Supporters rush to Tancredo’s defense

By Jon Dougherty

Supporters of tougher immigration policies have rushed to the defense of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., head of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, after the Republican Party’s national leadership distanced themselves from him because they believe his stance on illegal aliens will hurt the party’s chances with Hispanic voters.

“Clearly, Congressman Tancredo speaks for himself and the people in his district,” said Sharon Castillo, deputy communications director for the Republican National Committee, in an interview with the Denver Post last week. “He certainly doesn’t speak for the Republican Party at a national level [on immigration], and he doesn’t speak for the president.”

Rudy Fernandez, who heads up grass-roots organizing for the RNC, agreed: “Tom Tancredo is one of 435 members [of Congress], and he has every right to have his opinion on immigration or any other issue, for that matter.

“But when you look at the head of the party, the head of the party is President Bush,” Fernandez told the paper.

In an effort to woo more Hispanic voters to the Republican Party, Bush has offered to extend amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, while the administration has downplayed tougher border-control efforts.

Such comments and policy positions have angered grass-roots conservatives who say Tancredo’s stance – that the nation ought to do more to curb illegal immigration, especially at a time when there is heightened concern over terrorism – is the right one.

“I am outraged that the [RNC] is ‘distancing’ itself from Tom Tancredo,” said Susan Tully, Midwest field coordinator for the The Federation for American Immigration Reform and former Republican candidate from Wisconsin for the U.S. Congress.

“[He] may not speak for the new politics of the RNC, but he certainly speaks for hundreds of thousands of Republicans throughout the country that are beginning to feel the distance between themselves and the committee,” Tully said.

In the most recent incident prompting the ire of the RNC, Tancredo demanded that the INS deport an illegal immigrant honor student, Jesus Apodaca, from Aurora, Colo. The congressman has also defended himself against charges by two illegal immigrants that they helped remodel his home.

Last week in a floor speech in the U.S. House of Representatives, Tancredo said he didn’t know the workers were undocumented. He also said he brought the Apodoca case to the attention of the INS because the family blatantly admitted its illegal status in local media.

“Never once in the initial call to the INS did he mention the student’s name,” said Lara Kennedy, communications director for Tancredo. “He felt, however, that the media was making a mockery of our immigration laws by exposing the family’s [legal] status. If the INS was enforcing these laws, he wouldn’t have had to call in the first place.”

Among other issues, Tancredo has warned that as long as U.S. borders remain porous the nation remains vulnerable to new terrorist attacks. Citing overwhelming electorate support, he has also called for placing U.S. troops on the borders and has suggested President Bush withhold attacking Iraq until border security improves.

“As we consider going to war against Saddam Hussein, we must protect the vital interests of the U.S. first and foremost. We must protect our borders,” Tancredo said in a statement Sept. 12. “We cannot wait for the [United Nations’] permission to attack Iraq, but we can begin to gain control over our own borders.”

Commented Tully, “I don’t have a problem with the RNC attempting to attract the Hispanic vote, but when they can’t distinguish between the illegal aliens and the [legal] voting citizen who is Hispanic,” RNC officials are wrong. “This policy doesn’t make them any different than the Clinton-Gore campaign [of 1996], now being fined for their pandering to foreign nationals.”

Earlier this summer the Federal Election Commission fined the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, and other individuals and corporations a record $719,000 for engaging in fund-raising improprieties in 1996.

Tully says the RNC should hold U.S. citizenship in higher esteem.

Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., a member of Tancredo’s 64-member caucus, said he wasn’t worried about a Hispanic backlash. The GOP is spending millions this election cycle to reach Hispanic voters traditionally allied with Democrats.

“I haven’t given any thought to that, and frankly I don’t care,” he told the Post. “If Republicans conclude breaking the law is good for politics, then Republicans deserve to lose.”

He also said the INS was far too lax in enforcing immigration laws.

“What we’re trying to do is move forward and look at the bigger picture in terms of immigration law,” said Kennedy.

More moderate Republicans credit the party’s reasonable success with Hispanic voters to the outreach efforts of President Bush.

But in terms of what guides most Republicans on immigration policy, Kennedy said, “the membership of the Immigration Reform Caucus speaks for itself.” While bipartisan in nature, “most members are Republicans,” she told WorldNetDaily.

A Zogby poll commissioned by Numbers USA in June said 58 percent of Americans want annual immigration numbers reduced to “more historic levels.” A Fox News opinion poll in November said 65 percent of Americans favored stopping all immigration during the war on terror.

By yesterday afternoon, an informal, non-scientific online Denver Post poll showed that 85 percent of respondents had a very favorable or favorable view of Tancredo, while 10 percent had a “somewhat favorable” view of him and 5 percent had unfavorable or very unfavorable views.

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