Perhaps one of the few points Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Klein and his Republican opponent Allen West agree on is that they disagree on a long list of policy issues.
On his campaign website the morning of Sept. 16, 2010, West compared his views on several topics with Klein including immigration and the border.
West wrote that he "supports the rights of states to secure their border, such as in Arizona. Protecting US citizens must come first." For Klein he wrote: "Repeatedly voted in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants, even as violence on our southern border is increasing rapidly."
In this Truth-O-Meter item, we will explore whether Klein repeatedly voted in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration has become a hot topic nationwide including in Congressional District 22, which spans parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties in South Florida.
First, some background on amnesty.
It was Republican President Ronald Reagan who "did the A-word," as PolitiFact stated in a 2008 ruling about Rudy Giuliani's claim about Reagan and amnesty.
Here is what PolitiFact wrote then:
"In 1986, Reagan signed an immigration reform bill, the first in 20 years, that legalized the status for 1.7 million people. Some defenders of the law dispute the term 'amnesty.'
But here's how Edwin Meese, Reagan's former attorney general, characterizes what his boss did: 'President Reagan called this what it was: amnesty. Indeed, look up the term 'amnesty' in Black's Law Dictionary, and you'll find it says, 'the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already in the country.' "
Various other recent bills have been linked to the idea of amnesty.
Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain made waves when he teamed up with Democrat Edward Kennedy on a bill during the 2005-06 session that PolitiFact wrote "would have granted legal status to most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, as well as toughen border security and require employers to verify the legal status of workers." But that never made it into law, and was introduced before Klein was sworn into office in January 2007.
McCain was also one of the co-sponsors of the DREAM Act in 2007 that would have let Homeland Security give legal resident status to some illegal residents who were students, according to the New York Times 2008 election guide. Klein was not one of the 86 co-sponsors on a related House bill that never made it to a vote. Opponents denounced that effort as amnesty.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S.1348) sponsored in May 2007 by Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, stalled in the Senate and was not voted on in the House.
Getting back to West's claim, what did Klein vote on? First we reached out to West campaign manager Josh Grodin in the morning Sept. 16 to ask for his evidence. Grodin said the campaign would respond.
While we were waiting for Grodin, we did a Nexis search for Klein and "amnesty" in the past five years.
When Klein ran against Republican Congressman Clay Shaw in 2006, the Miami Herald wrote on Aug. 18, 2006, "Klein does not support amnesty or a guest worker program, for example." Klein won that race.
When West ran against Klein the first time in 2008, West made a similar claim about amnesty. Shortly before election day, West released a TV ad that criticized "Klein for raising taxes, giving amnesty to illegal immigrants and taking millions from special interests," according to an Oct. 29, 2008, Broward Politics blog in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Klein campaign spokeswoman Melissa Silverman was quoted as saying "This ad contains blatant falsehoods about Congressman Klein's long record of public service, and lacks any documentation or backup to support its claims. Among other outrageous claims, it includes the charge that Congressman Klein supports so-called 'amnesty' for illegal immigrants, which he has consistently and strongly opposed." The blog does not explain in detail what West was referring to; the blog's link to the ad was no longer active and we could not find the ad on YouTube.
In our Nexis search, we found no reference to Klein voting for a bill that included amnesty.
Klein's campaign told us that in August, Klein voted for H.R. 6080, which provided emergency supplemental appropriations for border security including, according to the U.S. Library of Congress website, paying for salaries, training and expenses and "construction of up to two Border Patrol forward operating bases along the Southwest Border." The Library of Congress website shows that passed on a voice vote.
Grodin got back to us in the evening of Sept. 16 and he told us that the West campaign had made an error.
"We made a little bit of a mistake and we corrected it,'' he said. "We changed it on the website. Obviously there haven't been any amnesty bills voted on this session. .... For the record the campaign made a little bit of a mistake and we corrected. It's nothing like flat-out lying on a TV commercial."
Here is the new claim by West on his website about immigration and the border: "Ron Klein received a 'C' from Numbers USA, which grades Congress on their positions on immigration. Klein has not publicly supported Arizona's Immigration Bill." Note there is no longer any mention of "amnesty."
We pointed out to Grodin that West's amnesty claim about Klein wasn't new -- he made it in an October 2008 ad. But Grodin said he did not work on that campaign and wasn't familiar with that ad.
We asked Silverman to comment about West's amnesty claim:
"Congressman Klein's position has been consistent and clear: this is a nation of laws, and immigration laws that are on the books have to be fully enforced. For Allen West to accuse Congressman Klein of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants is nothing more than an outright lie."
Our conclusion here is crystal clear: West's campaign admits that it wrongly characterized Klein's views on amnesty, and it had done so in the 2008 campaign as well. Illegal immigration is a hot-button emotional topic. We give the West campaign credit for changing the website on the same day we asked questions, but the claim about amnesty was flat-out wrong. We rate this Pants on Fire.