Immigration splits GOP hopefuls

Published May 24, 2007

WASHINGTON - The immigration fight in Congress has spilled over onto the presidential campaign trail. John McCain is trying to sell the skeptical GOP base on contentious Senate legislation while Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and other Republican rivals oppose it.

"This immigration reform is an issue of national security, " McCain, an Arizona senator, said Wednesday, stressing more secure borders and what he called an urgent need for the United States to know the identities and whereabouts of millions of illegal immigrants.

Giuliani derided the legislation as an inadequate "hodgepodge" that "kind of goes in 10 different directions without any central focus." And Romney, who says the bill amounts to amnesty for illegal immigrants, said, "Let them apply like everybody else in the world."

The differences among the GOP presidential candidates reflect the deep divide in the Republican Party over the issue. Hard-line conservatives advocate tougher policies to secure the country's borders and reject the notion of a guest worker program or an eventual path to citizenship for many of the 12-million immigrants in the country illegally.

In the crowded GOP presidential field, McCain stands virtually alone in his unabashed support for the Senate plan that he co-sponsored.