Thursday, January 15, 2004

President Bush’s immigration initiative has angered conservative Republicans so much that some are refusing to donate to his re-election campaign, according to a Bush fund-raiser in Georgia.

Phil Kent, a member of the host committee for a Bush fund-raiser in Atlanta yesterday, said he was told by several would-be donors that they would not attend the $2,000-per-person event because of the president’s announcement last week on immigration reform.

“I was soliciting checks right after the announcement, and I lost two checks from people who had wanted to come, but wouldn’t,” Mr. Kent said. “They specifically said this is just rewarding lawbreakers.

“That was the constant theme,” he added. “And even among some people who wrote the checks, there’s grumbling.”

Mr. Bush’s initiative 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.

“The vast majority of Georgians — black and white, I might add — don’t like this because it’s perceived as amnesty for illegal immigrants,” Mr. Kent said, shortly before greeting the president at the fund-raiser. “And I intend to tell him so, not just because it doesn’t help him with money, but because it’s wrongheaded policy.”

Asked what he specifically would tell the president, Mr. Kent said: “I think you’re a great president, but, boy, I think you’re wrong on amnesty for illegals.”

A Bush campaign official declined to criticize Mr. Kent, but said of his complaint: “I’m not sure it’s that big a deal.”

“Fundamentally, this is a tough decision the president made to address a tough issue,” the official said. “And it’s a decision based on policy concerns, not political concerns.”

Interviews with attendees at last night’s fund-raisers revealed a mix of opinions.

Gerry Lynn Warner, who works for an Atlanta assisted-living equipment company, said although he opposed the immigration initiative, he was even more opposed to the idea of supporting a Democratic candidate, such as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. So, Mr. Warner donated the $2,000 to the president.

“I don’t agree with everything he does, and I think it would be a mistake to do what he has proposed,” Mr. Warner said. “In business, you have to support the guy you think is going to win.”

Jim V. Schrull of Horton Automotive, who also gave $2,000 to the campaign, said the president’s proposal was not a factor in his decision to contribute.

“I’m pleased with the proposal. I actually think it’s a good thing,” Mr. Schrull said. Opponents of the plan, he said, “are either misinformed or uninformed.”

But those opponents include Rep. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, who is considered the front-runner in the campaign to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Zell Miller.

“I have great respect for President Bush and the leadership he has provided over the last four years,” Mr. Isakson said in a statement. “I have serious concerns, however, over recent policy announcements with regard to undocumented workers and illegal aliens.”

He said the president’s proposal would cause an increase in illegal immigration.

“We must not reward past illegal activity or encourage it in the future,” he said. “I do believe a complete overhaul of our nation’s immigration system is critical. Any reform must begin with strict enforcement of current laws and better security at our borders.”

Also opposing the immigration initiative are the three Republicans who are vying to fill Mr. Isakson’s seat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which once was held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Ironically, much of the grumbling from Republicans came during a fund-raiser at which Mr. Bush was introduced by a Democrat — Mr. Miller. The senator, who is retiring at the end of the year, called the president “a great leader with a good heart and a spine of steel.”

“The more I see of this leader, my respect and my support just continue to grow,” he said. “And I can guarantee you that I will not be the only Democrat working for his re-election.”

• Joseph Curl contributed to this report in Atlanta.

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