Mitch McConnell and his challenger Matt Bevin attack each other on immigration reform

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Matt Bevin, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s primary challenger, told a group of Kentucky voters that American workers are less productive than immigrants.

“For those who think that all these fifteen to twenty million [illegal immigrant] people are here just to take advantage of us and ride the system, you’re wrong,” he said at a diner in Jessamine, Kentucky, in March.

“Most of them are not… but I’ll tell you what, there are more people like that even proportionally that were born here in this country,” he added. “That’s a fact… Healthy immigration is what has made this nation great. It is what will keep us strong, it is what will make us great in the future.”

McConnell’s election team slammed Bevin’s comments.

“Bevin says that illegal immigrants are better workers than law-abiding Americans, who he implies are lazy,” said a statement from campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore. “Bevin thinks hardworking citizens are the problem, and slandered every single Kentuckian in the the Commonwealth. He should be ashamed of himself.”

Bevin’s spokeswoman, Rachel Semmel, declined to comment on the statement, stayed on the attack, and said McConnell didn’t try to block the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration deal last June.

“Mitch McConnell… has voted for amnesty three times, co-sponsored an additional amnesty bill with Democrats, and went into hiding during the Gang of 8 amnesty debacle,” she said.

McConnell’s team said the speech shows Bevin supports an amnesty for illegals.

“Sen. McConnell voted against the [Senate] immigration bill that Bailout Bevin once blasted as amnesty, and yet now he appears to support” that bill, said Moore. “This flip-flop is yet another example of Bevin’s shocking hypocrisy.”

Both candidates downplayed their support for some legal changes that would make it easier for American companies to hire foreign professionals for work in the U.S. The foreign hires are sought by businesses and lobbyists who say they’re facing a shortage of top-ranked American experts. But numerous studies say there is no shortage.

“Sen. McConnell supports merit-based immigration that would make it easier for high skilled professionals who earn their degrees here to come here, rather than the quota system we have today,” said a statement from Moore.

“The growth of our economy relies on American businesses being able to legally employ the world’s best and brightest,” Bevin’s spokeswoman said. “Legal immigration has always been a means to ensure that this is possible and that our nation remains economically strong. As a small business owner and job creator, Matt understands the need to streamline and simplify the work visa process for high-skilled workers.”

Many politicians have issued critical remarks about Americans’ diligence and creativity, often after meeting business advocates and lobbyists.

For example, Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers rejected some constituents’ arguments that immigration isn’t needed because many Americans are still unemployed. “How do I get those folks to go to work?” she said in the March 20 exchange with a constituency group that wants Americans to benefit from immigration.

In 2013, an aide to Sen. Marco Rubio told The New Yorker that “there are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it.” Rep. Paul Ryan wants a perpetual supply of foreign dairy workers, even though Americans are building cow-milking robots.

President Barack Obama also lauds foreign workers over Americans. New immigration “keeps our workforce young [and] keeps our country on the cutting edge,” he said in a November 2013 speech on immigration. That claim came one year after he stumped for re-election while saying that “I bet on American workers, and American ingenuity.”

In a January 2013 speech, Obama even downplayed Americans’ role in building their own country: “When each new wave of immigrants arrived, they faced resistance from those who were already here… [they were] the millions of women and men whose names history may not remember, but whose actions helped make us who we are; who built this country hand by hand, brick by brick,” he said.

On April 2, Obama repeated that message, telling his wealthy donors in Chicago that immigration “keeps on bringing dynamic, energized folks to our country… it keeps our economy vibrant.”

Last June, McConnell voted against the Democratic-designed, business-backed Senate immigration rewrite, but only when it was on a safe path to passage. Prior to that vote, he did nothing to pressure other GOP Senators to oppose the rewrite.

That rewrite passed with support from all 54 Democratic Senators and 14 GOP Senators.

If it become law, it would ensure roughly 40 million more foreigners would be allowed to work in the United States during the next decade. That total would include at least 11 million current illegals, roughly 20 million new legal immigrants and more than 10 million guest-workers who are typically used to replace American professionals and seasonal-workers.

