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Opportunism or Change of Heart?

Myrick votes pre-2003 belie her new anti-immigration campaign


It's week seven of Charlotte Congresswoman Sue Myrick's political metamorphosis into an anti-immigration Nazi, and as long as no one checks her voting record, things will continue to go smoothly.

In a Charlotte Observer article last week, Myrick's office expressed shock and outrage that not a single North Carolina company had been fined for immigration violations in over two years, calling the whole thing "ridiculous." Myrick's new immigration website screamed, "Hiring an illegal alien is against the law!"

One problem. Groups opposed to illegal immigration say she has a mixed record at best on the issue. In fact, they point out that a pattern of votes by Myrick swung toward more lax immigration regulation and may have made it easier for employers to hire illegal immigrant workers -- knowingly or unknowingly -- and in some cases at the expense of American workers.

Americans for Better Immigration, a group that opposes illegal immigration, gives Myrick a "C-minus" career rating on immigration issues, in part due to a series of votes in the 1990s they say made it easier for foreigners to work here illegally. The pattern fits in with the "We say no when we mean yes" immigration policy of the Republicans who have ruled Congress for the last decade.

The pattern started in 1996, when Myrick voted against mandatory pilot workplace verification programs that would have helped employers spot illegal hires in five of the top seven immigration states. She also voted against another amendment that would have made the pilot program voluntary.

Then in 1998, she voted for a massive back-door immigration program that would have allowed agri-business to import up to 250,000 foreign farm workers each year for less than a year at a time. Illegal immigration opponents criticized the bill, which ultimately failed, because it had no provisions for ensuring that temporary workers returned home. According to a bi-partisan Congressional commission, there were an estimated 190,000 unemployed farm workers in the United States at the time.

Later in 1998, Myrick voted against a substitute bill that would have forbidden US firms from using temporary foreign workers to replace Americans without first completing a form attesting that they had sought an American worker for the job.

Myrick's office didn't respond to our requests for comment on these votes. The Congresswoman also neglected to respond to another request from Creative Loafing a few weeks ago, when we pointed out that a piece of illegal-immigration legislation Myrick said she planned to sponsor sounded remarkably like another bill already filed by a Congressman from Georgia.

What makes the whole thing so confusing is that Myrick has amassed a lengthy anti-immigration voting record as well. Myrick has cast votes for virtually every piece of anti-immigration legislation that's come down the pike recently, including another employee verification program. Of the 36 votes she's cast for anti-immigration bills, about 25 of them have been in the last year or so, the rest since 2003.

After a high-profile car crash in July in which an illegal immigrant with a long drunk driving record killed a young father on his way to the beach, Myrick began appearing publicly with the grieving family and demanding immigration reform. It's not entirely clear whom she was demanding the immigration reform from, given that her party controls Congress and the White House. Myrick followed that by shooting out a laundry list of anti-immigration bills she now says she plans to file.

Myrick is promising to sponsor legislation that would raise the fine for employing an illegal alien from $250 to $10,000. She has appeared to be surprised about the government's lack of action on workplace crackdowns, which she criticizes for having slowed from 12,000 workplace arrests in 1993 to just 55 in 2001, the year after Bush took office. Myrick has held her Congressional seat since 1995.

Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) Media Director Ira Mehlman finds it difficult to believe the declining workplace immigration enforcement over the last decade would surprise anyone in Congress, given how widely covered the phenomenon has been in the media.

"You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know this," said Mehlman.

Mehlman was only mildly enthusiastic about Myrick's proposal to increase fines for businesses that employ illegal workers.

"You can make the fine a billion dollars, but if it's never going to be imposed, it's all theoretical," said Mehlman. "Somebody actually has to go out and enforce the law."

The only way to make that happen, said Mehlman, is for Congress to pressure the president to enforce the law, something most Republicans have been reluctant to do.

Like many other Republicans, Myrick has criticized President Bush's amnesty-oriented immigration proposals in the past, particularly during the last election season. She has also complained publicly that her constituents were "disturbed" by all the illegal immigrants living in her district. But like most in Congress, she hasn't really stuck it to the president, who bears most of the responsibility for the federal bureaucracy's lax immigration enforcement.

In fact, it has only been in the last two months that Myrick has plunged full-force into the anti-immigration jihad, momentarily surpassing Congressman Tom Tancredo on anti-immigration websites as the person of the moment.

None of this comes as a surprise to Democrat or Republican strategists, who have noticed that her very public immigration come-to-Jesus started at virtually the same time rumors began to surface that she was testing the waters for a run for governor.

"Immigration policy is polling near the top of the list in this state," said a statewide Republican campaign consultant who declined to be named. "It's a good issue to test the waters with."

Charlotte Democratic strategist Tom Chumley says Myrick's immigration crusade fits in perfectly with a potential run for governor.

"She'd definitely have Republican opposition from somebody in the rural Piedmont or one of the rural eastern counties," said Chumley. "If I was a Republican, I would hammer her non-stop on immigration because she sounds like a Johnny come lately on it and it does smack of opportunism. You can't be one way in Charlotte and try to have a totally different persona in the rest of the state. It just doesn't work."

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