Rocky editorial omitted key information on immigration reform amendment, misled on public sentiment about issue

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

In a June 11 editorial, the Rocky Mountain News misleadingly characterized opposition to an amendment to the U.S. Senate's immigration reform measure by omitting the fact that an amendment with similar provisions already had passed. The News also did not include criticism of the failed amendment, and it asserted without substantiation that the "defeat of the immigration reform package no doubt represents a triumph of popular sentiment."

A June 11 Rocky Mountain News editorial about stalled federal immigration reform legislation declared as "simply baffling" the U.S. Senate's June 6 rejection of Senate Amendment 1184, which would have barred felonious illegal immigrants from eligibility for a proposed "Z visa," a program to allow illegal immigrants to work in the United States before beginning naturalization procedures. However, the editorial did not note that the Senate rejected S.A. 1184 after voting in favor of Senate Amendment 1333*, which would similarly bar from the program illegal immigrants who are sex offenders, felony drunk drivers, domestic abusers, firearms-related criminals, or who are associated with criminal gangs.

The editorial also omitted criticism of S.A. 1184 -- sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) -- including Sen. Charles Schumer's (D-NY) charge that it would "gut[]" the Z visa program by denying citizenship to "anyone who has filed an illegal paper." According to Schumer, "That is every immigrant who would be on the path to citizenship." Furthermore, the News editorial offered no substantiation for its assertion that the "defeat of the immigration reform package no doubt represents a triumph of popular sentiment."

The News editorial, stated that "[f]or us, a defining moment of the Senate debate occurred Wednesday when that chamber rejected an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to bar illegal immigrants who had been ordered deported for a variety of offenses from becoming citizens." The News added, "The defeat of such an amendment is simply baffling. Yet it is typical of what became a pattern of resistance to efforts to improve the bill through common-sense adjustments."

However, as Colorado Media Matters pointed out, Senate Amendment 1150, which the Cornyn amendment proposed to amend, already stated that "[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary shall, pursuant to the requirements of this section, grant a Z-A visa to an alien if the Secretary [of Homeland Security] determines that the alien ... has not been convicted of any felony or misdemeanor, an element of which involves bodily injury, threat of serious bodily injury, or harm to property in excess of $500." S.A. 1150 further stated that "[a]n alien is ineligible for Z nonimmigrant status if the Secretary determines that the alien ... is an alien ... for whom there are reasonable grounds for believing that the alien has committed a serious criminal offense as described in section 101(h) of the Act outside the United States before arriving in the United States; or ... for whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding the alien as a danger to the security of the United States; or ... has been convicted of -- (i) a felony; (ii) an aggravated felony as defined at section 101(a)(43) of the Act; (iii) 3 or more misdemeanors under Federal or State law; or (iv) a serious criminal offense as described in section 101(h) of the Act." In addition, S.A. 1333 -- which the Senate passed before rejecting the Cornyn amendment -- specifically denied Z visa eligibility to illegal immigrants convicted of sex offenses, felony drunk driving, domestic abuse, firearm-related crimes, or to those associated with criminal gangs.

According to a June 7 Houston Chronicle article, Cornyn's amendment would have undermined the Z visa program by "deny[ing] legalization to 635,000 people who ignored deportation orders or returned to the United States after being deported -- both felonies." The Chronicle further reported:

Democrats insisted Cornyn's amendment could keep most illegal immigrants from gaining legalization, because they had previously used fake IDs, and charged it was aimed at derailing the immigration bill.

"It is a Trojan horse," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Nothing short of an attempt to kill the whole bill in the guise of tough enforcement."

Similarly, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) told the Senate that "the Cornyn amendment would still make vast numbers of these families ineligible for our programs, keep them in the shadows where employers abuse and underpay them, which hurts the immigrants but it hurts American workers, too, by depressing their wages." He also noted the similarities between Cornyn's amendment and S.A. 1333, which Kennedy sponsored:

Cornyn says he wants to be tough on gang members, sex offenders, individuals convicted of domestic violence. So do we. We have addressed any provisions not covered by the current law. Our amendment goes even further than the bipartisan compromise bill.

