The National Immigration Forum gave Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) a “Courage to Lead Award” Thursday for his work on immigration legislation last year–not for the senator’s overall record on immigration issues.
The decision by the Forum, a national pro-immigrant group, to recognize Gardner surprised immigration experts, who say Gardner, who’s up for re-election next year, has mostly been a conservative hardliner on immigration.
Ali Noorani, Director of the National Immigration Forum, explained that Gardner got the award specifically for his 2018 work on bipartisan legislation that would have established a path to citizenship for Dreamers, who came to the U.S. illegally as children, and funded border security measures, including wall construction. The legislation failed to clear the Senate.
“From a Republican perspective, that is certainly not an easy thing to do these days,” said Noorani, referring to Gardner’s role in pushing the 2018 legislation.
But the award was narrowly intended to recognize the senator’s work last year, and it should not be seen as praise for Gardner’s overall record on immigration, Noorani said.
The Forum’s decision to recognize Gardner, he said, was not based on an assessment of his immigration votes, statements, or any other actions during his career in the Senate, U.S. House, or the Colorado Legislature.
A wider review of Gardner’s record shows him to be consistently obstructing or blocking immigration reform, even, in the U.S. House, opposing the Dream Act itself and Obama’s DACA rules to protect Dreamers.
As a Colorado state representative, he went beyond the typical hard-line approach of the era, siding with extremists who favored withholding immunizations, other preventative care, and schooling for immigrant kids.
And he apparently still opposes a Colorado law, called ASSET, that grants in-state tuition for Dreamers, who would otherwise likely be priced out of college.
“But we can’t start putting in place in-state tuition, whether it’s other things that are being placed by the states, without actually addressing the root problem that will only continue more illegal immigration into this country,” Gardner told a conservative KNUS radio host in 2013. “And so, that’s why we’ve got to have a policy that actually works, and I believe it starts with border security.”
Gardner Opposed Bipartisan Immigration Reform Bill
Thursday, facing an immigrant-friendly audience at the National Immigration Forum’s award event, Gardner talked optimistically about immigration reform efforts, and he favorably referenced a 2013 bipartisan immigration bill, even though he didn’t support the legislation at the time and he still doesn’t back it.
“When it comes to immigration, there is so much common ground, above 90 percent common ground, between people who think they are completely at odds with each other, that if we approach it from that conversation with the American people, we implement those things that we’ve tried to do in legislation just a couple years ago,” Gardner said Thursday at the National Immigration Forum panel with Sen. Dick Durban (D-IL), who also received a Courage to Lead award.
“You [Durbin] had earlier efforts before I was in the Senate,” said Gardner to Durbin. “If we can convince the American people that that’s exactly what we are trying to do, those ideas that they all agree to, maybe there are one or two issues that are left, but we’ve built so much trust, and we’ve built so many successes, that the rest of it comes because we’ve actually accomplished something. We’ve solved the problem. And the all of a sudden we can get there.”
The centerpiece of Durbin’s “earlier efforts,” before Gardner was elected to the U.S. Senate, was the 2013 comprehensive immigration legislation that passed the Senate and represented by far the best chance for immigration reform in the U.S. since Gardner has been in Washington.
The 2013 bipartisan bill was an across-the-board immigration fix, addressing border security, a path to citizenship for Dreamers and undocumented adult immigrants, and much more.
But for Gardner, who was a U.S. Representative at the time, it wasn’t good enough.
“I would not vote for it,” Gardner told The Denver Post an hour before the final 68-32 Senate vote. “It doesn’t focus on border security, and it does it the wrong way. It moves the ball down the field without ensuring borders are secure.”
Proponents of the bipartisan Senate bill had hoped that Gardner would support the legislation, because he’d previously backed the concept of comprehensive immigration reform, like the bipartisan Senate legislation.
“We can’t have a rifle approach to immigration, because if you don’t fix all of it together, it’s going to create some problem somewhere else in the system,” Gardner had said before the bipartisan Senate bill stalled in the House.
Gardner’s decision on the comprehensive bill reflects his stance on immigration issues for most of his career.
And so his award last week angered immigrant rights groups in Colorado.
“As an immigrant right community we are appalled that someone who falls in line with Donald Trump anti-immigrant agenda time and time again would be getting an award on anything related to immigration,” said Nicole Melaku, Director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), in a statement. “We are unaware of the process, but from our perspective we had to push really hard for him to support the Dream Act in 2017 and have not seen any push back from the Senator on Trump’s devastating anti-immigrant agenda.”