Chris Christie’s Handpicked Interim Senator Works Against Immigration Reform

Gov. Chris Christie and interim Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ)

Gov. Chris Christie and interim Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ) (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) has endorsed comprehensive immigration reform legislation including enhanced border security and a path to citizenship. But his handpicked U.S. Senate appointee, Jeffrey Chiesa (R), has cast yet another vote against the Senate’s immigration bill on Wednesday.

Christie’s words have been in support of immigration reform for years. In 2010, he told ABC’s This Week, “The president and the Congress have to step up to the plate, they have to secure our borders, and they have to put forward a commonsense path to citizenship for people. And until they do that, states are going to struggle all over the country with this problem, and so is federal law enforcement, who doesn’t have the resources to do it effectively.” In February of this year, he showcased his support, noting, “We cannot expect to get support from the Latino community if we don’t make the Latino community feel welcome and important in our party,” as a state Latino advocacy PAC praised him for his support of “comprehensive immigration reform” with “shared responsibility approach between government and the undocumented.”

With the death of progressive champion Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), Christie got a rare opportunity to pick anyone he wanted to serve in the U.S. Senate until an October special election. In announcing his friend and former aide Chiesa, Christie raved, “There are very few people in my life that I know better than Jeff.”

Chiesa promised to support efforts to secure the borders and to hear out all sides on the immigration issue.

But since joining 83 colleagues in voting to take up the “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill, Chiesa has been a reliable vote for opponents seeking to attach what supporters call “poison pill” amendments to the bill. Among these were a proposal to require completion of hundreds of miles of border fencing before undocumented immigrants could become permanent residents and another to require other tough “triggers” and at least a 90 percent apprehension rate at the Mexican border before the pathway to citizenship begins.

Wednesday, Chiesa was one of just 31 Senators — all Republicans — to vote against a procedural motion to let the Senate vote on adopting the final amended version of the bill. Its adoption, which required three-fifths support, paved the way for votes on the final version later this week.

Chiesa’s hard-line approach is at odds with the people he is supposed to represent. Recent polling in New Jersey shows 62 percent support for the comprehensive bill and 71 percent support for a path to citizenship.

While the bill seems to enjoy strong bipartisan support, Christie’s failure to appoint someone who supports his own stated position has made the path to comprehensive reform that much harder.