Posted on September 1, 2004

Immigration Issue Yanked Off GOP Agenda

Anne Q. Hoy, (NY), August 31, 2004

Even as Michael Bloomberg heralded New York’s diversity Monday, President George W. Bush’s controversial plan to put in place a temporary worker program is getting no major billing at the Republican National Convention.

The party’s platform that was formally adopted by delegates at the Republican National Convention Monday briefly mentions Bush’s call for granting temporary legal status to millions of undocumented workers. The proposal, viewed by many as a bid to woo growing ranks of Hispanic voters, met fierce opposition from party conservatives almost immediately.

“It seems very clear to us that the White House got the message. There just does not seem to be very much of an appetite there to pursue this,” said John Kelley, a spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-partisan think tank on immigration issues. “Is any single speaker going to mention the “I” word? I don’t think so.”

Four years ago, Bush won about a third of Hispanic voters but recent polls show the president, even in the wake of his proposal, has not yet been able to improve on that performance.

In unveiling his proposal on Jan. 7 to kick off the election year, Bush gave no details and urged Congress to come up with specific legislation. The White House has since done little to advance the issue.

Conservatives branded it a politically inviable amnesty program for immigrants who have broken the law and it has languished in Congress.

Outside Madison Square Garden, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who chairs the House Immigration Reform Caucus and vigorously opposes Bush’s plan, did have something to say about the issue. At a sparsely attended news conference, Tancredo renounced the party for failing to revamp the platform’s position on immigration.

“The immigration plank in the party platform is full of platitudes, promises and pandering,” he said. Tancredo said he and Karl Rove, Bush’s top political adviser, got into a screaming match over the issue two years ago after the congressman was quoted saying that if the nation suffered another attack at the hands of terrorists able to skirt immigration laws, “the blood of the people killed” would be on the president’s and Congress’s hands.

“Rove, of course, was quite upset about it and I asked him, I said, ‘Karl, let me ask you something: If it happens the way I just said it, who do you think people should blame? The Elks Club,’ “ Tancredo said. Rove called the congressman “a traitor to the party,” “a traitor to the president” and warned him to never “darken the doorstep of the White House,” he said.

Rove could not be reached for comment. The confrontation was first reported by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

“I think the president’s position on immigration is going to hurt the president,” Tancredo said, adding, nonetheless, that he still plans to vote for Bush. “I want the president to win. I am not doing any of these things or saying any of these things because I want to hurt the Republican Party or the president.”

Bush’s plan would grant undocumented workers, estimated by the government to number more than 9 million, renewable, three-year guest worker visas. The visas would permit workers from other countries and those already employed in the United States illegally to perform jobs that employers find hard to fill.

Immigration has long sparked a fierce split within the Republican Party particularly between those who make law and order issues paramount and those who contend open borders and liberal immigration laws are needed for economic growth.

Bush said his plan would not lead to green cards or citizenship and that he does not support amnesty. With the Immigration and Naturalization Service now part of the Homeland Security Department conservatives contend that the president’s plan would do too little to address security concerns.

The commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks called for the federal government to set standards for drivers licenses and other identification documents used by all but one of the 9/11 terrorist to board planes and rent cars. Tancredo said he was unsuccessful in getting such a provision in the platform.