Even as she faces into a battle for her Senate seat next year against Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is moving away from her onetime opposition stance on immigration reform.
In doing so she has received strong support from the Obama White House and her fellow New York senator, Charles Schumer, both powerful allies, as she girds herself to fight to retain her seat in the now to be contested 2010 Democratic primary.
At the recent Irish American Democrats political action committee fundraiser in Washington, Sen. Gillibrand signaled a sea change in direction on dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S.
“I pledge that I will work with you,” said Gillibrand to the crowd of newly elected and re-elected members of the House of Representatives, most of whom back immigration reform proposals that include elements of amnesty for those, including thousands of Irish, currently living in the U.S. illegally.
“I know the importance of immigration reform, we need to work to have it with family re-unification as a priority,” said Gillibrand.
Before the gathering that day, Gillibrand joined Schumer and Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Menendez in re-introducing the Reuniting Families Act, a measure designed to help families separated over visa issues.
Gillibrand chose not to co-sponsor the same legislation when she represented upstate New York as a House member.
According to a variety of groups advocating rights for immigrants, Gillibrand has previously opposed driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and has been a proponent of local law enforcement checking on immigration status of those brought into custody. But there now appears to be a big difference between how she represents the entire state of New York and a single House district, the 20th.
In April, Gillibrand co-sponsored the Dream Act legislation that would allow the children of immigrants, no matter what their legal status, to receive in-state tuition rates at college.
By contrast, in 2008, as a member of the House, she voted in favor of the E-Verify bill that would allow verification of a potential employee’s immigration status. The following year, she voted to stage a vote on the same bill when it reached the Senate in March 2009.