He wants to exclude gang members. Our amendment does that too. Nobody who has engaged in illegal activity as part of a criminal gang will be allowed to enter or stay in this country. He says we should bar sex offenders from coming here. Our amendment does that. Any convicted sex offender who fails to register will not be allowed back in the country; if already here, then those offenders will face deportation.

Cornyn says immigrants who commit acts of domestic violence or endanger their families should be punished. Our amendment does that. He says drunk drivers should be deported. Our amendment does that. Any immigrant with one felony conviction for drunk driving will not be allowed to enter this country. If convicted here, then the drunk driver will be deported.

He says there should be consequences for individuals engaging in fraud. Our amendment does that. Our amendment punishes anyone who commits perjury or makes false statements when seeking immigration benefits. If any person lies on their application, then this individual will be prosecuted and subject to criminal penalties.

He says we should go after immigrants convicted of firearms offenses. Our amendment does that, too.

Finally, the News made the unsubstantiated claim that "[t]he defeat of the immigration reform package no doubt represents a triumph of popular sentiment." In fact, recent polls conducted before the Senate proposal was blocked suggested that a majority of Americans agreed with the plan's fundamental elements. A May 29-June 1 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that "[o]verall a narrow majority, 52 percent, favors giving illegal immigrants the right to live and work in the United States legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements, as Bush, in a compromise plan with Democrats, has proposed." The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. Furthermore, in a May 18-23 CBS News/New York Times poll -- taken just before the Senate released its most recent bipartisan immigration reform proposal -- 67 percent of respondents favored "allowing illegal immigrants who came into the country before January to apply for a four-year visa that could be renewed, as long as they pay a $5,000 fine, a fee, show a clean work record and pass a criminal background check." That poll also had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

While a similar national poll conducted May 30-June 3 for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press did find a plurality of respondents -- 41 percent -- opposed to the reform legislation at that time, some 26 percent answered "don't know." The Pew poll also found 63 percent favored providing illegal immigrants already in the United States with a way to gain legal citizenship "if they pass background checks, pay fines and have jobs"; 54 percent said they favored "amnesty" for illegal immigrants under the same conditions. In describing the results, Pew characterized the public as "ambivalent" about the reform bill being debated in the Senate.

From the June 11 Rocky Mountain News editorial "Irreconcilable differences":

Immigration reform is dead for now, and the "no amnesty" activists -- who really mean "no path to citizenship ever for anyone who illegally crossed the border at any time" -- are understandably gloating. As it happens, however, they didn't succeed alone.

They had plenty of help from those on the opposite side of the spectrum who were equally unwilling to compromise even when it was the only hope of reaching a deal.

Given the relative strengths of those opposing forces, immigration reform may have to wait until after next year's presidential election.

For us, a defining moment of the Senate debate occurred Wednesday when that chamber rejected an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to bar illegal immigrants who had been ordered deported for a variety of offenses from becoming citizens. The defeat of such an amendment is simply baffling. Yet it is typical of what became a pattern of resistance to efforts to improve the bill through common-sense adjustments.

[...]

We agree with opponents that enforcement got short shrift in the bill and that probationary visas would have been granted with indefensible haste. We also submit that there needs to be a time out, say, of a couple of years between a crackdown on the border and a move to regularize the status of illegal immigrants who are already here to make sure that enforcement won't be a 1986-type farce.

Such a deal would still rile die-hard Tancredo-ites, who refuse to acknowledge that many illegals have sunk deep roots and are assets to the economy. Most are not going home no matter how much anyone might wish. That's why we believe it is neither rational nor humane to keep them in a twilight zone forever by equating any path to citizenship with an amnesty for undeserving criminals.

The defeat of the immigration reform package no doubt represents a triumph of popular sentiment. But it is also safe to say that the public does not like the status quo. And yet it is hard to see how any meaningful immigration bill can pass Congress given the present balance of political power.

*In this version of S.A. 1333, the Congressional Record incorrectly referred to the measure as S.A. 1303.

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