Newly appointed New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has a very poor record on immigration issues, a fact which will not endear her to many Irish activists. Gillibrand has Irish (Noonan) roots on her mother's side and is married to an English immigrant. Gillibrand has already been attacked by Latino groups for her anti-immigrant stance, and it could prove very problematic for her in a contested Democratic primary in two years. A huge headline that needed no translation - "ANTI INMIGRANTE" - tagged the cover story on Gillibrand in El Diario, the Spanish language daily, the day after her selection. New York State Assemblyman Peter Rivera, the senior Hispanic member in the State Legislature, attacked Gillibrand, saying there was "no compelling reason" for Governor David Paterson to have selected someone whose "hardline stand" on immigration "borders on xenophobia." Gillibrand's website makes clear her anti-immigrant positions. "In Congress, Congresswoman Gillibrand has been a firm opponent of any proposal that would give amnesty to illegal aliens," the website stated. "In addition, Congress-woman Gillibrand believes English should be made the official language of the United States, and she opposes providing non-emergency taxpayer benefits to illegal aliens." Chung-Wa Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, called Gillibrand's stances on immigration issues "deeply troubling." Irish immigration leaders no doubt feel the same way. Gillibrand was Paterson's surprise pick after he rebuffed the attempt by Caroline Kennedy to be the appointed senator. In her conversations Kennedy had made clear her support for a path to legalization for undocumented living in America. According to her website, Gillibrand co-sponsored the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act in 2007. The SAVE Act aimed at reducing the inflow of undocumented immigrants by increasing border security and internal enforcement and complete the fence along the border. Gillibrand is reflecting the views of her Albany area district, which reliably elected Republicans until she upset incumbent John Sweeney in 2006. Now, however, she is a statewide representative and will find herself in a major Democratic primary battle next year on issues such as gun control and immigration if she is not careful. Gillibrand is very much out of step with her own party colleagues on this issue. The fact that former New York Republican Senator Al D'Amato, a hate figure on the left, appeared at Gillibrand's introductory press conference last week standing shoulder to shoulder with her incensed many Democratic activists. While Senator Charles Schumer has given her good advice on the issues, it remains to be seen if she can prevent a strong primary challenger next year. The reality is that downstate New York is the heart of the Democratic primary voting block, and if they coalesce around a single candidate Gillibrand may find it very hard going indeed. She is not helped by the fact that Paterson now seems to have attained buffoon status statewide because of his inability to decide on a candidate early on in the process, and his aides' decision to slime Kennedy once she withdrew from the contest. Gillibrand can count on the support of both former Senator Hillary Clinton and Schumer, but there will still be many downstate elected representatives who will fancy their chances running from the left against Gillibrand. Of course, she has already undertaken a damage control effort to moderate her positions, but this entire process has been mishandled from the start. It looks like a primary challenge next year is definitely on the cards for Gillibrand.
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