Tancredo bashes Bush on migrant 'amnesty'

Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) yesterday chastised President Bush for misleading voters about his intended protection of unauthorized immigrants as House Republicans gear up for an internal brawl over immigration reform.

Tancredo traveled to New Hampshire earlier this month and will travel to Iowa in early July to test the waters for a potential presidential bid and to ensure that his immigration ideas will be included in the candidate debate. While few give Tancredo a chance to nab the 2008 GOP nomination, he could move the immigration debate significantly.

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Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.): Criticized Bush on immigration issues.

Tancredo’s remarks come as Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Shadegg (Ariz.) is set to begin a series of unity dinners for conference members to discuss the issue internally before leadership and Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduce legislation.

Tancredo has established himself in Congress as an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, pitting him against conference centrists and a wide swath of economic concerns from agriculture to big business that have long been advocating for expanded guest-worker programs.

Tancredo made his remarks during a press conference yesterday organized by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, to release the unofficial and incomplete results of a Border Patrol survey of detained illegal immigrants. The Colorado congressman said Bush’s immigration-reform plan amounted to amnesty for unauthorized workers already in this country.

“It’s amnesty when you tell people they will not be punished for violation of the law,” Tancredo said. “If you reward people for breaking the law, more people will break the law.”

Tancredo further suggested that the president’s remarks have “already done great damage because millions of people are already here seeking amnesty.”

“I’m a Republican, and I support the president,” Tancredo said, but on the issue of immigration reform, “He’s just as wrong as he can be.”

Tancredo has been outside the party’s mainstream on this matter, but he said yesterday that support for his position has grown in recent years. As evidence, he pointed to the growing support he has received for an amendment he has offered during each of the past three Department of Homeland Security authorization bills that would bar federal funds to any state or local government that refused to shared immigration information with federal immigration authorities. In 2003, that amendment received 102 votes, and Tancredo said the same amendment offered earlier this month received “202 or 203” votes.

The Judicial Watch survey was compiled based on documents received from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The request was prompted by a speech the president gave in the East Room of the White House in which he called on Congress to pass broad immigration reform and outlined his reform principles.

In the speech, Bush said that “new immigration laws should serve the economic needs of our country. If an American employer is offering a job that American citizens are not willing to take, we ought to welcome into our country a person who will fill that job.”

The president did not make any explicit comments about offering amnesty to immigrants during the speech, but critics argue that the omission amounted to an open invitation to prospective immigrants.

On the same day, the administration announced that it would conduct a study of illegal immigrants detained along the border as part of an immigration study. The study was discontinued after three weeks after the leak of some survey data to a reporter, said Leah Yoon, a department spokeswoman.

Soon after the survey was discontinued, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request for the incomplete survey results. The Department of Homeland Security eventually released 882 of the 1,711 surveys conducted, according to the report released yesterday.

The surveys were conducted as standard priority intelligence requirements (PIRs), which are the standard forms given to most unauthorized immigrants in detention. After the president’s speech, the collected PIRs included questions about amnesty and a temporary-worker program.

The questions were inconsistent on many of the surveys, but Judicial Watch concluded that more than 60 percent of the respondents had heard rumors in their country of origin that Bush had made a promise of amnesty.

“Amnesty” has become a contentious term in the overall immigration debate because it inflames rhetoric from opponents and supporters alike. Supporters are quick to point out that most guest-worker proposals do not lead to amnesty, while opponents are quick to shout “amnesty” whenever administration officials or other politicians hint that any legislation would offer permanent protections to any workers who have come to this country illegally.

After the briefing, Tancredo’s staff handed out copies of a letter the Colorado congressman sent to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking the department to release the remaining survey results.

“The survey began on the day that President Bush proposed his illegal-alien amnesty plan … and was set to run for six months,” Tancredo wrote. “Instead, the survey was canceled three weeks later after an internal memo showed only 38 percent ‘positive responses.’”