Bush hits GOP critics of immigration plan

Published May 30, 2007

GLYNCO, Ga. - President Bush lashed out at critics within his own party Tuesday, accusing Republicans of distorting the immigration deal he negotiated with leading congressional Democrats and playing on the politics of fear to undermine public support.

In harsh tones normally reserved for the opposition, Bush said conservatives fighting the immigration proposal "haven't read the bill" and oppose it in some cases because "it might make somebody else look good." Their "empty political rhetoric, " he said, threatens to thwart what he called the last, best chance to fix an immigration system that all sides agree is broken.

"If you want to kill the bill, if you don't want to do what's right for America, you can pick out one little aspect out of it, " he told thousands of trainees at a federal center in Glynco that prepares Border Patrol officers.

Bush's rhetoric underscored the bitter cross fire among Republicans over immigration. The White House has been pressing conservatives to fall in line, sending emissaries to meet with lawmakers and activists, but many on Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail have denounced the deal.

Although the proposal has the support of key Democrats, the White House recognizes that its chance of pushing it through depends on winning enough Republican support. Bush's trip to Georgia opened a campaign intended to undercut the criticism that has consumed conservative talk shows and Internet sites.

Brian Darling, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said he and his colleagues not only have read the bill but posted it on the think tank's Web site. "Most conservatives have very strong feelings that this bill contains amnesty ... and no yelling and screaming by the administration is going to change our minds, " he said.

As for the charge of scare tactics, Darling said: "Honestly, I really think people should be frightened. This bill would be the most dramatic change to immigration law in 40 years and no one seems to understand what's in the bill. ... The American people should be frightened by the closed-door process that was used and by the ramifications."

The proposal would add thousands of Border Patrol agents and hundreds of miles of fencing along the border with Mexico. After that, in an estimated 18 months, the legislation would introduce a guest worker program and create a process providing many of the 12-million illegal immigrants already here a chance to earn legal residency if they pay back taxes and penalties, pass criminal background checks and return to their country of origin.

The text and setting were intended to emphasize the tough elements of the plan, rebutting the perception that the government has not done enough to crack down on illegal border crossings and employment of undocumented immigrants.