Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Republican National Committee member has gathered enough signatures to engineer a party vote next week on a resolution that calls for tougher immigration and border enforcement and opposes a guest-worker plan in what could be a head-to-head showdown on President Bush’s signature immigration proposal.

“It’s pretty clear where the American public is on this issue — they want the border fixed. They want the government to do something about employers who hire illegal workers. I believe that’s essentially where the Republican Party is,” said Randy Pullen, the national committeeman from Arizona who is sponsoring the resolution.

The RNC is holding its winter meeting next Thursday and Friday in the District.

Mr. Pullen’s resolution calls for enforcing immigration laws and for withholding federal funds from states or localities that don’t report illegal aliens to federal authorities. The resolution also reads, in part, “Any guest worker plan that allows illegal aliens to remain and work in our country will only result in more illegal immigration and increased crime in our country.”

Bill Crocker, the committeeman from Texas, has introduced a competing resolution that endorses a “functional guest worker program, which includes a reliable means of verifying the identity of each guest worker to his or her employer and provides no preference for those persons presently in the United States illegally.”

Mr. Crocker could not be reached for comment yesterday, and it was not clear how many co-sponsors his resolution has. But Mr. Pullen, by obtaining 10 sponsors, guarantees that his resolution will be considered by the full RNC.

Republican lawmakers in Washington are split on Mr. Bush’s call for a guest-worker program. Some, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, want to go further and offer a path to citizenship to current illegal aliens. But many House Republicans argue that there should not be a guest-worker program at all or, if one is enacted, it should not grant any legal status to illegal aliens.

Polls show that rank-and-file Republicans divided on the guest-worker issue, depending on how the question is asked, but show overwhelming support for stronger immigration law enforcement.

The White House referred specific questions to the RNC, but spokeswoman Erin Healy said the president is committed to a guest-worker program.

“The president has been very clear that he wants to see real and comprehensive immigration reform that includes border security, interior enforcement and a guest-worker program,” she said.

Tracey Schmitt, the RNC’s press secretary, said they look forward to the discussion.

“Immigration is a critical issue facing our country and our party,” she said.

Although he said Mr. Bush is moving in the right direction on immigration enforcement, Mr. Pullen said he will oppose Mr. Crocker’s resolution because of the guest-worker language.

“That would make us inconsistent with the Republican Party and where they are on this issue,” he said.

But others who joined Mr. Pullen’s resolution said they don’t see it as a challenge to Mr. Bush.

“I view this as a broad statement: This is more than just a routine issue and the RNC favors a general solution that moves us in the way of a legal economy as opposed to an extra-legal economy,” said Bob Schaffer, Colorado committeeman and a former member of Congress. “I don’t think it offends or criticizes or opposes anything I’ve seen proposed by the president.”

Morton Blackwell, Virginia’s committeeman, said he was asked but did not sign on as a sponsor to Mr. Pullen’s resolution because it gets into policy issues beyond securing the border.

“What needs to be done for the country and what needs to be done for the president is to secure the borders, and after we have done that, then we can deal with the other issues,” Mr. Blackwell said, adding that he has conveyed a similar message to the White House.

Barbara Alby, the committeewoman from California who is co-sponsoring Mr. Pullen’s resolution, said the party must act carefully.

“The great worry of everyone obviously is that a guest-worker program is amnesty. We’re going to have to talk about that. I’m not cast in concrete,” she said. “My caution is we have to put something forward that encourages our neighbors to do it legally and really understand how valuable they can be to us.”

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