During the same decade, 40 million Americans will turn 18, and begin looking for jobs that can help them build enough wealth to get married and buy a house.

In Kentucky, at least 7.8 percent of workers are unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number includes 160,000 people looking for work, but does not include people who have given up.

For now, the immigration bill has been blocked by GOP politicians in the House, amid numerous polls showing it is unpopular among swing-voters and GOP voters.

The Senate bill that McConnell voted against, but did not urge other GOP Senators to oppose, would also sharply increase the inflow of university-trained guest-workers, above the current level of at least 150,000 per year.

Guest workers can work up to 10 years, and some can apply for green cards to stay permanently. Currently, at least 650,000 graduate-level guest-workers are working in the U.S., working as doctors, professors, designers, managers, accountants analysts and software experts.

Kentucky employers, including the University of Kentucky, are asking the federal government for additional visas to hire more university-trained guest workers. They asked for 1,017 visas in 2010 and 1,416 visas in 2012.

In his speech, Bevin said he opposed amnesty, but dismissed the idea of physically deporting illegals.

“Let’s call it 15 to 20 million people [are] here illegally,” he said. “Many of them work with some of us in this room, let’s be honest, that’s the reality of it… You’re not going to put people on buses and bus them out of here.”

He didn’t discuss the option of enforcing work-rules to exclude illegals from jobs. Without jobs, many illegals went home in 2009 and 2010.

The solution to the problems caused by the current population of illegal immigrants, Bevin suggested, is for illegals to apply for legalization.

“I say if you want to stay here legally, you go to the back of the line and you get in line,” he said. “There’s a cost associated with having gotten here illegally. You should pay no less than a person who came here legally and has paid their dues.”

TheDC asked Bevin to explain his statements, but he repeatedly evaded the question about where the illegals would live and work while they wait in line for a green card.

The nation’s immigration laws should be enforced, he said. “Until we change them, we should enforce them… Period. Not some of them, not sometimes. All of them, all the time, that what nations of laws do.”

The illegals need to pay a price, he said. “For those groups who are here illegally, there should be a cost associated with being able to stay here and get onto a path, if they wanted to, of legal immigration,” he said.

The people who are here illegally should not get any special treatment, such as low-cost, fast-track process for legalization, he said. “It should not be cheaper and faster, we should not reward people who are here illegally.”

Surveys show Republicans and swing voters strongly support tighter border controls.

Sixty-nine percent of independents believe “We should restrict and control people coming to live in our country more than we do now,” according to a 2012 Pew survey.

Seventy-nine percent of conservatives, and 50 percent of swing-voting moderates, oppose the increased immigration set by the Senate’s bill, according to a recent Rasmussen poll.

Immigration reformers said they were disappointed at Bevin’s comments.

“Bevin has bought the pro-amnesty line that the choice is between mass deportation and mass amnesty,” said Roy Beck, a former journalist who now is the director of NumbersUSA.

The group organization seeks the reduce the current annual inflow of one million immigrants and 650,000 non-agricultural workers.

Bevin’s “totally missed the middle ground of finally requiring all businesses to use E-Verify, fully implementing the entry-exit system for visitors and enforcing other immigration laws on the books. Experience has shown that many of them will go back home if they don’t have jobs and taxpayer support,” Beck said. “Immigration laws in every country are designed to protect the vulnerable members of the national community, [not] a free gift that politicians can hand out to anybody in the world who wants to work hard and make a better life for their families.”

Beck is also wary about McConnell.

“McConnell was a key leader for President George Bush’s giant amnesty effort until Kentuckians rose up in protest in 2007… [and in 2014] he failed to use his leadership to stop passage and [he] actually encouraged the Republicans” who supported the 40-million rewrite, Beck said.

Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told TheDC that McConnell would vote for a business-backed immigration bill if there was no danger of a hostile reaction from voters. McConnell zig-zags to avoid angering donor and voters: “He’s trying to keep both donors and voters happy by keeping his cards close to his chest.”

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