ATLANTA -- Immigration was the most potent issue in early 2007 when candidates were deciding whether to run for the U.S. Senate, and even though problems with gasoline and the financial system have overshadowed immigration, it's still a major point of disagreement among the three party nominees.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Republican incumbent, and his two challengers, Democrat Jim Martin and Libertarian Allen Buckley, each started their campaigns talking frequently about what to do about the flow of undocumented immigrants that had swelled to 12 million across the United States.
Mr. Chambliss, as the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, made comments early last year about the importance of immigrants as a source of labor for farmers and food processors. When he drew boos from members of his own party at the state convention in May 2007, he shifted his position away from support of President Bush's proposal to give the existing illegal immigrants a way to become citizens. Instead, the senator began calling for greater resources for enforcing existing immigration laws and for border security.
"In 2007, during the immigration bill debate, we listened and heard overwhelmingly from Georgians that they do not trust the federal government to enforce our immigration laws," he wrote on his Senate Web site. "Taking immediate action to secure our borders is what Georgians demand and deserve, and it is the best way to restore credibility with the American people."
Many pundits predicted Mr. Chambliss might be vulnerable because of his original stance, and the Democratic primary quickly filled with candidates seeking the chance to challenge him. Mr. Martin, the ultimate winner in that five-man primary, attacked the incumbent.
"Saxby Chambliss has voted four times against increased funding for border security and has taken millions of dollars from the business interests that benefit from the broken Bush system," Mr. Martin said during the primary. "When he was chair of the immigration subcommittee, Mr. Chambliss should have been holding the administration accountable, not toeing the line for special interests."
Mr. Chambliss ultimately voted against the Bush proposal. His voting record during his six-year Senate career earns a grade of "A" from Numbers USA Education and Research Foundation, an anti-immigration interest group based in the Washington area.
If Mr. Chambliss originally favored greater use of visas for immigrant farm workers for economic reasons, many Democrats have been sympathetic toward relaxed immigration rules for humanitarian reasons. Mr. Martin, however, has bucked much of his national party leadership in calling for tougher border security.
Mr. Buckley goes one step beyond supporting border security.
He would close most U.S. military bases overseas and transfer many of those troops to the Mexican border, make English the only official language of government and legal contracts and impose stiff fines on employers who hire undocumented workers.
Mr. Buckley said he will pursue employers who hire illegal immigrants, eliminate food stamps for those who are not disabled, eliminate the federal earned income tax credit, and "offer free bus rides with food to central Mexico."