President Bush’s political strategists, taking note of the unpopularity of his immigration initiative as reflected in public-opinion polls, expressed confidence yesterday that the proposal will gain support as it is recast as an economic and homeland security issue.
“Once people have had a chance to educate themselves about the proposal and what it does, support for it will grow,” said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
But for now, most Americans oppose the plan, which would allow millions of illegal aliens to remain in the United States as guest workers if they have jobs. The immigrants eventually could apply for permanent legal residence.
According to a Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans disapprove of the proposal. A poll by ABC News found that 52 percent of the country opposes allowing illegal immigrants from Mexico “to live and work legally in the United States.”
A Bush campaign official said the administration’s own internal polling shows that “a majority of Republicans do support the president’s immigration policy. Does that mean everybody does? No. And ultimately this was a difficult decision.”
The difficulties come from conservatives who are angry at the proposal, which they say rewards illegal behavior. On the other hand, the administration’s political consultants say the initiative will help Mr. Bush win such states as New Mexico, which he lost by a few hundred votes in 2000.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Trent Duffy said Mr. Bush proposed the plan because “it’s the right thing to do.” Mr. Duffy said his boss “doesn’t make decisions based on polls.”
The president acknowledged that there are political ramifications to the proposal.
“Yes, there’s politics involved,” he said Monday during a joint press conference with President Vicente Fox in Monterrey, Mexico. “And there will be politics probably involved in whether or not it passes Congress.”
Some Republicans have expressed doubts that the plan will be approved by the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Some conservative Republicans are expected to balk at the substance of the proposal, and liberal Democrats might be reluctant to help the president make inroads with Hispanics, a traditionally Democratic constituency.
This is why Bush supporters are eager to sell the plan as having benefits outside of immigration. Miss Iverson, for example, said the proposal will stimulate the economy by matching “willing workers with willing employers.”
“It’s not just an immigration proposal, it’s also an economic proposal,” she said. “There are a lot of different aspects to this proposal.”
A campaign official pointed out that the proposal also calls for more money to be spent on Border Patrol agents and other methods of stemming illegal immigration from Mexico.
“And so I think at the end of the day this immigration announcement was every bit as much a homeland security announcement, because of the extra measures to tighten the borders,” the official said.
“By getting a large number of temporary workers into a program, we have a better idea of who is coming and going in the United States of America,” the official added.
However, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the proposal would threaten homeland security and the “jobs and wages of American workers.”