DENVER - Twenty-three congressmen warned President Bush in a letter yesterday that he risks an election-year backlash from Republican voters if he continues to press his guest-worker proposal.
The Republican lawmakers said their congressional offices have received a flood of angry letters, e-mails and phone calls from Republican constituents vowing that they will refuse to vote for the president if his program is approved.
“Since the President’s speech, our offices have been inundated with calls from dismayed constituents expressing vehement opposition to the Administration’s proposal,” said the letter signed by several members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus.
“It is a matter of great concern to us that these constituents politically active American citizens are so disillusioned by the proposal that many of them will become disenchanted with not only the Administration, but with Congress as well,” said the letter, which also was sent to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. “If we do not listen to our constituents on this matter, our influence and effectiveness in Congress could be jeopardized.”
Most of the congressmen signing are conservatives who represent Western, Southern and Midwestern states, including California, Idaho, Texas, Tennessee and Kansas.
The White House plan, released earlier this month, would give guest-worker status to undocumented aliens who have come to the United States to work. An estimated 8 million to 12 million immigrants live here illegally.
But critics say the plan would give de facto amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, exacerbating the social ills faced by many border states while reducing respect for immigration laws.
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said yesterday that she hadn’t yet seen the letter, but stressed the importance of the president’s proposal in controlling illegal immigration.
“The president’s temporary-worker program is a well thought-out aimed at improving border security, meeting our economic needs and being compassionate to those trying to improve their situation for themselves and their families,” Miss Buchan said. “He looks forward to working with Congress to pass this legislation.”
Even so, some Republicans, mainly those in the West and South, worry that the issue could become a political loser for the party in 2004. Critics have accused the White House of using the issue to pander to Hispanic special-issue groups at the expense of its core constituency.
One of those who signed the letter, Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, has received thousands of phone calls from angry constituents since the president’s speech, said his spokesman, Carlos Espinosa.
“Our office has a stack of letters 8 to 9 inches tall already, and that’s not including phone calls,” Mr. Espinosa said. “We had to create an immigration hot line after the president’s speech just for the calls we were getting. They’re saying they won’t vote for the president if he pushes this legislation.”
In the letter, the congressmen said they’ve filled “several three-inch binders full of e-mails from constituents saying they will not vote if this legislation sees the light of day, and the e-mails continue to grow on a daily basis.”
“The president is looking to trade out his law-abiding constituents for people that have blatantly disregarded those same laws to further their and their homelands’ agenda,” said Mr. Tancredo in a statement yesterday.
At least two states, Arizona and California, are witnessing grass-roots uprisings to counter the flood of illegal immigrants. Both states have organizers gathering signatures for November ballot measures that would ban social services to illegal immigrants.
The measures are similar to Proposition 187, the 1994 California initiative that was approved by voters but struck down by a federal judge.
Polly Baca, head of the Latin American Research and Service Agency in Denver, said the letter sounded like a “vendetta” against undocumented workers.
“This is another indicator of Congressman Tancredo’s willingness to do harm to people who are willing to work in the lowest-paying jobs that we need for our economy,” said Miss Baca, who called the president’s plan “a step in the right direction.”
Besides Mr. Tancredo, the Republican congressmen who signed the letter are:
Reps. Todd Akin of Missouri, Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland, Ginny Brown-Waite, Jeff Miller and Cliff Stearns of Florida, Philip M. Crane and Donald Manzullo of Illinois, Nathan Deal of Georgia, John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. and Zach Wamp of Tennessee, Elton Gallegly and Dana Rohrabacher of California, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Virginia, Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Steve King of Iowa, Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio, C.L. “Butch” Otter and Mike Simpson of Idaho, Jim Ryun of Kansas, and Lamar Smith of Texas.