Is Senator-Designate Gillibrand Shifting Her Position On Immigration?

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

Gillibrand (Image: El Diario/AP)

The immigration-related backlash against the designation of Kirsten Gillibrand continued over the weekend, when New York’s main Hispanic newspaper El Diario/La Prensa called the congresswoman “a disappointing choice” to succeed Hillary Clinton as U.S. Senator from New York.

In the meantime, Gillibrand –who will take the oath of office Tuesday— met with Queens elected officials and local leaders and promised to be more open-minded about the issue.

She also gave a one-on-one interview to local news channel NY1. Some of her remarks were interpreted as a shift in tone on the hotly-contested issue of immigration reform, although after listening to the entire interview that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“I think amnesty is the wrong approach,” Gillibrand said, in the quote that El Diario highlighted. “I would do it very differently, I would right-size immigration and make sure that every person who wants to be working in this country legally has a way to be here legally and to come in properly and make it so that they never have to worry about it.”

The original El Diario/La Prensa report –headlined “Senator shifts tone on immigration”– translated this as Gillibrand saying that “every person who wants to be working in this country legally has a way to stay here legally.”

But the senator-designee seems to have been referring to her idea for a guest-worker program, a program for people who have yet to enter the U.S., rather than to the 12 million undocumented workers already here. When “be here” was translated to “stay here,” the reference seems to have shifted from the former to the latter.

Still, the NY1 interview is useful to get a sense of Gillibrand’s thinking on immigration. (See a full transcript, made by Feet in 2 Worlds, below. If you want to watch it on NY1’s website, her answer starts halfway through the video.)

Gillibrand says “amnesty is the wrong approach,” because “half this country will never accept amnesty.” She says the current backlog in family reunification visas is “unacceptable.”

She proposes building a system “that can work and right-size immigration, so we can have the right number of immigrants here and we don’t have that terrible backlog for family reunification.” The solution she offers in this regard is a guest-worker program through which workers would come for five years, and then have the option to renew their visas for another five years. They could then apply for U.S. citizenship.

Here is the transcript:

My view is that we need to right-size immigration. There’s two different areas: There’s immigration for family reunification, which is very important, and it was very offensive to me that, when the Senate wrote the bill, that they accepted there was an eight-year backlog. That’s unacceptable. If there’s an eight-year backlog, that should be reduced to one year, to six months. And if it’s because you don’t have enough resources, you need a lot more lawyers, you need a lot more case managers, well, hire them, and put the resources in the government so we can actually make that backlog straight down to less than a year. That’s problem number one.

Problem number two is the other part of immigration: economic immigration, folks who work in various industries where we rely on immigrant workers. One of those industries, in my district, was agriculture. We have such a great need for immigrant workers in the agricultural industry, but I want those workers to be here legally.

I think amnesty is the wrong approach and I’ll tell you why: Half this country will never accept amnesty, it will not work for them, they will not vote for it, it will never pass. So my view is, how do we have the right size in immigration in this country to fill all these jobs that folks are doing now, that they enjoy doing, that our economy desperately needs? That’s part of our community, but they should be here legally.

So the way you do it is you create a system that works for everyone. And so you have the right number of visas, so people can come here legally, fill those jobs and be part of the system. But having a system that doesn’t allow for that guarantees illegal immigration.

So I think it’s offensive that we don’t build a system that can work and right-size immigration so we can have the right number of immigrants here and we don’t have that terrible backlog for family reunification. So what I wanna do as a senator, and what I tried to do as a House member, is be a person who can offer solutions about how to make this happen.

Because the worst thing about our current system is it’s doing nothing, and that it’s not acceptable. Because so many families live here, and they have to worry that they don’t have the proper status, and that they can’t reunify their families. It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy. So what we need to do is have compassion about this, we need to figure out how we can have a system and a procedure in this country so we can have people here legally.

I think amnesty is the wrong approach, I would do it very differently, I would right-size immigration and make sure that every person who wants to be working in this country legally has a way to be here legally and to come in properly and make it so that they never have to worry about it.

And in terms of one of the parts of the legislation, the Senate bill that I didn’t like, and this is very technical but I’ll tell it to you anyway: There’s a big debate about guest workers, and I think the way they framed that was terrible.

What they offered in that bill was, folks would come here for two years and go home for a year, and then come back for two years. That guarantees illegal immigration in two years, because folks aren’t gonna go home, because if they had a job at home or they wanted to stay at home, they wouldn’t be here. So you’re already setting up for failure, so I thought that was a terrible bill.

If we’re gonna have a guest worker program of any kind, I think it should be a five-year visa, renewable for another five years, and then you apply for citizenship. That’s the kind of program that people can count on when they come across, they know they have a job for five years and that they can renew it for another five years so if they wanna be here for a certain amount of time, they can have that consistency and they know what their lives are gonna be like, and then have a way for them to apply for their citizenship.

And also it allows businesses to rely on it. The services industries in this city, the agricultural industry in upstate New York, they can say, ‘These great workers we have, now we can count on, it can be part of our business plan,’ and not have to have so much worry about it. That’s the kind of immigration plan we need and it’s gonna take leadership. And what I’m excited about is I think President Obama will give that leadership.


