Immigration hawks raise concerns about Stefanik's voting record as she launches GOP leadership bid

Will Elise Stefanik replace Liz Cheney in GOP leadership role?

‘Special Report’ panel discuss Cheney’s precarious role as GOP Conference chair

With Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY – the favorite to replace Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., as House GOP Conference chair – groups calling for stricter immigration policies are concerned by what they see as a voting record that is not in line with their priorities.

While Cheney was a regular Trump antagonist, her voting record was praised by those calling for lower levels of immigration overall and tougher border security – but they have reportedly been more nervous about Stefanik. 

The Center for Immigration Studies’ Mark Krikorian recently told Politico that Stefanik “ties with a couple other Republicans for the worst career voting record on immigration in New York.”

Numbers USA has given Stefanik a D- rating for her immigration votes this Congress, and a C- for her overall voting record as a lawmaker. Cheney, meanwhile, has an A- rating for this Congress and an A+ overall.

Specifically, Stefanik’s D- for this year cites as negatives her co-sponsorship of a bill to give priority refugee status to migrants from Hong Kong, and her co-sponsorship of the Farm Workforce Authorization Act – which includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrant farm workers.

Stefanik, in supporting the agriculture bill, cited its reforms to the H-2A visa program and mandatory E-Verify as to why she supported it. Numbers USA notes that she has separately voted against other bills to grant pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Immigration hawks have also pointed to Stefanik’s opposition to a 2018 border security proposal by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., which would have dramatically ramped up border security, mandated E-Verify and funded border wall construction. Stefanik’s office says that while she supported the sentiment of the Goodlatte bill, she opposed it due to the inclusion of a cap on agricultural visas which she believes would have been disastrous for New York farmers.

Elsewhere, groups have noted Stefanik’s votes against former President Donald Trump’s travel ban of foreign nationals from countries deemed high-risk, her decision to co-sponsor a bill to reunite migrant families separated at the border and her vote against Trump’s emergency declaration to construct a wall at the southern border.

Top immigration hawk groups like Numbers USA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) expressed concern about her voting record and suggested she shift on the issue as she seeks to take Cheney’s old position.

“Congresswoman Stefanik is young, smart, and played her cards right. While she wasn’t supportive of President Trump’s immigration agenda, she was very loyal to him at a time when many Republicans backed away,” RJ Hauman, head of government relations for FAIR, told Fox News. “However, Trump’s support can’t be the only prerequisite for House Republican leadership heading into 2022.” 

“The fact is this: Immigration remains an important issue for Republican voters and the future of our country,” he said. “If Stefanik wants to become conference chair with GOP control of the House on the horizon, it is time for her to embrace a true ‘America First’ agenda on the issue.”

Numbers USA expressed a similar hope that Stefanik would change tune on issues like the agriculture bill.

“Rep. Stefanik has a history of supporting Democratic-led legislation that would increase the number of foreign workers during times of high unemployment and reward illegal aliens with amnesty,” Deputy Director Chris Chmielenski told Fox News. “However, as leader of the House Republican Conference, it’ll be her duty to represent the Party as a whole, and we hope she’ll stand with the majority of the Conference on immigration.”

Others were more blunt in their criticism. Ann Coulter — for whom immigration has been a central issue for years — described Stefanik as an “amnesty-shill” as she panned the GOP leadership for pushing her candidacy.

In a statement to Fox News, Stefanik’s office rejected the idea that she was soft on either border security or illegal immigration, and noted she had picked up the backing of the National Border Patrol Council.

“Elise has been a warrior for stronger border security, delivering funding for the wall, support for our Border Patrol and ICE Agents, and significant resources to improve technology and personnel at the US-Canada and US-Mexico borders, which is exactly why the National Border Patrol Council took the unprecedented step to endorse Elise in the race for House Republican Conference Chair,” spokesperson Ali Pardo said.

“Elise is vehemently opposed to amnesty as well as sanctuary cities, led the effort to expose the dangerous staffing crisis at the Northern Border, and has been holding the Biden Administration accountable for their disastrous border crisis and reckless plan to flood illegal immigrants into our communities during an unprecedented pandemic,” Pardo said. “At home in New York, she led the charge against Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s efforts to give driver’s licenses and stimulus checks to illegal immigrants.”

The arguments over immigration taps into a broader debate for those who are looking for a chair who will continue Trump-era stances on a range of issues, rather than what they see as the more old-school Republican brand that Cheney is seen as representing.

Trump has backed the ouster of Cheney and has supported Stefanik, calling her a “gifted communicator.” But Trump loyalists, while welcoming Cheney’s removal, have warned about Stefanik as a replacement.

In a memo to colleagues this week, reported by Politico, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, warned about “rushing to coronate a spokesperson whose voting record embodies much of what led to the 2018 a—kicking we received from Democrats.”

Among the list of concerns he expressed about Stefanik’s voting record on issues including The Equality Act, climate change, oil drilling, he accused her of having “voted repeatedly to undermine President Trump’s border security agenda.”

And in her letter announcing her candidacy for conference chair, Stefanik included border security as one of what she sees as top issues.

“We have strong conservative policy solutions to protect our borders, secure our elections, reopen our schools, get Americans back to work, support law enforcement, protect our Constitution, and strengthen our military to counter adversaries like the Chinese Communist Party,” she wrote. “If we get our message out, we will win and save America.” 

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