House conservatives yesterday issued a dire warning to President Bush and Republican leadership that they will pay a devastating political price if they proceed with a guest-worker program or anything resembling amnesty for illegal aliens before securing the borders and enforcing existing immigration laws.
“They will remember in November,” Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, said of voters nationwide. “And many of those who have stood with our Republican majority in the last decade are not only angry, many of them plan to be absent from the polls” this year when the entire House and one-third of the Senate is up for re-election.
Mr. Hayworth and more than a dozen other House Republicans pointed to polls that show overwhelming support for their strict-enforcement stance and advised Mr. Bush and GOP leaders in both chambers to “listen to the common sense of the American people.”
One Republican, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, fired a warning shot specifically at Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican widely expected to be a 2008 presidential hopeful at that moment was holding a press conference across the Capitol with, among others, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
“Those elected officials who are insisting on a guest-worker program and diluting the efforts of border security and internal enforcement are telling the American people exactly whose side they are on,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “The American people now have that opportunity to make that determination, and they will. Senator McCain and others will find out about that, when they find their own career is short term.”
Those sentiments were only buttressed, the lawmakers said, by the images in recent days across the country of thousands marching in opposition to tough immigration reform.
“I say if you are here illegally and want to fly the Mexican flag, go to Mexico and wave the American flag,” said Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., Virginia Republican.
Senate action yesterday was confined to a single unanimous vote to study fatalities among foreigners sneaking across the desert into the United States. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, officially introduced his committee’s 471-page proposal that would fine illegal aliens but allow them to remain in the U.S. while applying for citizenship.
Although conservatives in both chambers excoriated the Specter plan as “amnesty,” other Republicans said momentum was shifting toward what they called a “comprehensive” border security bill that includes a guest-worker program that provides illegal aliens with a path to citizenship.
“Among the Republican conference, I see a shift toward a comprehensive view to solve this problem,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, who is among four Republicans who voted for Mr. Specter’s proposal in committee. “From a Republican point of view, we need to be wise in the way we deal with this politically.”
Mr. Graham attended yesterday’s McCain-Kennedy press conference, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.
“Our reforms need to reflect the realities,” Mr. McCain said. “We need guest workers in this country. There are some jobs Americans are simply unwilling to do.”
And House leaders again appeared willing to discuss the broader plan.
“When we get to the conference, we’ll talk about it,” said Majority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.
On Wednesday, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert told reporters that a guest-worker program is needed.
“Our first priority is to protect the borders,” he said. “We also know there is a need in some sectors of this economy for a guest-worker program.”
But Mr. Rohrabacher called the guest-worker proposal “the foul odor that’s coming out of the United States Senate.”
There is no need for such a program, he said.
“We do not need more people from foreign countries coming in taking the jobs of Americans and bidding down our wages. We can do those jobs, even in the fields,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.
Anyone who supports such a proposal, said Rep. Steve King of Iowa, should be “branded with a scarlet letter A,” for “amnesty.”
As for who might be willing to take up the hard labor many illegal aliens now perform on U.S. farms, Mr. Rohrabacher had a suggestion.
“The millions of young men who are prisoners around our country can pick the fruits and vegetables,” he said. “I say let the prisoners pick the fruits.”
Mr. Rohrabacher offered a terse “no comment” when asked whether his “foul odor” comment also applied to Mr. Bush, who first proposed a guest-worker plan more than two years ago. Mr. Rohrabacher later added: “The American people can take a deep breath and determine for themselves what smells and what doesn’t and where it’s coming from.”
According to a poll by the Pew Research Center and Pew Hispanic Center released yesterday, 52 percent of Americans view immigrants as a burden because they take jobs and housing — up from 38 percent in 2000 — compared with 41 percent, who believe they strengthen the country. The poll also found 53 percent of Americans support sending illegals home, while 40 percent said they should be put on some sort of path toward citizenship.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican who leads the House immigration reform caucus, offered a simple explanation for why Mr. Bush is pushing a guest-worker program that voters don’t want.
“He’s not running for re-election,” Mr. Tancredo said yesterday. “I wish that he would recognize the dangerous position he would place himself in and the rest of his agenda if the Republicans lose the House and Senate, which they could easily do on this issue.
“Although he’s not running for re-election, I wish he would think about the party. And, of course, I wish he’d think about the country.”