Snow: Immigration Bill Opposition Misjudged

Snow: Immigration bill opposition misjudged

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
Sept. 14, 2007, 10:12AM

Outgoing White House press secretary Tony Snow said today that the Bush administration had underestimated the ferocity of opposition to White House-backed immigration legislation.

“I freely admit that we underestimated the (public) skepticism,” Snow said over breakfast with a group of reporters on his final day on the job.

Snow said that the White House was not prepared for the anger of foes of illegal immigration, who believed that government at all levels had failed to secure the nation's borders. While the public backlash is aimed “not merely (at) the Bush administration,” he conceded that the White House “made some miscalculations, as well.”

The president's chief spokesman, who has waged a very public battle with cancer during his two years in the high-profile job, said that though a compromise immigration bill came close to passage, the process now “requires a much longer debate.”

“We should have gotten it through last time,” he said. “This is an issue that will be with us — it will not go away.”

After the 2007 debacle, he said, the government must demonstrate that the federal government can secure the border “in a competent way” before legislation that would allow American companies to hire more immigrants and permit the legalization of illegal workers can gain traction on Capitol Hill.

But Snow argued strongly for a flow of immigrant workers. “We have this big, booming economy,” he said, “and we don't have enough workers.”

Calling America “a nation of immigrants,” he said Congress and the president needed to come up with a plan to deal with the about 12 million people who are illegally in the country today. “A lot of these people really are pursuing the traditional path to the American dream,” he said.

To win political support for comprehensive legislation, Snow said the government needed to re-establish “the credibility of the rule of law” by protecting the border and requiring illegal immigrants to pay substantial penalties — “not just a wrist slap, but something significant” — before taking their place “at the back of the line” to citizenship. While awaiting legal status, they should not be permitted to collect welfare and should be required to maintain continuous employment and crime-free lives.

Despite the passionate opposition to illegal immigration on the Republican right and populist left, Snow said that both political parties should be sensitive to the feelings of Hispanic voters.

“No political party is going to be able to survive (without the) fastest-growing voting bloc in America,” he said.

Asked what he thought of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates' repeated attacks on President Bush's immigration record, Snow uncharacteristically demurred.

“Ask me that question in a week — or even tomorrow,” he said. “As the president's press secretary, I'm not going to step into that one.”