Flashback: Biden Opposed Amnesty, Called for Immigrants to Speak English

May 28, 2019

Former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden praised a 2006 immigration bill for denying amnesty to illegal immigrants and punishing businesses that employ them.

In an interview with NBC’s Chris Matthews in 2006, then-senator Biden voiced his support for the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, sponsored by Sens. Ted Kennedy and John McCain. When asked by Matthews if there was a Democratic Party position which "accommodates the need to stop illegal entry, punish people who hire people with cheap wages illegally, and also gives hope to people who live here illegally," Biden said that he believed the McCain-Kennedy Bill would achieve those ends.

Matthews then asked, "Can you scare an employer in this country ... into not hiring an illegal because the punishment's so high that if you get caught, it's a huge embarrassment to your family, and you may just get hit with a fine that'll kill you?"

In response, Biden said, "You can, and that's what we should do. I think we should do that."

Biden affirmed that the bill's provisions to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants was not amnesty.

"This isn't amnesty," Biden said. "They're required to take 11 years work, they pay a fine, they gotta learn to speak English, they gotta pass tests."

The senator then emphasized the importance of forcing illegal immigrants to learn English. "I can't think of a country that has two languages as their accepted languages that is doing all that well, including Switzerland and ... Canada."

Biden has shifted away from his more hard-line immigration positions since his tenure as vice president under President Obama and his entry into the 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign.

As vice president in 2014, Biden said that in his view, the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants are "already American citizens." At a rally in Nevada this May, Biden criticized President Donald Trump for using the immigration issue "to demonize people."

Biden's policy views on immigration listed on his campaign website share little in common with the tougher positions on immigration deterrence that he staked out as a senator. From the policy statement: "We have got to address the root causes of migration that push people to leave behind their homes and everything they know to undertake a dangerous journey for the chance at a better life."