On Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Major Garrett falsely claimed that Democratic congressional candidate Francine Busby "endorses providing" Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants. Garrett appeared to be distorting Busby's support for a recently passed Senate immigration bill in the same way Busby's Republican opponent, Brian Bilbray, did. In fact, the Senate's legislation would do nothing to change the current prohibition on illegal immigrants receiving Social Security benefits.
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On the May 31 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, correspondent Major Garrett falsely claimed that Democratic congressional candidate Francine Busby "endorses providing" Social Security benefits "to people who are here illegally." Garrett appeared to be distorting Busby's support for a recently passed Senate immigration bill in the same way Busby's Republican opponent, Brian Bilbray did -- as giving illegal immigrants Social Security benefits. In fact, the Senate's legislation would do nothing to change the current prohibition on illegal immigrants receiving Social Security benefits.
Busby and Bilbray are running in a special election to represent California's 50th district in Congress, replacing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who was recently sentenced to more than eight years in prison after he pleaded guilty to tax evasion and conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, and tax evasion.
In his report, Garrett noted Bilbray's opposition to the bill and then reported that, according to Bilbray, voters do not support "the benefits tucked inside [Sen. John] McCain's [R-AZ] bill." Garrett then quoted Bilbray, who falsely asserted that one of those "benefits" was that the bill would "giv[e] Social Security benefits to people who are here illegally." Garrett then repeated Bilbray's distorted representation of the bill to describe Busby's support for the bill, saying, "Busby endorses providing both of these benefits [Social Security and the earned income tax credit] to illegals."
In fact, the "McCain bill" that Garrett cited -- based on a bill co-sponsored by McCain and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) -- would not change current law, which excludes illegal immigrants from receiving Social Security benefits. Bilbray and Garrett appeared to be referring to an amendment (SA 3985) offered by Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), opposed by McCain, and rejected by the Senate, which would have denied immigrants currently working illegally in the United States, who later became eligible for Social Security (as citizens or legal residents), any credit for work done as illegal immigrants. For example, a person who enters the country on a work-eligible temporary visa can legally obtain a Social Security number (SSN). If the worker overstays that visa, a non-verifying employer can still file Social Security taxes using the worker's previously-issued SSN. If the unauthorized worker later becomes a U.S. citizen under the earned citizenship provisions of the Senate bill, that person could count all the time he or she had worked and paid Social Security taxes, including during the time the worker was in the United States illegally. Under Ensign's proposal, the newly legalized worker would have received no credit for contributions made to Social Security while working illegally.
During the floor debate on Ensign's amendment, McCain noted that the Senate bill -- without Ensign's amendment -- does not change the current ban on unauthorized immigrants receiving Social Security benefits:
McCAIN: Mr. President, I rise in strong opposition to the Ensign amendment. Under current law, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for Social Security benefits, which I think is entirely appropriate. But we all know that millions of undocumented immigrants pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for years and sometimes decades while they work to contribute to our economy.
The Ensign amendment would undermine the work of these people by preventing lawfully present immigrant workers from claiming Social Security benefits that they earned before they were authorized to work in our country. If this amendment is enacted, the nest egg that these immigrants have worked hard for would be taken from them and their families.
Although Garrett included a clip of Busby saying, "I would be supportive of those," it appears she was simply repeating her stated support for the McCain-based bill. Media Matters for America has found no other evidence that Busby supports making undocumented workers eligible for Social Security benefits. In a Project Vote Smart questionnaire, Busby reiterated her support for the McCain bill and did not indicate support for "[r]elax[ing] restrictions barring legal immigrants from using government funded social programs (e.g. public housing, food stamps)."
From the May 31 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
GARRETT: John McCain was supposed to be in this picture but fellow Republican Brian Bilbray -- he's on the far left -- revoked a months-old invitation to this breakfast fund-raiser where Bilbray is in a neck-and-neck battle to succeed Congressman-turned-felon Randy "Duke" Cunningham. McCain's authorship of a Senate immigration bill that Bilbray brands as amnesty has made McCain radioactive among Republicans in this GOP stronghold just north of the border.
BILBRAY: San Diegans were very upset about it, and we had to warn the senator that there were people that were going to come to this event who were very upset with what the Senate was proposing.
GARRETT: Bilbray has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV ads attacking his Democratic opponent, Francine Busby, for supporting McCain's immigration bill.
ANNOUNCER IN AD: Say no to amnesty. Don't vote for Busby.
BUSBY: Mr. Bilbray is not offering solutions. He's just offering a lot of tough rhetoric and people want to hear solutions.
GARRETT: Bilbray says no issue is driving voters like immigration.
BILBRAY: It is the issue in this election. The next six months, there is only going to be one issue settled in Washington, and that is: Do we give amnesty or don't we give amnesty to 11 million illegal aliens? And this is where it really comes to a head.
GARRETT: Busby says immigration matters but not more than the war in Iraq or concern among seniors about the Medicare drug benefits.
BUSBY: It's hard to really put immigration right up there. I mean it is an important issue, but there's other ones right up there at the top.
GARRETT: Bilbray recently won the endorsement of House Judiciary Committee chairman and immigration hardliner James Sensenbrenner.
SENSENBRENNER: The strongest message against illegal immigration that the voters of San Diego County can send is by sending Brian Bilbray to Congress.
GARRETT: But Busby is sticking with McCain and his plan to legalize most of the estimated 11 million illegals in America now.
BUSBY: I've been trying to explain it to people and show them the various aspects of it that make it a comprehensive bill with long-term solutions.
GARRETT: Bilbray says the more San Diegans learn about the benefits tucked inside McCain's bill, the less they like it.
BILBRAY: They don't support giving Social Security benefits to people who are here illegally. They don't support giving the earned income tax credit here.
GARRETT: Busby endorses providing both of these benefits to illegals.
BUSBY: I would be supportive of those because I don't think that you just give people a ceiling to run into.
GARRETT: While the rest of the country may have not heard about this race, all of political Washington is riveted on the outcome of this somewhat obscure special election in California's 50th district. Republicans are willing to spend $5 million to defend this district and the RNC has dispatched 70 field staff to help Bilbray cross the finish line victorious. Democrats will probably spend upwards of $4 million on this race and consider it a tea test -- a key test rather of their ability to link President Bush's low poll numbers, Duke Cunningham's felony conviction and overall malaise among Republican independent voters to win a surprising victory.
If Democrats do, they believe that will create unstoppable momentum heading into the 2006 elections. Republicans agree. That's why they're spending money and devoting all of the staff to help Bilbray win.