued to sabotage efforts to reform our immigration laws. It’s nice that he sets the bar so low for himself, but the rest of the country is expecting a little more.

Tester refuses to acknowledge that our system needs to be fixed, stating “we don’t need hundreds of pages of expensive new laws when we can’t even enforce the ones we’ve already got on the books.” The problem, of course, is that our system is broken and we need to reform our laws in order to more effectively enforce them. Current immigration reform proposals aim to increase enforcement on the border and interior of the country, but recognize that in order to curb undocumented immigration we also need to fix some of our laws that are creating the problems in the first place. For instance, our laws include huge gaps in coverage, where many family members have no reasonable opportunity to immigrate legally to the United States. Among other things, reform proposals would open new paths to family-based immigration that were causing needless undocumented immigration.

Tester remains willfully obtuse in his opposition to so-called “amnesty” for immigrants who lack lawful status. “Amnesty” means a general pardon for an offense against the state, but Tester uses the term “amnesty” to refer to any changes in the law that would create a path to legalization — even if the path is strenuous and imposes a strict set of requirements. He even used the term amnesty to refer to the DREAM Act, which would have created a seven (or more) year path towards citizenship for men and women who serve our country in the military or go to college. There is no “amnesty” on the table, and there hasn’t been for years. Instead, what is being proposed is a way for immigrants who are already here to earn their way back into lawful status by paying fines, back taxes (if they haven’t already been paying like most immigrants), and potentially even community service. After all, even Newt Gingrich understands that it is not realistic to deport all of the 11 million people who are here without status.

Finally, comprehensive immigration reform won’t be expensive, as Tester states, but will actually increase wages for all workers and improve our economy. Time and again, it has been proven that spending money on border security alone, without any other changes to our laws, is untenable and ineffective. Nevertheless, Tester has chosen to advocate these “enforcement only” solutions.

Instead [of immigration reform], Jon has focused his energy on boosting security along America’s borders, particularly our northern border with Canada. From his seat on the influential Appropriations Committee, Jon has secured investments to combat the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, as well as critical investments upgrading Ports of Entry along the Canadian border.

That same year, Jon introduced and passed into law a measure requiring the Homeland Security Department to report on weaknesses along the northern border and develop a plan for improving northern border security.

So let me get this straight: Instead of working for immigration reform to help the entire country, Tester is pushing for huge government expenditures to protect us from Canada? It is foolish to tout Canadian border security as an alternative to comprehensive immigration reform, because it is clear that the risks from an unmonitored northern border have almost nothing to do with the larger immigration problems our country is facing.

Jon Tester, apparently patrolling the northern border for Canadian intruders.

While the GAO issued a report stating that Department of Homeland Security needs to work better with other agencies and partners along the northern border, the GAO didn’t endorse Tester’s crusade to spare no expense to “secure” the border. Indeed, the GAO previously pushed back on claims about insecurity on the northern border.

Nevertheless, Tester is so eager to appear strong on immigration enforcement that he managed to get an appropriation for military grade radars on the Canadian border. He also wants to expand the use of unmanned drones (and they are already being used in some areas). Those radars and drones would have come in handy last year, when I helped a Canadian kid who got lost and accidentally drove his ATV across the border.

As George Ochenski put it: “For most Montanans, the border with Canada has never been and likely will never be seen as a threat. After all, the U.S. and Canada share the longest border on the continent, and it has been our ally in world wars as well as regional conflicts. It’s also our largest trading partner and our closest, largest and most secure source of oil. Treating Canada as some variant of Pakistan’s border is, in a word, insulting to both Montanans and our Canadian friends.”

Jon was the only Senate Democrat to put his name on legislation pumping new resources into border protection for new technology and new border patrol officers. Jon cosponsored the measure after securing a pledge that a certain percentage of those new resources would be spent along the northern border.

Here’s a tip for Tester’s staffers: When you’re the only Democrat to put your name on a piece of legislation, its probably nothing to brag about. The bill that Tester is referring to is actually a corollary to one that was introduced by his opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT). Jon Tester partnered up with Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-AZ), among other Republicans, to co-sponsor a $3 million amendment. This bill also funded construction of the fence along the Mexican border — a project that has been abandoned and condemned as a tremendous failure and waste of billions in taxpayer dollars.

