PLAYER PROFILE

Mitch McConnell

Republican U.S. Senator from Kentucky | Senate Minority Leader

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is one of the most powerful Republicans in office today. Preferring to sidestep hot-button issues and filibuster legislation rather than lead open opposition, he is perceived as a shrewd tactician whose main goal is to preserve power for the Republican Party and himself. Despite McConnell’s diminished power after the 2021 Georgia runoff Senate elections stripped him of his Majority Leader post, getting immigration legislation past him in the Biden era could prove challenging as long as the 60-vote filibuster rule is in place. 

As for his record on immigration, however, McConnell is hardly an anti-immigration hawk. The Kentucky senator has a long history of voting to increase visas for guest workers, temporary agricultural workers, and highly-skilled H1-B workers, a record that landed him a “D” rating from immigration reduction group NumbersUSA. “The new people who come here have a lot of ambition, a lot of energy, tend to do very well and invigorate our country. My wife is a good example of that,” he said in 2019 in reference to Elaine Chao, the former US Secretary of Transportation for the Trump administration who migrated from Taiwan at the age of eight. However, in 2018 he supported the Secure and Succeed Act, which proposed to limit family-sponsored migration and eliminate the Diversity Visa lottery — a development that might easily be blamed on the prevailing political winds of the Trump era.

But McConnell is better known for the measures he has opposed than the measures he has supported. For example, he famously blocked a Senate vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. In the immigration realm, McConnell deployed a similar tactic on the DREAM Act, refusing to schedule the House-passed measure for a vote in the Senate, which led President Obama to issue DACA by executive order in 2012. 

In April 2019, McConnell went on the record to say that should a Democrat win the 2020 presidential election, he would use his Republican leadership position to obstruct all progressive legislation. A lot has happened since then: Joe Biden won the White House, McConnell was relegated to minority leader, and an intra-party schism over Biden’s  electoral confirmation vote has strained Republican unity. 

Political observers say there is a chance McConnell would work across the aisle on immigration. He reportedly has a better working relationship with Biden than he did with Obama, and in 2019 he signaled a willingness to cooperate with Democrats on immigration reform. However, to gain his approval, immigration legislation would have to look less like 2013’s “Gang of Eight” bill, which he criticized for its path-to-citizenship provision for undocumented immigrants and for not going far enough on border security, and more like Senator Chuck Grassley’s Secure and Succeed Act of 2018, which would have traded a pathway to citizenship for an array of Trump-supported immigration-limiting measures. As Democrats are unlikely to make those kinds of concessions, it’s more likely that McConnell will return to obstructionist ways, and with Democrats’ razor-thin lead in the Senate, obtaining 60 votes to get legislation past him will be challenging.

SOURCES:

McConnell’S IDEAS

  • Border Security

    McConnell has consistently voted to increase border funding, personnel, and surveillance. He has opposed immigration reform bills that he argues do not go far enough on border security, such as the “Gang of Eight” 2013 immigration bill.

  • Border Wall

    McConnell is a long-time supporter of a barrier on the southern border. In 2006 he voted for the Secure Fence Act, which authorized the construction of 700 miles of border fencing. He supported President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border to obtain funding for a border wall.

  • Detention

    In June 2018, McConnell said, "I support, and all of the members of the Republican Conference support, a plan that keeps families together while their immigration status is determined.” He and 38 fellow Republicans co-sponsored Senator Thom Tillis’s Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act, which mandated families with children under 18 be kept together in detention while also increasing personnel and judges to expedite asylum applications.

  • Immigration Courts

    In 2018, after President Trump suggested that undocumented immigrants be deported from the U.S. without going through the judicial process, McConnell told reporters, “I think we have to follow the law, and I clearly do think we need more judges.”

  • Undocumented Population

    McConnell opposes granting protections to undocumented immigrants. He has repeatedly blocked attempts to pass the DREAM Act, saying, “I do not believe we should reward illegal behavior. It is our duty to promote respect for America's immigration laws and fairness for U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants.” He objected to the 2013 “Gang of Eight” bill due to its proposal to create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. He has supported several measures to bar sanctuary cities from accessing federal grants.

  • ICE

    McConnell opposes granting protections to undocumented immigrants. He has repeatedly blocked attempts to pass the DREAM Act, saying, “I do not believe we should reward illegal behavior. It is our duty to promote respect for America's immigration laws and fairness for U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants.” He objected to the 2013 “Gang of Eight” bill due to its proposal to create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. He has supported several measures to bar sanctuary cities from accessing federal grants.

  • DACA

    McConnell’s repeated obstruction of the DREAM Act led President Obama to create DACA by executive order in 2012. More recently, McConnell supported the Secure and Succeed Act of 2018, which proposed to trade a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients in exchange for an array of immigration-limiting measures. McConnell called it a “compassionate resolution” for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

  • Asylum

    In 2019, with large numbers of Central American refugees migrating to the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump argued that declaring a national emergency would free up federal funds for his border wall and solve the issue. In an interview with reporters, McConnell responded, “That doesn’t solve the asylum issue. That can’t be solved … without some kind of statutory adjustment.”

  • Central America Policy

    In 2019, the House passed a bill to increase aid to Northern Triangle countries with overwhelming bipartisan support. However, after it landed in the Senate, McConnell refused to schedule it for a vote.

  • Visas

    McConnell voted for the Immigration Act of 1990, which created many of the priorities and categories of the current visa system, including the Diversity Visa lottery, the H1-B highly-skilled worker visa, the H2-B temporary agricultural worker visa, and others. Since then he has consistently voted in support of increasing the limits on foreign guest workers, agricultural workers, and H1-B applicants. However, in 2018 he supported the Secure and Succeed Act, which proposed to limit family-sponsored migration and eliminate the Diversity Visa lottery.