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  2. M

    The majority of American citizens, like myself and I am a democrat do NOT want an amnesty, and we also want illegals deported. When I read or hear about a raid, I smile. It makes me happy, because those illegals are displacing American citizens, who happen to be black, brown and white. It is those citizens who have civil rights and need their jobs.

    (Edited by FI2W for inappropriate language) I know people who have ICE on speed dial, I have friends in Boston, Americans of Irish ancestry, who have reported illegal Irish aliens, and they celebrated when they were arrested and ultimately deported.

    What you don’t get is there really is more of us, than there are of you. The real sleeping giant is the American citizenry. Neither illegal aliens, nor Hispanics handed the election to Obama or the democrats. You can pretend that all you like. The republicans didn’t lose because of Hispanics either, but when you consider how corrupt the dems are now showing themselves to be, the dems will lose in the mid term elections because of their favoring illegals and ignoring citizen suffering.

    If Gillibrand weakens her stance against illegal aliens, I and a majority of citizens in the state will vote for a republican opponent. We wield the power, Gillibrand forgets that at her own risk. We screamed our opposition to the notion that Caroline Kennedy would be appointed. Gov Paterson heard it loud and clear. No more illegals, and no more illegal alien advocates. We’re going to clean house next year, and a real change will come.

  3. Native American

    M, You are the one that is ILLEGAL in my Nation, WHEN ARE YOU LEAVING?

    You have no clue about Human Lives, You only care about yourself. You will never STOP PROGRESS. NO ONE CAN.

    “Daniel Griswold: Immigration law should reflect our dynamic labor market

    Daniel Griswold is director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute in Washington. His writings on immigration can be found at; e-mail him at

    Among its many virtues, America is a nation where laws are generally reasonable, respected and impartially enforced. A glaring exception is immigration.

    Today an estimated 12 million people live in the U.S. without authorization, 1.6 million in Texas alone, and that number grows every year. Many Americans understandably want the rule of law restored to a system where law-breaking has become the norm.

    The fundamental choice before us is whether we redouble our efforts to enforce existing immigration law, whatever the cost, or whether we change the law to match the reality of a dynamic society and labor market.

    Edited by Feet in 2 Worlds: statements not related to post

  4. Native American

    Illegal immigrants paying more taxes than you think

    Eight million illegals pay Social Security, Medicare and income taxes. Denying public services to people who pay their taxes is an affront to America’s bedrock belief in fairness. But many “pull-up-the-drawbridge” politicians want to do just that when it comes to illegal immigrants.

    The fact that illegal immigrants pay taxes at all will come as news to many Americans. A stunning twothirds of illegal immigrants pay Medicare, Social Security and personal income taxes.

    Edited by Feet in 2 Worlds: statements not related to post

    (…) But the real reason border communities are strained is the lack of a guest worker program.

    Such a program would match willing workers with willing employers in advance so that they wouldn’t be stuck for long periods where they disembark while searching for jobs. The cost of undocumented aliens is an issue that immigrant bashers have created to whip up indignation against people they don’t want here in the first place.

    With the Senate having just returned from yet another vacation and promising to revisit the stalled immigration bill, politicians ought to set the record straight: Illegals are not milking the government. If anything, it is the other way around.

  5. McMorty

    Native American, you are funny. All these years the white man has been told that he stole your land and destroyed your nation and now you say that he is really only an illegal immigrant. If the white English speaking man hadn’t come here and stole your land then another white man speaking German would have invaded and you might think about what his plan was for people that didn’t look exactly the way he invisioned.
    Illegal aliens are a net drain on the economy, if they weren’t then the government could just go get several million more people and bring them to the US to fix our economy rather than trying to throw money at this economic crisis. This crisis is only made worse by the illegal alien presence and they need to leave in order to speed our economic recovery. The US has some of the most liberal immigration laws in the world and we welcome huge numbers of legal immigrants each year, but the majority of us do not want people of any other nation disregarding our laws. E-Verify is and would be a very effective tool to help relocate the illegal alien population.

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  7. Don McAninch

    In this time of unemployment and overpopulation, it is crucial to start eliminating immigration. Both legal and illegal immigration should be reduced to zero.

  8. Don McAninch

    Why spend one trillion dollars to create three million jobs when we could simply deport three million illegal immigrants?

  9. Brittancus

    Edited by Feet in 2 Worlds: statements not related to post.

    JUDICIAL WATCH is one of very few advocate watchdog legal groups that see illegal immigration, as a progressive cataclysmic nightmare for the working American. The fact is America settles the largest population of new immigrants in the world. The liberal media number of 12 million illegal aliens hasn’t changed in ten years? The courts are Judicial Watch strongest tool against such issues as illegal immigration–not immigration, E-Verify, employer sanctions, 247(g) police enforcement, sanctuary states and cities, foreign national gang members, the NAFTA/CAFTA unfair trade agreements that are stealing jobs, outsourcing US jobs, political corruption, the sham border fence and other criminal enterprises that fester below the surface. Read the uncensored facts not lies at,

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