Senate hopeful in N.H. fuels immigration debate
CONCORD, N.H. — US Senate candidate Bill Binnie knows a little something about immigrating to the United States.
The 52-year-old multimillionaire businessman is a naturalized citizen who immigrated legally to the United States with his parents from Scotland when he was 5 years old.
He has been running a television ad calling for English to be the country’s official language and advocates having the government do more to ensure immigrants learn it. The ad has moved fighting illegal immigration, an issue that plays well with his fellow Republicans, to the center of the campaign.
New Hampshire’s population is 95 percent white, and the state is far from the Mexican border, where a national debate rages over Arizona’s attempts to crack down on illegal immigration.
US Census figures show 33,200 of New Hampshire’s 1.3 million residents, or 2.5 percent, are Hispanic. Last year, 3,151 illegal immigrants were deported from New England, which has a population of about 14 million, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. No figures for New Hampshire were available.
In a July poll by University of New Hampshire Survey Center four out of five Republican voters said illegal immigration is a very serious problem and 75 percent supported the Arizona law.
“We should say to all immigrants, all people who come to our country, to learn the language of English, that it is in fact part of our culture and it gives everybody the same shot at the American dream and economic opportunity, and that’s critical,’’ Binnie said.
Binnie’s central campaign theme has been about creating jobs. The new ad shows him with a group of students, saying that English is the language of commerce, science, and the Internet.
“Most importantly, it’s the language of America. As a US senator, I’ll insist that all immigrants learn English,’’ Binnie says. “It’s simple. Americans should have allegiance to one flag and have one official language, English.’’
His campaign would not say how much he spent on the ad. He has put $3.5 million of his own money into his campaign, according to his latest financial filings.
The ad has drawn attention to Binnie’s position on the Arizona law: He says he opposes it because he believes the federal government, not states, should be enforcing immigration laws.
That puts him at odds with not only three-fourths of the state’s Republican voters, but also his three main rivals — former attorney general Kelly Ayotte, attorney Ovide Lamontagne, and businessman Jim Bender.
Ayotte, Binnie’s chief rival, is attempting to win over those voters with television and radio ads implying Binnie is out of step with Republicans.
Binnie says the Arizona law shows Washington hasn’t solved illegal immigration.
“The most profound problem we have with illegal immigration and the one that so disturbs fair-minded Americans is the inflow over the border of illegal aliens. We just feel viscerally that that’s unfair, illegal, and wrong,’’ Binnie said. “We as a great superpower can certainly build a secure wall or fence that secures our borders.’’
The four major candidates generally agree on other immigration policies: secure the border with Mexico and enforce federal laws against employers who hire illegal immigrants and landlords who rent to them.
They say the northern US border — which includes New Hampshire’s northern boundary — also needs to be secure, but not the same way. Binnie said he supports a fence along the Mexican border but not along the Canadian border, because the immigration challenges are different.
Immigrants taking the US naturalization test must show an ability to read, write, and speak in English and pass a civics test, though some older and disabled immigrants can seek certain exceptions.
Binnie advocates making resources available to teach English, but he did not say what he would fund. Bryan Lanza, campaign spokesman, said Binnie does not have a specific plan for an English-only law.
Ayotte and Lamontagne agree that English should be the official language. Bender does not, and says it is an election year tactic aimed at diverting voters from the real issue: securing the borders.
Mike Dennehy, a GOP strategist, said he learned how important illegal immigration was to New Hampshire Republicans when he was a senior adviser to presidential candidate John McCain.
“I said to myself, ‘There is no way voters in New Hampshire will care about this,’ ’’ he said.
But questions about immigration came up repeatedly at town hall meetings, he said.
Binnie’s English ad is interesting, Dennehy said, because he is less conservative than his opponents on some social issues, including favoring abortion rights.
“I think Bill Binnie is trying creatively to go after conservative voters with an issue, which is clearly a challenge given that he is not a social conservative,’’ Dennehy said.
Political scientist Dante Scala said Binnie needed an issue to bolster his conservative credentials, because Ayotte and others are characterizing him as a liberal.
“You have to come back with something. The concern is that it gets away from his core message about creating jobs,’’ Scala said.