- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

Democrats fail and Republicans make the honor roll when it comes to reducing illegal immigration.

The end of the school year is a great time to look at congressional members' grades on an important issue heading into the first post-September 11 election year.

The nonpartisan Americans for Better Immigration compiles report cards on each member of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The grades senators and representatives earn come from more than just their voting records on the House or Senate floor. "ABI includes co-sponsorships [of bills] and other leadership actions such as signing a letter in support of or against particular immigration legislation."

Further, "ABI's grades are based on a systematic, consistent set of principles that have been evaluated and reviewed by experts in immigration policy. Unlike many congressional scorecards, the ABI grading system does not pick and choose among actions in a way to skew toward a particular party or particular members. The grades are based on whether actions raised or lowered immigration numbers and don't necessarily reflect what ABI's preference was."

In other words, ABI has arrived at a grading system "as honest and accurate as possible." Its grades reflect congressional careers since 1989.

If the GOP is looking for an issue to campaign on, then illegal immigration would be a gimme.

In the Senate, only five Democrats have grades showing they fight illegal immigration: Robert Byrd of West Virginia (A+), Charles Schumer of New York (B-), Kent Conrad of North Dakota (B-), Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia (B-) and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin (B-).

By contrast, more than twice as many Republicans earn grades that show they fight illegal immigration. With a grade of B are George Voinovich of Ohio, Kit Bond of Missouri, Phil Gramm of Texas and Charles Grassley of Iowa. At B- are Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Richard Shelby of Alabama, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Wayne Allard of Colorado and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

The sides reverse when it comes to being "champions of illegal immigration." ABI assesses six Republicans with low grades, all in the D's. But 19 Democratic senators earn D's and F's.

Republicans soft on illegal aliens include Chuck Hagel of Nebraska (grade of D-) and Gordon Smith of Oregon (graded D). Pro-illegal immigration Democrats include not just usual suspects such as Teddy Kennedy (D+) and Hillary Clinton (D), but also moderates John Breaux (D+) and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana (F-), Indiana's Evan Bayh (D) and vulnerable liberal Max Cleland of Georgia (F-).

In the House, the grades break similarly between the parties. Just 38 Democrats' records reflect that they fight illegal immigration, while 141 Democrats champion illegality. Good guys include Allen Boyd of Florida (A+), Charles Stenholm of Texas (A), Peter Visclosky of Indiana (B+) and Lynn Rivers of Michigan (B). Friends of illegal immigration include John Dingell of Michigan (D+), Cal Dooley of California (D), Dennis Kucinich of Ohio (F) and Marion Berry of Arkansas (F-).

House Republicans mirror their opposition, with 10 Republicans soft on illegal immigration but 182 with strong pro-law-and-order records on immigration. The bad guys include Vernon Ehlers of Michigan (D+), Tom Osborne of Nebraska (D) and Peter King of New York (F).

Thirty-five Republican champions against illegal immigration go to the head of the class with an A+. These include John Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, Chip Pickering of Mississippi, Marge Roukema of New Jersey and John Shimkus of Illinois. Others making the honor roll: Ed Bryant of Tennessee (A), Dennis Hastert of Illinois (A), Jennifer Dunn of Washington (A-), Bill Thomas of California (B) and Steve Chabot of Ohio (B-).

When it comes to upholding the rule of law regarding immigration, the Democrats clearly are the "soft on crime" crowd. Most Republicans in Congress could tout their ABI grade for fighting illegal immigration.

Newspaper stories nearly every day describe yet another instance of a broken immigration system and rampant lawbreaking by foreigners taking advantage of our nation's generosity. The American people now view immigration in general, and illegal immigration in particular, as a frontburner issue associated with the war on terrorism and homeland security.

If Republicans wanted an issue on which the Democrats were vulnerable and that speaks to the concerns of most Americans native-born and immigrant illegal immigration would be an easy pick.


James R. Edwards Jr., coauthor of "The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform," is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute.


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