WASHINGTON—President Bush’s plan to toughen border security may not be enough to overcome opposition within his own party to his “earned-citizenship” proposal, which critics decry as “amnesty,” House conservatives said Tuesday.
A day after outlining his immigration overhaul plan, Bush told reporters that an amnesty program for illegal immigrants would be wrong, but that his earned-citizenship proposal would be a fair part of a comprehensive bill.
“Amnesty would mean that more people would try to sneak into our country in hopes of being granted automatic citizenship,” Bush said. “But there ought to be a way for somebody to pay a fine or learn English or prove that they’ve been here for a long time working, and be able to get in line—not at the head of the line but the back of the line—in order to become a citizen.” (Watch how viewers liked Bush’s speech—2:29)
The Republican-controlled House passed a bill last December that focused on measures to secure the borders but lacked guest worker and “path toward citizenship” proposals, which conservatives consider amnesty.
“Thinly veiled attempts to promote amnesty cannot be tolerated,’ Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia told The Associated Press. “While America is a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws, and rewarding those who break our laws not only dishonors the hard work of those who came here legally but does nothing to fix our current situation.”
Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona told CNN that the Bush plan will not do well on Capitol Hill.
“If the Senate insists on passing guest-work amnesty, and it returns to the House for a conference, the House leadership and, I think, the rank-and-file members, have made it clear the majority party is not going to entertain the notion of a guest-worker amnesty plan.”
The Senate resumed debate Tuesday on legislation that would create a mechanism by which illegal immigrants could proceed toward legal status, and eventual citizenship, by working for a number of years, paying fines, undergoing a background check and learning English.
But in the House, lawmakers passed an immigration bill in December that contained neither a worker program nor a legalization process.
The Republican leaders of the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, praised Bush for his border-security proposals, but they were conspicuously silent on his support of a provision aimed at providing a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already in the United States.
In Bush’s nationally televised Oval Office address Monday night, he called for an immigration overhaul with five points:
a temporary worker program
holding employers to account
a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the United States
Congressional passage of comprehensive immigration legislation
In a CNN snap poll of 461 people who watched Monday’s speech, 42 percent said they had a positive opinion of the president’s immigration policies before they heard him speak. Afterward, 67 percent said they had a positive view, a jump of 25 percentage points.
The polled audience was 41 percent Republican, 23 percent Democratic and 36 percent independent. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
“People who watch the speech do tend to be somewhat more Republican than the voters as a whole,” CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said. “But that wasn’t the best response he’s gotten compared to other speeches, in fact it was lower than any speech we’ve measured since he took office.”