- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill see immigration reform as an opportunity to shake the party’s image as hostile to minorities and immigrants, and other Republicans warn that embracing what many call “amnesty” will tear the party apart.

“They are absolutely up in arms,” said Bobby Eberle, who runs the conservative Web site GOPUSA.com that reaches 600,000 subscribers. “They think that’s a total cave-in, basically rewarding illegal behavior.”

Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, said yesterday he constantly hears concerns about illegal immigration from constituents.

The great majority want tighter border security, and some business owners want “a guest-worker plan that works,” he said. “But nobody is calling to say they want citizenship for illegals. That’s not something we hear too much.”

Republicans, he said, are torn between doing what their constituents want and burnishing their image with minorities and immigrants.

“Republicans do not want to be seen as anti-immigrant — and we’re not — but they think if we draw the line on illegal immigration and enforce our laws, Democrats will demagogue us,” Mr. DeMint said.

It isn’t clear how many Republicans in the Senate support the proposal drafted this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but already four have cast votes in support. Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas all voted Monday for the proposal in the committee.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina Republican and chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is charged with getting Republican candidates re-elected this fall and worries about the bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“It’s extremely important that we pass a good bill that secures our borders, but I’m opposed to legislation that has amnesty,” she said yesterday. “I personally think that’s wrong, and I also think we’ll pay a political price for it.”

Polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans view immigration as a “serious” problem, and more than 60 percent of Americans oppose making it easier for illegals to become citizens. Those percentages are even higher among Republicans.

Though House Republican leaders have thus far declined to rule out the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proposal, they continue to say the border security-only bill they passed last year is the way to go.

“The American people see it as a clear imperative,” said House Republican ConferenceChairman Deborah Pryce of Ohio. “They’re demanding that action be taken, and I don’t think we have any choice but to get a bill to the president’s desk.”

Republicans should be careful what they send to the president, Mr. Eberle said.

“The administration and the Senate — none of these Republican leadership groups have been able to sell to conservatives that this guest-worker program isn’t amnesty,” he said. Conservatives “are definitely nervous about the direction they think this is going.”

Mr. DeMint argued that doing nothing would be bad, as well.

“It hurts Republicans a lot worse than Democrats if we don’t do something this year,” he said.

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