Sen. Susan Collins’ reelection victory over Sara Gideon came as a surprise to national pundits. But it wasn’t shocking to Mainers.

Many counties that overwhelmingly voted for the Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden, also comfortably backed the Republican Collins. Voters here wanted someone with Maine roots and centrist credentials – not a progressive “from away” like Gideon.

Now she’ll have the opportunity to burnish those centrist credentials by voting against one of Biden’s more progressive agenda items. He recently sent a proposal to Congress that’d grant amnesty and the right to work for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

A “no” vote on amnesty will win her plaudits from voters across Maine’s political spectrum. Rejecting a move that would decrease wages for the working class dovetails with what Mainers like best about Collins – she’s a native daughter who can bring good jobs and economic opportunity to her home state.

How Collins will vote is unclear. In 2007, she voted against a similar bill. In 2013, she voted in favor of another one. In 2018, she co-sponsored a bill to give permanent amnesty to Dreamers – children of undocumented immigrants. It’s likely she’s voted for reform only when she felt the bill in question struck a good balance between compassion for undocumented immigrants and protections for American workers.

Biden’s bill doesn’t strike that balance. It fails to include adequate border security measures or other safeguards to protect Americans. While the bill does allocate funding for supplemental technology to monitor the border, this “virtual fence” system of cameras and sensors has never been effective at keeping people from entering the country without permission.<

That’s a problem, because undocumented immigrants drive down wages for the working class. They generally do not have college degrees, so they compete directly with citizens without higher education.

Amnesty would flood the market with legal competition for a relatively fixed number of working-class jobs. Corporations could then get away with paying everyone less. According to Harvard economist George Borjas, illegal immigrants already reduce the wages of native-born workers anywhere between $99 billion and $118 billion a year.

Working-class folks power the Maine economy. Around seven in 10 Mainers don’t have a college degree. Truck drivers and cashiers dominate the labor force. The state also hosts specialized sectors like shipbuilding, logging and commercial fishing that require a large working-class labor force.

Many of these people are struggling right now. Maine’s median household income of $59,000 is nearly $7,000 below the national average. By voting against amnesty, Collins can protect her constituents from further wage reductions.

Regardless of party, working-class folks appreciate that Collins has historically had their backs economically – it’s a big reason she beat Gideon. She reminded them that Gideon didn’t do anything to alleviate the pain of the coronavirus-fueled recession while Collins passed federal paycheck protection. So while Donald Trump won the vote of folks with some college or less by 8 points, Collins won it by 22, according to exit polls.

Maine voters also value that Collins, like them, has lived here her whole life. She campaigned heavily on her Maine roots. And it’s true – not many Americans move here from out of state. In 2012, two-thirds of the state population was born in Maine.

Voting for amnesty would fly in the face of Collins’ most important credentials. While undocumented immigrants undoubtedly work hard and by and large come to this country with good intentions, amnesty would invite thousands of immigrants “from away” to Maine at the expense of families who have made ends meet in this state for generations.

For a senator who consistently champions her constituents, voting against amnesty should be a no-brainer. There’s nothing more centrist than promoting good jobs and wages for working-class folks of all parties – whether they’re shipbuilders and union members from the midcoast or North Woods entrepreneurs.


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