Why Bill O'Reilly now supports immigration reform

Bill O'Reilly announced his support for the immigration reform bill on his Fox News show Thursday night, in light of a border-security compromise that has been struck.

Frank Micelotta/Invsion/AP/File
This Oct. 13, 2012 file photo shows Fox News commentator and author Bill O'Reilly at the Comedy Central "Night Of Too Many Stars: America Comes Together For Autism Programs" at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

A border-security compromise struck by two Republican senators and the authors of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill is not only winning over perhaps a dozen or more Republicans to the cause: It’s also made an immigration reform believer out of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“It is time for the USA to pass immigration reform,” Mr. O’Reilly said on his show, "The O’Reilly Factor," Thursday night. “For years I’ve called for a more secure Southern border, you know that. And now it looks like the secure border is in reach, at least somewhat. So I hope this bill does become law.”

O’Reilly and other conservative pundits have been getting an earful from Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, among other conservative immigration reform proponents in Congress, in an attempt to win over the television and radio personalities who play a pivotal role in conservative politics.

Although O’Reilly denied claims he had already given his assurances privately to GOP senators that he would back the bill (a claim made in a recent piece in The New Yorker), it is the border-security compromise – worked out by Sens. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee and John Hoeven (R) of North Dakota with a handful of the Senate bill’s authors, known as the “Gang of Eight” – that finally paved the way for his support.

That compromise, still being finalized as of Friday afternoon, would do the following before any of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented people can obtain permanent legal status:

  • Offer a “border surge” of some 20,000 new border patrol agents along the US-Mexico divide (doubling the number of agents there).
  • Order up a slew of technological and infrastructure improvements.
  • Require 700 miles of border fencing to be completed.

Those requirements come in addition to two other “triggers” that must be met before illegal immigrants can become permanent residents: Entry- and exit-tracking procedures have to be improved at all seaports and airports, and a nationwide system of employment verification known as E-Verify must be in place.

Senator Corker said he hopes the compromise, which also extends to a handful of non-border-security issues key to winning the support of other GOP senators, will produce more than a dozen conservative votes for the legislation. Two Senate Republicans – Dean Heller of Nevada and Mark Kirk of Illinois – said on Thursday they would almost certainly support the bill with the Corker-Hoeven amendments.

O’Reilly said he “supports immigration reform, even though I well understand the new law will be somewhat chaotic and will be a magnet for even more people to come here illegally, which is why we need stepped-up security along the border.”

While noting the immigration issue was a difficult one for conservative Americans “because reform would reward bad behavior – illegal entry into the USA,” he contended that the federal government and businesses that profited from cheap labor had played a key role in attracting illegal migrants.

Yet the political stakes are also high, O’Reilly said.

“The Republican Party has a lot to lose here. If it doesn’t compromise, many Hispanic voters will reject the GOP entirely, pretty much dooming the party in the future,” he said. “That’s the reality.”

The amendments, which will probably come up for a vote next week as the Senate moves to pass the overall bill before the Fourth of July recess, aren’t winning over all pundits on the right, however.

The Corker-Hoeven package “may give political cover to Republican senators who want to vote for this bill anyway and are looking for something to be able to say when they go back home – ‘we really toughened up that border security,’ ” said William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, on Fox News Thursday.

“I don’t believe there’s a lot of policy analysis behind this. I missed all the hearings and the documents that show why we need 20,000 more border-security agents as opposed to 5,000," he said. "I don’t think it should change anyone’s fundamental attitude toward the bill as a matter of public policy, as it’s not a serious public-policy proposal.”

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