Cotton Hits Sen. Pryor on Amnesty To Win Swing Voters

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

The hot-button issue of immigration pushed Rep. Tom Cotton into politics, and now he’s using the issue to push Sen. Mark Pryor out of the Senate.

Back in 2007, when Cotton was serving in the army, he wrote a letter to Pryor objecting to the little-known “probational Z-visa” that was hidden deep in the 762-page 2007 amnesty bill drafted by Sen. Ted Kennedy.

The probational Z visa was “preposterous,” Cotton recently told The Daily Caller. It allowed anyone on the planet to claim residency — and eventually a Green Card — by giving government officials a few statements from friends claiming the illegal was living in the United States on the date the bill was passed.

Worse, the bill required government officials to approve each application unless the statements were shown to be fake within an impossible deadline of the “next business day,” Cotton said.

Now Cotton is running neck-and-neck with Pryor while the state’s voters watch 200,000 people from Central America flood over the Texas border.

“The border crisis has developed over the last three to four months… [and] I’ve received more questions about immigration than any other issue,” he said. Voters are asking, “What can we do to stop the border crisis. … what can we do to stop to Obama issuing another unilateral amnesty?”

“I am pro-immigration, pro-immigrant, but immigration has to work for Americans,” Cotton continued.

“I want an immigration system that works for them, I don’t want an immigration system that works for big business.”

An immigration system that works for Americans “would be good for the country, and if the Republican Party was responsible for it, we would benefit,” he said.

Since Aug. 4, Cotton has used a TV-ad to hammer Pryor for his support of the Senate’s 2013 amnesty bill, dubbed the “Gang of Eight” bill. Cotton’s ad says “Senator Mark Pryor voted for amnesty, citizenship for illegals.”

Back in 2007, Pryor voted “aye” to start the floor debate on Kennedy’s Z visa amnesty bill. But amid a massive public pushback, Pryor reversed himself, and voted two days later to prevent a decisive up-or-down vote on the bill. Kennedy’s failure to get that up-or-down vote marked the temporary defeat of his amnesty bill.

In June 2013, however, Pryor voted aye — as did every Democratic Senator — in the final up-or-down vote for the updated Kennedy bill, which was drafted chiefly by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. The leading GOP supporter for the 2007 and 2013 amnesty bills, Sen. John McCain, said the 2013 bill should be named after Kennedy.

The Pryor-backed 2013 bill provided a multi-stage amnesty to at least 11 million illegals, and effectively doubled the annual inflow of legal foreign workers and immigrants, even though millions of Americans are unemployed or have given up looking for work.

GOP legislators in the House have blocked the bill, despite intense pressure from business, the White House and the media.

If the 2013 law had become law, it would have boosted unemployment and lowered Americans’ wages by annually providing employers with three or four low-wage foreign workers for every four Americans who turn 18. The bill would also have widened the record wealth gap between wage-earners and investors.

The immigration issue transcends racial and ethnic lines because it is a pocketbook dollars-and-cents, jobs-and-wages issue, Cotton says.

The June 2013 report by the Congressional Budget Office shows that mass-immigration lowers Americans’ wages, Cotton said. That’s because surplus workers means lower wages, adding “it is basic supply-and-demand.”

The mass inflow also drives up costs paid by local communities for welfare and schooling, and it leaves native-born and naturalized Americans without the services they paid for, he continued. “People do worry about the impact of large scale immigration increases on wage and unemployment…. [and how it is] putting a strain on local police, education and health-care systems.”

“African-Americans have a higher rate of unemployment than whites [because] they are hurt by mass-scale legal immigration and illegal immigration” Cotton explained.

“Many Hispanics, especially in Arkansas, are naturalized citizens, and they’re now paying for the consequences” of out-of-control immigration, he said.

Overall, politicians should help Americans get higher wages — not lower their wages — by creating a “tight-labor” economy where many employers have to compete for few unemployed workers, Cotton said.

Some groups oppose higher wages, he said. “Why is [that] a bad thing?” Cotton asked “That’s what we should be promoting.”

The immigration issue has nothing to do with culture or ethnic rivalries, he contended. But Democrats “project that kind of [ethnic and culture] language on Republicans.” They’re aided by the established media, because it “is in the tank for amnesty.”

“This is not a matter of Hispanics or any other ethnic group or any other national group,” he said. “This is matter of law-abiding people and law-breaking.”

“We have lots of Hispanics who did the right thing, who play by the rules… [and] that’s exactly the right kind of person we want to immigrate into this country.”

