Dianne Feinstein’s Forgotten Immigration Legacy


October 10, 2023

By Dale Wilcox

As Washington D.C. mourns the loss of long-time California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, it’s worth looking back at her legacy on the issue of immigration.

Feinstein, the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history, died earlier this month at the age of 90. During her more than three decades in the U.S. Senate, Feinstein was a leader on a variety of different issues, including immigration. The late senator was once a strong, articulate opponent of illegal immigration. In the 1990s, Feinstein advocated for strong border controls and assailed the government of Mexico for facilitating the flow of illegal aliens into the U.S. In a 1993 statement, Feinstein eloquently laid out how illegal immigration strains resources intended to serve Americans.

“It’s a competition for space, whether the space is a job, the space is a home, [or] a place in a classroom, it becomes a competition for space,” Feinstein said at the time. “You become so overtaxed you have to concentrate on saying, the people who should be here are those who come legally at this time.”

Feinstein also sounded the alarm about the growing number of children being born to illegal aliens during a 1994 appearance on Face the Nation with Federation for American Immigration Reform President Dan Stein.

“To have a situation where 40 percent of the babies born on Medicaid in California today are born of illegal immigrants creates a very real problem,” Feinstein said. “To have 17 percent of our prison population, at a cost of $300 million a year, be illegal immigrants who come here and commit felonies, that’s not what this nation is all about.”

It’s almost impossible to imagine a renowned liberal senator discussing illegal immigration in these terms today, but Feinstein’s longevity serves as a reminder of a time when border security was not a partisan dispute, but a bipartisan value. Rhetoric is important when it comes to dissuading illegal immigration, and illegal aliens would be less likely to flood our border if leaders on both sides of the aisle still talked like this today. Feinstein’s effective rhetoric would at times also lead to effective policy.

In 2006, Feinstein voted to construct 700 miles of additional border fencing.  The following year, she authored legislation that Congress passed into law which prohibited funding or constructing tunnels or passageways to help illegal aliens enter the U.S. Feinstein’s opposition to illegal immigration also made her a target for the far-left. During her last re-election in 2018, Feinstein was accused by a progressive challenger of inflicting “horror” against aspiring migrants at the border.

Feinstein’s longevity serves as a reminder of a time when border security was not a partisan dispute, but a bipartisan value.

It’s worth noting that Feinstein was nobody’s idea of an immigration hawk. She consistently advocated for high levels of legal immigration, and in her later years, moved left with her party to advocate amnesty for many aliens here illegally. Still, in the prime of her political career, Feinstein was an effective advocate for upholding the rule of law at the border. Her old comments are reminiscent of those of former Senator Harry Reid, the long-time Democratic Senate leader who passed away in 2021. In 1993, Reid famously gave a speech on the Senate floor opposing birthright citizenship for the children of illegal aliens, accurately opining that “no sane country” would allow it.

There have always been and will always be spirited debates over the appropriate amount of immigration the U.S. should allow, but both Feinstein and Reid’s legacies serve as a reminder of a time when lawlessness at the border was condemned across the board, a time before anti-borders interest groups took over one of America’s two major political parties and a sizable portion of the other.

Feinstein’s political career spanned more than half a century, going back to her election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969. During that time period, she made her mark on every issue touching American life. As such, her legacy will be hotly debated, and mean different things to different people, but one aspect of her legacy that deserves to endure is her once-fierce, principled opposition to illegal immigration.

Feinstein’s decades-old remarks opposing illegal immigration have stood the test of time, and are more relevant now than ever. May her memory be a blessing, and may her legacy inspire us all to restore the integrity of our borders, and support for the rule of law, as the default position in American politics.

Dale L. Wilcox is executive director and general counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.

Also published at American Thinker, October 9, 2023.

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