And from his seat on the influential Appropriations Committee, Jon has secured investments to combat the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, as well as critical investments upgrading Ports of Entry along the Canadian border.

One of Tester’s “critical upgrades” was a $15 million dollar renovation to the border station in Whitetail, MT, which was reported to get about five crossings a day and no commercial traffic. After facing criticism for needless spending, Tester and Max Baucus reduced the appropriation to only $8.5 million. Meanwhile, Canadian officials closed the road leading to this border station, rendering the whole project useless. This embarrassing episode didn’t make Tester’s list of accomplishments.

Of course, even though he votes against any legislation that isn’t directed purely towards deporting immigrants, Tester wouldn’t want you to get the impression that he is against immigration:

Jon knows that legal immigrants, like his grandparents, helped build America into what it is today. But he also believes that no one is above the law.

In public statements and constituent letters, Tester is constantly stating that his grandparents “waited in line” and followed the rules, implying that new immigrants should be expected to follow the same process. However, it appears that Tester’s ancestors entered the country in 1916 — before our current immigration system even existed. At that time, our immigration policy was comparable to an “open border” policy. Years later, quotas were enacted to limit immigration and more stringent criteria for entry were developed. It was not until 1965 that the current Immigration and Nationality Act was enacted, with its very limited methods for gaining permanent residence in the U.S.

There is no question that Jon Tester’s ancestors faced a dramatically different immigration system than those who are immigrating today. Tester and other enforcement advocates often evoke the image of a “line” that immigrants must simply wait in. However, the truth is that for most immigrants, there is no “line.” Tester’s own grandparents may not have been able to enter the country under our current immigration scheme.

Jon Tester seems intent on mimicking Rehberg in many ways, including sharing his anti-immigrant views.

Jon Tester’s vocal anti-immigrant positions have placed Montana progressives in a difficult position. Contrary to the attacks of those who want to silence any opposition to Tester’s bad policies, none of us are excited about the prospect of his opponent, Dennis Rehberg, being elected to the Senate. Indeed, Rehberg’s stance on immigration is no better than Tester’s. However, Tester’s ignorant views on immigration are also making it impossible for us to lend him our vote.

Tester’s positions on immigration are not gaining him support with Republicans, but they are causing a split among Democrats. The best thing for Jon Tester to do is distance himself from the issue of immigration, because each time he opens his mouth, he brings many progressives closer to sending a difficult message: The progressive movement cannot tolerate a Democrat who has an anti-immigrant agenda, regardless of the consequences.

8 comments to Refuting Jon Tester’s Anti-Immigrant Positions

  • Two gentle criticisms of an otherwise good article.

    First, being anti “illegal” immigration is not a partisan issue. I know just as many Democrats who are not in favor of illegal immigration as I do Republicans… well actually that is not completely accurate. Since I’m a Democrat and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, I believe I know (and associate with) more Democrats than I do Republicans… and plenty of those Democrats are not in favor of illegal immigration and see it as a huge problem facing the USA.

    Secondly, you use the over-used worn out phrase about the current system being “broken”, but I will credit you with correctly pointing out that for most people who would love to immigrate to the USA, they do not possess the required family relationship or educations/vocational skills that would enable them to do so under the current laws. Your article seems to indicate that what is “broken” is that more people are not eligible to move to the USA under the current laws… that we should relax the standards concerning admission to the point where just about anybody who wants to immigrate her can do so. This is sort of like suggesting that we go back to the “open border” days of long ago, no? I suppose it is fine to suggest the system is “broken” and needs reform, but it would be helpful if you then describe what sort of eligibility criteria you would find acceptable under the reformed system. Its easy to criticize others, but harder to offer constructive affirmative ideas for change.

    Let me offer my suggestion to address one of the problems facing us today (Perhaps you can forward this to your Montana Senator for his consideration).

    As for what to do with the 11 to 20 million illegal aliens living in the USA, I would like to see compromise solutions offered that fall somewhere between the polar extreme positions of “deport them all”, and “give them all a legal status and a path which leads to U.S. citizenship”.

