WASHINGTON – House conservatives criticized President Bush, accused the Senate of fouling the air, said prisoners rather than illegal farm workers should pick America’s crops and denounced the use of Mexican flags by protesters Thursday in a vehement attack on legislation to liberalize U.S. immigration laws.
“I say let the prisoners pick the fruits,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, one of more than a dozen Republicans who took turns condemning a Senate bill that offers an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants an opportunity for citizenship.
“Anybody that votes for an amnesty bill deserves to be branded with a scarlet letter A,” said Rep. Steve King of Iowa, referring to a guest worker provision in the Senate measure.
The House has passed legislation to tighten border security, while the Senate approach also includes provisions to regulate the flow of temporary workers into the country and control the legal fate of millions of illegal immigrants already here. Bush has broadly endorsed the Senate approach, saying he wants a comprehensive bill.
It was the second day in a row that congressional Republicans aired their differences on an issue that directly affects the fastest growing segment of the electorate. Under Bush’s leadership, the Republicans have made dramatic inroads among Hispanic voters, and party strategists fret that the immigration debate could jeopardize their gains.
On Wednesday, leading GOP senators disagreed whether the legislation amounted to amnesty.
There was no such debate at the news conference in the House, where not a word was spoken in defense of the Senate bill and even Bush was not spared criticism.
“I don’t think he’s concerned about alienating voters; he’s not running for re-election,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. He said Republicans could lose the House and Senate over the immigration issue, and he said of the president: “I wish he’d think about the party and of course I also wish he’d think about the country.”
Referring to a wave of demonstrations in recent weeks, Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia said, “I say if you are here illegally and want to fly the Mexican flag, go to Mexico and wave the American flag.”