Matthews allowed Tancredo to falsely claim McCain-Kennedy bill silent on border security, illegal hiring

Chris Matthews failed to challenge Rep. Tom Tancredo's (R-CO) false assertion that an immigration bill co-sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) does not contain provisions to improve border security or impose tougher sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

On the May 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews failed to challenge Rep. Tom Tancredo's (R-CO) false assertion that an immigration bill co-sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) does not contain provisions to improve border security or impose tougher sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Matthews also suggested Kennedy was "[m]aybe pro-illegal immigration," even though Kennedy stated during an earlier segment of the program that his immigration bill is critical because “you have to do something” about illegal immigration.

Tancredo made his comments in response to Matthews's statement that Kennedy -- during his interview earlier on the program -- had pledged that his was a bill “with teeth in it,” that would enhance border security and punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, while providing for a guest worker program and establishing legal status for immigrants who have already been in the country for a number of years. Matthews added that Kennedy “says his package ... answers all th[ose] questions.”

Tancredo responded with a “guarantee” that Kennedy's proposal “answers none of those questions,” calling the plan “an amnesty plan, pure and simple.” He added that Kennedy's claim that his proposal toughened border security and sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants was “not the truth.”

But as Media Matters for America previously noted, Kennedy's proposed immigration legislation includes numerous provisions to increase border security. On March 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an immigration bill based on the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act" -- sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and co-sponsored by Kennedy. A fact sheet provided by Kennedy stated that, in addition to providing a guest worker program and a path for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, the bill that emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee would:

  • Double the strength of the Border Patrol by add[ing] 12,000 new agents (2,400 each year for the next 5 years)
  • Double interior enforcement by adding “1,000 investigators per year for next 5 years”
  • Create a "[n]ew [s]ecurity [p]erimeter" by “add[ing] new technology at the border to create [a] 'virtual fence' ”
  • “Tighten[] [c]ontrols” by “expand[ing] exit-entry security system at all land borders and airports”
  • Call for the "[c]onstruction of [b]arriers" by “mandat[ing] new roads and vehicle barriers at borders”
  • Call for the "[c]onstruction of [f]ences" by “provid[ing] additional border fences at specific vulnerable sectors”
  • "[A]uthorize new permanent highway checkpoints near border"
  • Demand a "[c]omprehensive [s]urveillance [p]lan" that would “mandate[] new land and water surveillance plan[s]”
  • “Create[] new crime for construction, financing, and use of unlawful tunnels.”

Additionally, the Washington Post reported on April 4 that "[a]s it passed out of the Judiciary Committee, the Senate immigration bill" would “toughen penalties on employers and others who aid illegal immigrants.”

Notwithstanding the provisions in Kennedy's legislation to strengthen borders and discourage employers from hiring illegal immigrants, Matthews suggested that Kennedy's “very pro-immigration position” was "[m]aybe pro-illegal immigration." But during his interview earlier on the program, Kennedy had expressed support for legislation that would -- in Matthews's words -- "[s]lam the door on illegal immigration," maintaining that the bill he co-sponsored would do just that. Kennedy also stated that “you have to do something” about illegal immigration.

From the May 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: There's two sides to this fight over immigration, it seems. There's the tough guys like Tancredo, who's going to be on this show, who want to really close the door and get the illegals out of the country. There's guys like you on the liberal side who want to give them a break and a chance to become citizens. Why don't you put it all together? Slam the door on illegal immigration. Allow people to come in as guest workers, but also legalize the people here and get tough on business that hires cheap labor. Why can't you do it all?

KENNEDY: I'm for it. You just described the McCain-Kennedy bill as modified --

MATTHEWS: Including tough on illegal hiring?

KENNEDY: Absolutely, absolutely. We are a strong support -- we recognize that there are three issues. One is national security. We have over 400,000 coming in here; we don't know who they are. So you have to do something there. Secondly, you need to be tough on employers who are going to hire undocumented because they are driving wages down and exploiting and creating an underclass. And you're also going to have to recognize that the people that are here, the 10 or 12 million, by and large, are the people that care about the kinds of things that you and I care about, that most Americans care about. Working hard, devoted to their religion, devoted to their country, their new country, 70,000 of them in the armed forces of this country. And we're saying, “Look, you pay a tax, you pay a penalty, you go to the end of the line. You obey the law, you learn English. And if you can demonstrate all of that over an 11-year period, then you have the opportunity to earn citizenship.”

MATTHEWS: So you're for requiring learning English to become a citizen?

KENNEDY: It's earning -- that's part of our McCain-Kennedy bill.


MATTHEWS: We just had Ted Kennedy here. He's a liberal. He's a Democrat. He has a very pro-immigration position. Maybe pro-illegal immigration. I'll go that far. But he says he's willing to sign on to a true compromise, a bill which would have teeth in it, in terms of the border. Teeth in it, in terms of illegal hiring and sanctions for people who hire people illegally, and a chance to legalize people who have been her for many years, and a chance for guest workers. He says his package, McCain-Kennedy, answers all the questions. Your response?

TANCREDO: Two different things. He is saying that he is signing on to something new and he's talking about his own package, which, I guarantee you, answers none of those questions. His package is an amnesty plan, pure and simple. It is the -- terrible policy.

MATTHEWS: So you're saying he was dishonest when he said he was backing a tougher border and tougher sanctions on employers who hire illegally?

TANCREDO: They're not the same thing. He said you -- the way you presented it, you said -- he said he's backing that and that McCain-Kennedy is that. That's not the truth.