    Congress should create a new option/status for the 11 to 20 million EWIs currently in the USA… an option/status that has never existed before. This is a “one shot” opportunity and it should be made clear that this sort of opportunity will “never” be offered again anytime in the future. And of course, Congress will need to set some eligibility criteria. For example, perhaps some with certain criminal records won’t qualify, or repeat offenders who have reentered after deportation won’t qualify, that sort of thing.

    But for the average EWI who has stayed out of trouble… Congress should create a new status known as “Limited Lawful Permanent Resident” status (from here on out, I’ll refer to it as LLPR status). It is very much like regular permanent resident status that we are all familiar with, but it differs in a few very important aspects. The way I see it, there are two “carrots” to provide an EWI with an incentive to take the deal, and there are two “sticks” that basically constitute a form of punishment for their illegal presence in the USA.

    First, the two carrots…
    1. The LLPR can remain in the USA, and live and work legally in the USA. This is the main goal of the typical EWI… so we bring them out of the shadows, take away the ability of unscrupulous employers to exploit them, and they don’t have to live in fear of removal from the USA.

    2. LLPR status will not apply to the person’s minor children that were smuggled into the USA when the child was under a certain age (Congress will have to determine that cut-off age… perhaps the child had to be under the age of 10 when smuggled in). If the EWI parent(s) achieve LLPR status, then these kids will get “regular” LPR status. That means these kids will have the opportunity one day to become U.S. citizens if they choose to do so.

    Now, the two sticks…
    3. The LLPR can “never” apply to become a U.S. citizen. That means the LLPR will never be able to vote in U.S. elections. This should quell the concerns by those who don’t want to reward lawbreakers, who don’t want to see one political party get a windfall of new voters, and who don’t think it is fair to give EWIs the same status as those who have waited patiently in line for years to achieve LPR status.

    And finally…
    4. The LLPR can never file a petition or application to help a relative immigrate to the USA. This should quell the concerns by those opposed to the concept of chain migration. Again, this is a “one-time” offer to help the individual come out of the shadows, not an opportunity or reward for them to then bring in relatives into the USA who don’t currently live here.

  • Diego

    Matthew – let me get this straight – what you are proposing is to create a new level of a legalized second-class citizen? “Ok, ok, fine – you can live here but you can only use certain water fountains and bathrooms without ever having a chance to use the ones that flush.” No thanks.

  • Matthew

    Hello Diego,
    “Second class citizen?” No, that is not what I’m proposing.

    What I am proposing is a one-time opportunity for those who entered without inspection, to live and work here without fear of removal for as long as they desire to do so (with all of the good things that will come to them and society as a result of normalizing their status). My idea not attach LLPR status to the minor children who were smuggled into the USA by the parent (or parents). Punishing the child is not fair and instead the “limitation” is placed in “the parent” (or parents) who chose to violate the law in the first place.

    11 to 20 million is a staggering number and is a unique problem we have never encountered before as a nation, and it makes sense to at least consider unique solutions that deal fairly with both sides on this debate.

    Note, that the EWI is not “required” to file and attempt to obtain LLPR status. They could continue living in the USA with their illegal status and hope for a non-limited form of Amnesty to be offered one day (and not be caught in the meantime). If you know about immigration law, removal and forms of relief available in removal proceedings, then you will understand that there are other avenues an EWI could explore rather than acquiring LLPR status.

    My compromise does distinguish the LLPRs status from the status awarded those who played by the rules and legally immigrated to the USA (often, waiting years to accomplish that goal). Even the Obama administration calls for a meaningful form of “punishment” as a component of any relief for those who came here in violation of our laws.

    As for your “second class citizen” argument:
    We already have huge groups of people who legally immigrated to the USA and who are not allowed to vote in elections and not allowed to immigrate family members into the USA.

    Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders) are one such group. There are “millions” of LPRs living and working in the USA, and this is nothing new. LPRs are not U.S. citizens and thus cannot vote in U.S. elections, they cannot bring in brothers and sisters or parents, and they cannot go back to their home countries to live without losing their LPR status through abandonment of that status. An LPR “may” petition for a spouse and/or children although that is the “preference” visa system and it will take them a long, long time to accomplish that goal (perhaps years…. See the monthly Visa Bulletin for more information if you are interested).

