- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

Congressional Democrats yesterday said Republicans have failed the Hispanic community and vowed to fight for a Hispanic agenda, including more funds for education and legal status for illegal immigrants working in the United States.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said there has been an “abandonment” of Hispanic families by the Bush administration.

The Democrats pledged to raise the minimum wage, extend full government health programs to new citizens, and create a way for illegal immigrants who have worked in the United States and been upstanding citizens to earn legal status.

The “clearest way to change the agenda is to change the leadership in the White House and Congress,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

Republicans said their political adversaries are simply scared that they have lost ground with the nation’s largest ethnic group with an election year coming.

“They know that we’re making huge inroads into the Hispanic community,” said Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, contending that the Hispanic community’s work ethic and conservative social values are more in line with the Republican Party.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, called the Democrats’ accusations “pure partisan politics” and said they are playing a game of “cover thy backside” because they’ve lost ground.

Republican pollster Raul Damas, director of Latino Opinion, said 65 percent of Hispanics approve of the job President Bush is doing, according to a June poll he did.

“President Bush has dealt with the issues most important to them: the economy, education and health care,” Mr. Damas explained, adding that immigration is a secondary concern to most of them.

Mr. Damas also agreed with Mr. Ensign that Hispanic values are more in line with Republicans. He pointed to a 2001 poll that found 73 percent of Hispanics supported taxpayer-funded school vouchers. Most Democrats strongly oppose any sort of voucher.

Meanwhile, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey said Democrats believe “you can earn your legalization in this country,” and “that is the place that the Republican Party will not go to.”

He said Democrats would like to create a guest-worker program that would allow foreigners to become legal if they choose. Mr. Menendez also said Democrats want to provide legal status to illegal aliens who have been upstanding citizens working in the United States for a certain number of years.

Mr. Daschle would not give details, but said Democrats are working on a comprehensive immigration bill to be introduced perhaps this fall.

Mr. Ensign said a broad amnesty is not politically possible right now, but he does support an improved guest-worker program, as do Mr. Craig and Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, conceded that President Bush’s progress on immigration was “slowed down” after September 11, when security issues had to be the focus. But he said he expects the president will address the issue of earned legality this year.

Mr. Craig said Democrats lost ground with Hispanics on the issue of lawyer Miguel Estrada, President Bush’s federal appeals court nominee being blocked by Senate Democrats.

When asked yesterday about that holdup, Mr. Daschle said Mr. Estrada has to answer Democratic questions before his nomination will move forward.

Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based Democratic pollster, conducted a survey of 800 Hispanic voters for the New Democrat Network in June, and found that most Hispanics do not care about Mr. Estrada’s plight. The poll found 61 percent weren’t aware of the nomination or didn’t have an opinion.

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