National Group Takes Aim At McConnell On Immigration

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who helped revive an immigration bill this week, is drawing criticism back home in a sharply worded television ad being run by a national group.

NumbersUSA, which favors restricting immigration, accuses McConnell of joining liberal icon Ted Kennedy in "strong-arming" senators to support "amnesty" for millions of illegal aliens.

The group's ad, which started airing Tuesday in Kentucky, says illegal immigrants have taken jobs from American workers, and says the legislation "won't even stop future illegal immigration."

The commercial asks people to contact McConnell to urge him to oppose the measure. NumbersUSA has run similar ads in the home states of other key lawmakers in the immigration debate.

When asked for comment Wednesday, McConnell's office did not immediately respond to the ad.

Last week, McConnell called the bill a "mixed bag" and said he would not decide how to vote on the embattled measure until a long series of amendments are disposed. The Kentucky Republican previously said the status quo on immigration is "indefensible."

Kentucky's other senator, Republican Jim Bunning, voted against reviving the bill this week, and he resumed his criticism of the measure in a Senate floor speech Wednesday.

"The bottom line is that this bill will not work. It is much worse than the status quo," said Bunning, adding that it would not bolster border security and would amount to a "get-out-of-jail-free pass" to illegal immigrants.

NumbersUSA's push against the bill comes at a crucial time as the Senate debates the issue.

McConnell was on the prevailing side this week when the Senate breathed life into the measure, which would potentially legalize millions of unlawful immigrants. The bill is a top priority for President Bush.

Supporters say the bill would strengthen border security. It also would create a temporary worker program and institute a new system for weeding out illegal immigrants from workplaces.

NumbersUSA spokeswoman Caroline Espinosa said Wednesday the ad is meant to "keep grassroots pressure" on senators to vote against the measure. She said McConnell was a key player in the debate.

"There are Republicans who will follow his lead, whichever way he goes," she said by phone.

Espinosa said the group's biggest objection to the bill is over the "amnesty component."

"It rewards their illegal behavior," she said.

The Rev. Patrick Delahanty, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, said such a characterization is wrong. Under the bill, illegal aliens would have to pay fines, enroll in English-language programs, be crime free and wait for those entering the country legally to be processed for citizenship.

"This is not an amnesty," Delahanty said by phone. "This is recognizing that someone broke the law, and after they pay the penalties, they can adjust their status."

He said McConnell deserves praise for helping revive the legislation.

Delahanty said the state's reliance on immigrant labor is a reality. He said birth rates among Kentuckians aren't high enough to fill all the available jobs.

"We don't have enough workers in Kentucky," he said. "That'swhy people are attracted here, because there are jobs."

In a sign of the issue's complexity, Delahanty said the Catholic Conference of Kentucky has objections to the bill. Specifically, it wants a version making it easier on those seeking to immigrate legally based solely on family ties.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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