    Being a Lawful Permanent Resident does not carry a requirement that the LPR eventually file to become a U.S. Citizen. Many, many LPRs don’t see the need to become U.S. citizens and they live their lives here in the USA without voting in U.S. elections or bringing in family members from abroad.

    So my proposal does not create a “new” class of people, it simply expands an already existing class of people with an additional sub-set group which have a couple of additional distinguishing limitations attached to their status that reflect the difference in the way the sub-set came to the USA (in violation of the law).

    What about all of the “millions” of non-immigrant visa holders who live and work in the USA? They can’t vote in elections and they can’t immigrate family members into the USA. At least the LLPR gets to live in the USA for as long as they want to, which is more than we can say for these millions of non-immigrants living and working in the USA on a temporary basis.

    I certainly don’t expect every person to embrace my proposal… such is the nature of “compromise” (Some who oppose Amnesty may not like this proposal either). And I appreciate your reply and opinion, but I think you are off base with the creation of a Second Class Citizen argument. But regardless of that, I’ll mark you down in the “no thank you” category.

    I would love to hear what those who are actually in the EWI population think of the idea (if they would welcome the opportunity to gain LLPR status).

  • Susanna Bogue

    While I like that Matthew has taken the time to write his views on immigration and some of his ideas are good ones and will get people talking, I have to agree with Diego that we don’t need any stinkin 2nd class citizens. Look at what happened in Germany with the many 2nd and 3rd generation kids born to Turkish citizens who could never get German citizenship. It was a disaster and what Matthew is suggesting is the same type of problem. Why would you want people living and residing and working in the US who cannot vote? I’m sorry, but I have a big problem with that. If you can join the military and contribute to US society you need to be able to vote. That is a non-negotiable for me.

  • I appreciate that you are putting thought into ways that immigration reform can be pushed forward. Your “limited legal permanent resident” idea is interesting. However, I do have significant reservations about the concept. I believe that people who live here permanently and are invested in their country should be able to eventually become citizens and vote on issues that impact them. I believe that to have permanent residents who will never have the chance to become citizens or vote is an affront to our values as a country. It is also damaging to the social fabric of society to have a group of disempowered people, to whom politicians need not be accountable. I firmly believe reform must include a path to citizenship, no matter how lengthy the wait or how difficult the process.

    I am also against the “LLPR” concept because it would be a political compromise rather than one that the American public is demanding. Historically, conservative political parties have always felt threatened by changing voter demographics. In many states, LPRs were allowed to vote until the early 1900s when those rights were stripped. Obviously, the same fears arose when African-Americans and women were given the right to vote. Akiva Chomsky does a good job describing this historical trend in her book (http://www.amazon.com/They-Take-Our-Jobs-Immigration/dp/0807041564). However, among members of the general public, I don’t believe there is a lot of concern over the specific idea that permanent residents would be put on a path to citizenship. If they can get over the idea of legalization in the first place, the average person probably doesn’t care if citizenship and voting comes with the package.

    Our country is built on principles of representative democracy. If the issue were debated openly from a values-based perspective, I think we could potentially win the debate without the need for such compromises.

    This brings me to my main criticism of your idea — its way too early to be throwing our values under the bus in order to move this legislation forward. Congress and the President have yet to begin a genuine discussion or debate on the issue of immigration reform. While there has been a lot of talk, the negotiations have not begun in earnest. I cannot support any compromises at this stage in the game.

    If there is one lesson I learned from the health case debacle, it is that you must begin a debate by asking for exactly what you want. You never get credit for compromising before debate even begins. I hope Democrats take this to heart and don’t begin the negotiations by offering a watered-down form of relief like your “LLPR” idea.

  • Matthew

    Shahid, my idea was not meant to be the opening offer in any type of debate, but rather I’m just trying to imagine what a final solution might look like… one that would achieve the major goals of the EWI population and which also might be acceptable to a majority of the parties on both sides of the debate (taking into account the concerns by those who are opposed to any sort of amnesty).

    Since you and I are “not” in the legislature, we have the luxury of informally discussing ideas like this. And who knows, if enough people like an idea and it becomes part of the public discussion, then perhaps those who are in charge will take note. As you and I both know, immigration gets used as a political football, and my hope is that my idea will be acceptable to both parties (promoted by both parties) and thus, not a guaranteed windfall for either party.

