House Republicans opposed to amnesty vowed yesterday to fight President Bush’s proposal to legalize millions of illegal aliens as outlined in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“The president worked hard to get a Congress that agrees with him on this and now he’s got it,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, in reference to the Democratic takeover of both chambers of Congress in the November elections. “But we’re still going to fight him on it.”
Mr. Bush on Tuesday reissued his call to welcome foreigners with a guest-worker plan, and he called for a path to citizenship for millions of those here illegally.
“We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals,” Mr. Bush said in his speech to uneven applause. “We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country, without animosity and without amnesty.”
More Democrats than Republicans rose in applause.
Mr. Tancredo, a longtime advocate of immigration reform, termed the refrain “same song, second verse.”
“It’s the same thing we’ve been hearing from the president for a long time,” he said.
Rep. Sam Johnson, Texas Republican, called Mr. Bush’s immigration proposal “empty and implausible.”
“I’m sensing a real lack of commitment to combating illegal immigration,” he said.
Mr. Johnson said he has seen little evidence in Texas that the administration’s efforts to stop illegal entry are working.
“Our borders are out of control,” he said yesterday. “Illegal immigrants are running free across the borders.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, welcomed “the president’s renewed commitment” to comprehensive immigration reform.
“The president has been a leader on this issue and I am hopeful that he will continue his efforts with members of his party so that we can pass legislation that will solve the problem once and for all,” he said after Tuesday’s address.
For House Republicans, Mr. Kennedy’s stamp of approval was proof that Mr. Bush does not share their concerns.
“Once again, we see the president is pushing amnesty,” said Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican. “The president claims this is not amnesty, but the very definition of amnesty is changing someone’s status from illegal to legal. As a matter of national security, we need an immigration system that is sound, and this one is not.”
As evidence of its stand against illegal entry, the administration has announced raids on businesses that hired illegal aliens.
“I think they were just for the purposes of rhetoric so the president could say he was doing something,” Mr. Tancredo said, adding that he has followed up with those employers and learned that the illegals have been almost entirely replaced with, presumably, legal citizens who had been looking for work.
“If these raids prove anything, it’s that we do not need a guest-worker program,” he said.
Mr. Tancredo said farmers are hiring illegals despite a federal guest-worker program already in place because of the cumbersome requirements to pay certain rates and provide certain living conditions.
“Why shouldn’t they ignore it?” Mr. Tancredo said. “Their own government ignores it.”
He said House Republicans have “lost a lot of momentum” since pushing through a bill last year to construct about 800 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It’s back to playing defense, I suppose, but that’s a role I’ve played for six or seven years,” he said.
Mr. Tancredo has announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, which he considers a good vehicle to continue his crusade while in the minority party.
He hopes to pull off a surprise victory on the presidential campaign trail and perhaps with an amnesty bill in the House.
“There are enough [conservative Democrats] to create a pretty significant problem for the new majority,” he said with a broad smile. “A lot of them campaigned on our side of this issue and would have a lot of explaining to do back home.”