“We should be encouraging and rewarding that kind of legal immigration,” he explained.

That perspective is a close match for the vast majority of Americans, who simultaneously say they welcome immigrants and want fewer immigrants.

Recent polls show that swing-voting independents are opposed to large-scale legal and illegal immigration, Hispanics want much tougher border security, Obama’s immigration policies are strongly opposed by 57 percent and that Americans view immigration primarily as an economic issue.

“The current combination of children-at-the-border-crisis and an increasingly weakened President Obama is awakening a sleeping giant on an issue long eclipsed by the economy and healthcare,” said pollster Kellyanne Conway. “Leverage that. … Take your case directly to the [voters]. They are listening,” she wrote in her campaign memo. “There is a new open-mindedness to populist approaches, regardless of partisan or ideological preferences.” (RELATED: Liberals Up To 3 Times More Likely Than Conservatives To Back Hiring Foreign Workers Instead Of Americans)

But unlike most Americans, Cotton isn’t calling for a reduction in the annual legal immigration of one million foreigners.

“If we enforce the laws currently on the books… if we build a border fence, if we have a [computerized] system to track visas overstays, and if we held business accountable for employing illegal immigrants, our immigration problems would be solved,” he said.

Cotton does not completely reject calls by high-tech companies for a greater inflow of foreign university graduates to take jobs sought by American graduates. “I am open to being persuaded that there is a real shortage in the [science and technology] fields… if the evidence demonstrates that we need more engineers and programmers, I am open to it,” he said.

The country has a resident population of roughly 700,000 graduate level guest-workers. Roughly 4,000 of those guest-workers live in Arkansas and fill many high-status jobs in universities, hospitals, consulting firms, pharmacies, laboratories and tech companies that are sought by the children of influential middle-class Arkansas voters.

Cotton’s focus on jobs for Americans does cause him some problems with business leaders in Arkansas, despite many other areas of agreement. “It is no secret that many businesses are in favor of the Gang of Eight reform,” he said. “To that extent, we agree to disagree.”

Cotton has tried to mute that disagreement. His TV ads don’t tout the populist economic case against immigration, but instead emphasize amnesty and border security. He’s got plenty of support from business Republicans, and was endorsed by Mitt Romney on Aug. 21.

The recent influx of at least 200,000 illegal immigrants from Central America has added a border crisis to the immigration crisis, Cotton said. “As the border crisis has developed over the last three to four months, it has become more central” in the 2014 campaign.

“It is pretty simple — when the president gives unilateral amnesty to hundreds of thousands and Democrats like Sen. Pryor want to give amnesty to millions more, we should not be surprised to see millions more come over the border,” he said.

At campaign events, he said, “I’ve received more questions about immigration than any other issue — what can we do to stop the border crisis, what can we do to stop the president from issuing another unilateral amnesty?”

The Senate should vote to block the president from extending his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Cotton said.

After the August recess, “the Senate has a simple opportunity to stop that action” by voting for the House anti-DACA bill, he stressed.

The issue is tough for Pryor, so he’s fighting back with his own TV ad.

The ad opens with a quote from McCain — “Anyone who calls it ‘amnesty’ is not being intellectually honest” — and describes the amnesty bill as “tough but fair.” Pryor’s website backs up the ad by saying the 2013 bill is backed by the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce and the state’s chicken industry, which relies heavily on cheap labor.

Pryor “voted the way that business leaders in Arkansas and across the country urged him to vote, because he knows — like they know — that when you get past the political demagoguery that Congressman Cotton is engaged in, this bill is important for the Arkansas economy,” said Pryor spokesman Erik Gorey.

“This race is going to come down to the wire, and we’re going to win this race for Arkansas… because Mark Pryor has been a reliable, responsible voice for Arkansans,” said Gorey.

In response, Cotton ran another ad which uses the “tough but fair” slogan to hang Obama’s semi-acknowledgment of the amnesty around Pryor’s neck. “Mark Pryor votes with Barack Obama, not with Arkansas,” says the ad.

Cotton says his “common-sense” position on immigration also shields him from Democrats’ routine portrayals of Republicans as tools of the wealthy.

“By standing up against illegal immigration, and by standing against the Gang of Eight bill… I am in fact showing, as so many others are, that I care about Americans,” he said. Those others include GOP Senate candidates Scott Brown in New Hampshire, and Terry Lynn Land in Michigan.

“It is not our job to get cheap labor for big business, as much as business might want that,” Cotton concluded.

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