    In light of the fact that a great many greencard holders don’t ever want to become U.S. Citizens (And they are not required to… I think about that whenever I have to spend a week reporting for jury duty), and that my LLPR status idea won’t apply to the minor children (limited only to the parent), I don’t think my prohibition from becoming a U.S. citizen is that onerous. LLPR status is a special one-time “accommodation” to a huge EWI population (for their benefit, and thus, the country’s benefit), and at the same time it attaches a potent symbolic consequence for their illegal actions.

    If not allowing people to vote is so against our national values, then perhaps we should change the system to allow LPRs to vote. Heck, why stop there. People who live and work here on temporary non-immigrant visas are invested in the country (and I’ll bet many…perhaps a majority of them would love to stay permanently) so let’s give them the vote as well. For that matter, why don’t we let felons vote?

    If our “values” of a country are that anybody who wants to live her can do so (and vote to boot) then why don’t we do away with the immigration related restrictions for diplomats, crewmen, certain J visa holders, etc. Aren’t those restrictions an affront to our values as a nation?

  • Matthew

    Susanna Bogue wrote…
    … what Matthew is suggesting is the same type of problem. Why would you want people living and residing and working in the US who cannot vote? I’m sorry, but I have a big problem with that. If you can join the military and contribute to US society you need to be able to vote. That is a non-negotiable for me.


    Hi Susanna,
    2nd class citizens? That’s just the point, they are not “citizens” at all and never will be. And there are already “plenty” of immigrant (including non-immigrant) categories of people living and working in the USA who cannot vote? My program really proposed nothing new (just an expansion of what we already have).

    LLPR status would be a special accommodation for an unprecedented number of EWIs who should nave never come here the first place, and giving them a legal status which does not include a path to U.S. citizenship is largely a symbolic form of punishment (a large percentage of LPRs, who are able to file for U.S. citizenship never do so nor want to do so).

    I’m not familiar with the 2nd and 3rd generation kids born to Turkish citizens living in Germany. Are you saying the 2nd and 3rd generation kids could never get German citizenship? My proposal specifically says that the (smuggled in) minor child of the LLPR gets regular LPR status. That means that these kids “can” become U.S. citizens one day and these kids “can” file to bring in foreign loved ones one day of they choose to do so.

    My proposal is limited to the actual wrongdoers here…. The “parent” (or parents) who had no right to move here in the first place, and did so for selfish reasons in violation of the law. The limitations on LLPR status will die off with the expiration of that single generation of LLPRs (remember, this is a one-shot deal offered only once in our country’s history… and the only reason we had to fashion this unique remedy in the first place is due to the shear number of immigration violators that we’ve never had before as a country). It won’t be passed down through the generations if that is what you thought.

    And don’t forget, this is just a proposal. I actually appreciate your comment about military service so let’s toy with the idea of amending the LLPR proposal to incorporate your comment.

    Under the amended plan, if an LLPR does fulfill some sort of military “service” requirement then an exception would apply and that “individual” LLPR could then apply to lift the “limitation” off of his or her permanent resident status. I’m with you… if they serve in the military, then they can then apply to lift the limitation.

    But for those who don’t serve…. Well, they came here knowing they would be living as illegal aliens and they did so for their own selfish reasons. Quite frankly, LLPR status is probably a better opportunity then they ever thought would be offered and my guess is that a typical EWI would welcome normalizing his or her status and getting LPR status for their minor children they smuggled into the USA.

    Let’s see…
    Do I get to live and work in the USA? Yes.

    Will my new status keep employers (and other unscrupulous scumbags) from exploiting me? Yes.

    Will my kid have the same limitation as me? No.

    Can I stay in the USA for the rest of my life and live without fear of removal? As long as you don’t move back to your home country (abandon your LLPR status) and don’t commit removal crimes, you are safe.

    Do I get out of jury duty? Yes (Hey, can I as a USC apply to become an LLPR :-).

  • Patricia Decker

    Thank you for covering this in your Blog. It will be useful in discussions that will be coming up in the next campaign.

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