FactCheck.org - Annenberg Political Fact Check
FactCheck HomeAbout UsArchivePrivacy PolicyCopyright PolicyContact Us

RNC Ad Mischaracterizes Democratic Stance On Immigration

Spanish-language ad says Democrats voted to "treat millions of hardworking immigrants as felons."

April 19, 2006

Modified: April 19, 2006

eMail eMail to a friend Print Printer Friendly Version

Summary

The RNC mischaracterizes the Democratic stance on immigration legislation in a radio ad running in Arizona and Nevada and aimed at Hispanics. The Spanish-language ad says (as translated) that Democrats "voted to treat millions of hardworking immigrants as felons."

In fact, it was a Republican-sponsored House bill, passed in December with a heavy Republican majority, that would make it a felony either to enter the US without official permission, or to overstay a visa. Under the House bill an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants could face penalties of up to a year and a day in prison.

What the ad refers to is a vote that killed a White House-inspired measure to downgrade the proposed felony to a misdemeanor. Most Democrats opposed the softening amendment, but said they did so because it still would have been too harsh – criminalizing the overstaying of a visa, which is now only a civil offense and not subject to imprisonment.

The Spanish-language ad also says the President and Republican leaders are working for legislation that will "honor our immigrants." Opinions differ on that. An immigration reform project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the Republican-backed House measure "cynical," and said that it will punish immigrants and harm their families.

On the Senate side, the Judiciary Committee cleared a bipartisan immigration bill that doesn't make it a felony to enter illegally or overstay permission. Efforts to pass that measure broke down before the Easter recess, and may resume when the Senate returns April 27.

Analysis

The Republican National Committee released a radio ad on April 17 titled “Protect Border & Honor Immigrants.”  The 60-second ad is in Spanish and will be broadcast throughout the week on Hispanic radio stations in Phoenix, Tucson,  Reno and Las Vegas.

 RNC Ad: "Protect Border & Honor Immigrants"
(English Translation)

Announcer: Terrorists coming across our border...drugs smuggled to America's shores...But just last week, there was hope.  Congress was working on immigration reform...to secure our border and protect American families.
But Democrat Leader Harry Reid let us down.  Harry Reid played politics and blocked our leaders from working together.  Reid's Democrat allies voted to treat millions of hardworking immigrants...as felons.
While President Bush and Republican leaders work for legislation that will protect our border and honor our immigrants.
Call Harry Reid at (702) 388-5020 tell him to stop playing with our futures.
Paid for by the Republican National Committee not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee. 
The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

“Treat…Immigrants as Felons?”

The ad says that Democrats “voted to treat millions of hard working immigrants as felons,” which is misleading. In fact, a large majority of Democrats voted against a Republican-sponsored bill to make it a felony – punishable by up to a year plus one day in prison – to enter the US without legal permission, or to overstay a visa.

The ad refers to an amendment to that bill which would have lessened the proposed prison penalty to six months, making a misdemeanor of either offense. Currently, illegal entry is a misdemeanor but overstaying a visa is a civil offense, not criminal at all.

Most Democrats did vote against that softening amendment, but the three who spoke against it said they did so because it criminalized unlawful presence in the US, not because they wish to "treat...immigrants as felons."

For example, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said:

Gutierrez: I do not think we should criminalize it (overstaying a visa) at any level.  We have administrative review now.  We have civil penalties.  We have a process…I said we should not criminalize this in the first place just on principle

Gutierrez said he was speaking on behalf of the 20-member Congressional Hispanic Caucus, all Democrats.

Amendment Killed; Bill Passed

In opposing the penalty-softening measure, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California said:

Lofgren: The amendment before us changes the degree of punishment, but it does not alter the underlying issue of criminalizing being alive in the country without documents. 

The immigration bill's principal sponsor, Republican James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, sought to reduce the penalties in his own bill at the request of the White House but couldn't get unanimous Republican support for the change, and Democrats mostly lined up against any increase in penalties compared to present law. "I see some games being played here," Sensenbrenner complained. "The people who are saying that this bill is too harsh want to keep these penalties as felonies."

When it came to a vote on Dec. 16, the  penalty-softening amendment was defeated 164 to 257. Those in favor included 156 Republicans and eight Democrats. Those opposing included 65 Republicans, 191 Democrats and one Independent.

The Republican immigration bill then passed the House 239-182 on the same day. Most of the Republicans who had voted to soften the penalty supported the final bill, which still contained the felony provision: 203 Republicans voted in favor and only 17 opposed. Democrats voted 36 in favor, 164 against. One Independent also opposed.

"Honor our immigrants?"

The ad says President Bush and Republican leaders are working "for legislation that will protect our border and honor our immigrants." That opinion isn't shared by advocates for immigrants, however.

After the House passed its bill with a big Republican majority, the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, a project of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said of it: "The legislation is extremely punitive and will unduly harm immigrants and their families in this nation."

The campaign's Jan. 15 newsletter also said:

Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, Jan. 15: This bill represents one of the most punitive, mean-spirited legislative proposals passed on the question of immigration and, if enacted into law, would hark back to the days of the "Know Nothing" political party's anti-immigrant proposals in the mid-nineteenth century. What a cynical Christmas gift from our Congress.  

The ad's language about honoring immigrants may refer to efforts in the Senate , where a push to pass a less restrictive, bipartisan bill stalled recently. The RNC ad blames Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada for "playing politics" with that measure, saying he "blocked our leaders from working together." It is true that Reid and other Senate Democrats refused to allow the bipartisan compromise to come to a vote when they couldn't agree on which proposed amendments would be allowed to come to a vote.

The Senate measure, which would not criminalize overstaying a visa or make illegal entry a felony, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee April 6 by a bipartisan vote of 12 to 6.

The measure was then introduced on the Senate floor. Some Senators then proposed hundreds of amendments, and Republicans and Democrats could not agree on how many or which amendments they should vote on.  So before the Senate voted to end debate Reid backed away from the measure:

Reid: Virtually all Democrats supported the Specter bill that came before the Senate...So the majority must explain to the American people why they are permitting a filibuster of immigration legislation, a filibuster by amendment .

Frist responded to Reid saying,

Frist: Over the last 9 days, on complex issues based on a very good, solid product generated by the Judiciary Committee, about 400 amendments have been filed and only 3 of the 400 have been allowed by the other side of the aisle to come to the floor to be voted upon...Why are we shutting down the amendment process because some Members might not agree with everything in that 425-page bill?

On April 7 a vote to end debate on the compromise measure failed, 38-60, in the Senate, with 6 Democrats joining 54 Republicans in opposition.

The compromise has not been killed, however, and according to an April 7th CongressDaily report the Senate is scheduled to resume debate on April 27th.

- by Emi Kolawole and Brooks Jackson

Sources

Congressional Record.  H11951-H11953.  16 Dec 2005.

Congressional Record.  S3357-S3358.  7 April 2006.

Heil, Emily.  "Immigration Deal Fails As Its Supporters Eye A Comeback," CongressDaily.  7 April 2006.

The House of Representatives.  Roll Call Vote No. 655.

The House of Representatives.  Roll Call Vote No. 661.

"RNC Releases New Radio Ad Entitled "Protect Border & Honor Immigrants," News Release.  17 April 2006.

The Senate.  Roll Call Vote No. 89.

"About the Campaign" and "Legislative Update," The  Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform 15 Jan 2006:1-2.