BOSTON — For our ongoing series on policy issues in the U.S. Senate campaign, we turn now to immigration. This is an area in which there are clear differences between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
But first of all, here’s where Brown and Warren agree: They both say the current immigration system doesn’t work.
Brown: “Well, obviously it’s a problem. What’s the biggest challenge? The biggest challenge is the system’s broken.”
Warren: “You know, it’s time to sit down and have an adult conversation about this.”
A Closer Look At The Senate Race
WBUR explores the issues in the race between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren:
- 7/26: Can Brown Or Warren Really Create Jobs?
- 8/2: Looming Defense Cuts A Key Issue For Brown, Warren
- 8/10: Brown, Warren Offer Different Deficit-Reduction Approaches
- 8/16: Brown And Warren Both Centrists On Foreign Policy Issues
- 8/24: Brown, Warren Split On Immigration Solutions
- 9/20: How Brown, Warren Would Tackle Health Care
- 9/27: On Financial Regulations, Brown And Warren Starkly Different
- 10/29: Little Attention Paid To Climate Change In Brown-Warren Race
Complete Coverage: 2012 U.S. Senate Race
They also both think we should try harder to keep smart people in the country. For example, Brown co-sponsored a bill that would help foreign students studying math, science and engineering get visas to work here.
Warren wants to do something similar. She says we should use immigration policy to retain talented immigrants who can improve our economy.
But that’s where their agreement ends. They diverge dramatically when it comes to the harder question: what to do about the millions of people living here without papers.
“The differences are stark,” said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. The two parties are split, and this division between Brown and Warren reflects that.”
Berry says it’s notable that Brown has gone with the party position on this issue.
“He chooses his issues carefully where he’s going to be a moderate and where he’s going to be a conservative,” Berry said. “On this issue, he’s going with the national party, I think because he didn’t see himself getting any Hispanic votes in the state.”
Take the DREAM Act, for example. President Obama likes this proposal because it would give illegal immigrant children a path to citizenship if they attend college or join the military. Brown voted against it.
“Listen, the DREAM Act is a backdoor amnesty,” Brown said. “While I’m very much in favor of legal immigration, to provide backdoor amnesty for people, I can’t support it.”
The DREAM Act failed in the Senate. Warren says she would have supported it.
“This is about young people who did nothing wrong,” Warren said. “They’ve lived here for much of their lives. And now they want to go to college or they want to serve in the military.”
Since the DREAM Act failed, Obama came up with his own temporary fix. He’s given two-year work visas to certain young illegal immigrants.
Warren applauded Obama’s action. But Brown says Obama’s policy will encourage more people to come to the U.S. illegally. He says we should secure the border, and do away with other programs that benefit illegal immigrants, such as in-state tuition. He does want to simplify the process for foreigners who want to move to the United States.
“You have people who’ve been trying to get through the system seven, eight, nine years, and there’s a disincentive to do it legally. And that’s the problem,” Brown said.
Brown wants more immigrants from certain nationalities to move here. He wrote a bill that would quadruple the number of Irish nationals entering the country each year. Why Irish nationals?
“You have to start somewhere,” Brown said. “And it was a group that was affected dramatically when they changed the immigration laws a while ago — only upwards of 2,500 work visas [are] allowed. This would actually open it up and provide additional opportunities. And as I said, it’s a good way to start.”
Warren says piecemeal approaches like Brown’s won’t fix the problem. She says we have to take a comprehensive strategy that addresses both legal and illegal immigrants. And she says there should be a path for illegal immigrants who follow the laws to become legal.
“It’s partly about making sure that people obey the law,” Warren said. “It’s about saying the people who are here need to be caught up on taxes. They need to go to the back of the line.”
Unlike other policy areas, immigration is an issue where the candidates offer a clear choice. And those choices follow the traditional Republican and Democratic positions on illegal immigrants: Warren says we should find a way to make people legal; Brown says no way.