GOP hard-liners prepare to protest president's guest-worker program

Republican immigration hard-liners are preparing to come out aggressively against a proposed guest-worker program favored by President Bush, who is expected to address the issue during his first State of the Union address since heavy Republican losses in midterm elections.

While the White House has acknowledged the president will address immigration in his speech, spokesman Tony Snow did not elaborate during yesterday’s press briefing.

“Immigration has been an issue of considerable concern within this country,” Snow said yesterday. “But it is important, when you have these big issues — healthcare is a big issue, energy is a big issue, education is a big issue, immigration is a big issue — all of which are kind of top-of-mind for Americans, it’s worth spending a little more time to walk through how the president analyzes the problem and how he proposes to try to address them, and to reach out to members of Congress and say, ‘We can do this.’”

Last year, Bush expressed support for immigration legislation that would include the implementation of a guest-worker program to allow those working in the country illegally to become temporarily legal and, in some cases, give them access to citizenship.

House Republicans unsuccessfully tried to make immigration a key issue in the November elections, holding 22 hearings in 13 states as of early September and sparking a media blitz against a Senate bill that would put many immigrants in the country illegally on the road to citizenship and bolster security at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Carlos Espinosa — a spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who favors tough immigration restrictions — said his boss will have “harsh words” for the president.

“He is going to do everything is his power to stop [expanded immigration],” Espinosa said. “For [Bush] to take out of any election [that] this is what the American people want — that is a mistake and shows he is more out of touch than most people thought.”

Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), said that while the congressman does not want to prejudge Bush’s address, he hoped the president would avoid supporting a plan that would legalize some illegal immigrants. Bardella said a guest-worker program, such as the one previously supported by the president, underestimates the impact economically.

“We’ve been down that road before,” Bardella said, adding that the legalization of a group of illegal immigrants creates more violations.

Bardella said Bilbray hoped the president would support a measure to “crack down on employers that hire illegal immigrants” as stipulated in a bill recently offered by the California congressman.

“Employment is the No. 1 incentive for illegal immigration,” he said.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said a guest-worker program would not only encourage foreign workers to come into the country illegally, but also hurt the economy.

“Competition from millions of illegal workers would depress wages and reduce the number of jobs,” he said in a statement yesterday. “If a guest-worker program were to provide a path to citizenship, we would be rewarding lawbreakers with the greatest honor our country can bestow — citizenship.”

He added, “Some say there are jobs Americans won’t do. But that demeans workers who do work in every occupation. Even in the service and food industries, 80 percent of all employees are legal. Eight million Americans are unemployed or have given up looking for jobs.”

Following its August field hearings, the House Republican leadership came out strongly against the Senate measure.

“Border security is a top priority of House Republicans … we agreed that we cannot support the Senate Reid-Kennedy amnesty bill,” then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said in a Sept. 7 statement. “This Democrat immigration bill won’t secure the border, it will erase it.”

When asked about the issue last week, Minority Whip Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP, Dem lawmakers come together for McCain documentary The Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Mo.) told reporters that House Republicans were willing to work toward a bipartisan resolution to the immigration issue but that border security must come first.

“I continue to think that a solution might have been better arrived at in three parts, but it is certainly possible to arrive at a solution as long as that solution deals with border security on a timetable that makes sense to the American people,” he said. “If you don’t secure the border, you are not going to have either a workable temporary worker program or be able to take the kind of steps you want to to deal with the people who are already here illegally.”