Some Republican leaders say they smell a rat in Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s compromise proposal to get an immigration-reform bill through the Senate this year.
Mr. Specter now suggests the 12 million illegal aliens he says are already here should be given the equivalent of “green card” status but “without the automatic path to citizenship” that critics labeled “amnesty.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the Specter proposal a form of congressional extortion.
“Specter is asserting that the Congress is blackmailing the American people,” Mr. Gingrich said. “The Congress will not enforce current law and will not insist on employers obeying the law unless we give an unknown number of people legal status. This is amnesty by blackmail — after the American people vehemently rejected amnesty a month ago.”
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a candidate for the Republican nomination, said flatly he won’t support the proposal.
“I fundamentally disagree with Senator Specter’s premise that we need to legalize these people,” Mr. Paul said. “That is the very thing we should not be doing.”
Mr. Paul said that although “it may be marginally better to provide people here illegally with a green card instead of citizenship, this is simply a different type of incentive for those who enter illegally.”
An immigration measure that would have granted legal status to millions of illegal aliens died last month in the Senate.
Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen, who led a successful fight at last week’s Republican National Committee annual summer meeting in Minneapolis to have the committee endorse only border security without amnesty or any other programs, said the Specter plan is not acceptable to him or to grass-roots Republicans.
“There is nothing new here, except for the new coat it is wrapped in,” Mr. Pullen said.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, also a Republican presidential hopeful, said the problem with Mr. Specter’s plan is that it “starts at the wrong end of the equation.”
He compared the Specter approach to arriving at the scene of a car accident and starting first to clean up the blood instead of stopping the bleeding.
“This is the reason the American people have no confidence in the Washington’s solutions for immigration,” Mr. Huckabee said. “They don’t understand it and, therefore, cannot fix it. It has to start with a secure border. Until then, it’s like trying bail water out of a sinking boat by using a larger bucket instead of fixing the hole.”
In an opinion column published Monday in The Washington Post, Mr. Specter argued that illegal aliens in the United States should be given “the company of their spouses and minor children and … other indicators of citizenship short of the right to vote (which was always the deal-breaker).”
The prospect for passing any immigration law is undermined by deep distrust in the federal government’s willingness to enforce the law.
“We’ve spent a bundle of dough on border security,” said Bruce Ash, a Republican National Committee member. “It just has not been very effectively spent. … Our government has spent the billions of dollars but not exercised the will to solve this problem.”
Mr. Specter argued that giving green-card status to illegals aliens “leaves open the opportunity for them to return to their native lands and seek citizenship through regular channels. Or, after our borders are secured and tough employer sanctions have been put in place, Congress can revisit the issue and possibly find a more hospitable America.”
At least one Republican state party leader, though not supporting the Specter plan, said Congress can restore its credibility on immigration.
“Many Republican activists just want to see Washington take border security seriously, while asking everyone to show respect for the law,” California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring said. “If Congress demonstrates a new, serious commitment to border security, it will reap the credibility and flexibility necessary to deal with the more complex elements of the issue.”
Rick Beltram, chairman of the Spartanburg County, S.C., Republican Party, said Mr. Specter’s proposal “seems to properly deal with the issue” of amnesty for illegals.
“However, it must be clear that felons would be excluded,” Mr. Beltram said.”The other concern would be enforcement. The 1986 law [that penalizes employers who hire illegals] has not been enforced.”
Allowing illegals to remain in the country is different than granting them citizenship, said Saulius “Saul” Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.
“My principal objection is giving amnesty and citizenship to someone whose first act in the United States is to break the law,” he said. “I would not oppose a system to legalize them and give them a different status to work and pay taxes here … but no citizenship.”