ABC News' Teddy Davis reports:
Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R) told a largely Latino audience in November that she supports "comprehensive immigration reform."
But now that she is under fire from her Republican rival on the issue of public benefits for the children of illegal immigrants, Whitman maintains that she only favors a temporary guest worker program, not a permanent earned legalization program for illegal immigrants.
"She supports a comprehensive solution that secures the border first and includes a temporary guest worker program," Whitman press secretary Sarah Pompei told ABC News following Monday's gubernatorial debate. "What she said in today's debate is consistent with what she said before."
Whitman and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner (R) were asked during Monday's debate if they favored federal legislation which would include a pathway to citizenship for the estimated three million illegal immigrants currently in California.
Whitman insisted at Monday's debate that "we can't talk about any other solutions" besides securing the border, holding employers accountable, and ending so-called "sanctuary cities," which offer certain protections to illegal immigrants.
"Let me be very clear: I am 100 percent against amnesty, no exceptions. The truth is: we have not secured the border in any shape, form, or manner," said Whitman. "My view is until we actually do secure the border and actually stop illegal immigration, we can't talk about any other solutions, and I am 100 percent against amnesty."
Whitman's answer stands in stark contrast to the more liberal position she articulated while unveiling her Latino coalition on Nov. 17, 2009.
At that lunchtime event in El Monte, Calif., Whitman delivered prepared remarks and then took questions from the audience. One of the attendees asked her if she supported giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
Whitman said that she was opposed to the State of California issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. But she went on to note that she was in support of "comprehensive immigration reform," which usually refers to federal legislation that includes earned legalization for the 12 million illegals currently in the United States.
After that 2009 event Pompei, the Whitman press secretary who managed the media coverage, was e-mailed an ABC News story that described comprehensive immigration reform in those terms. She did not seek a correction.
Asked to explain the discrepancy in rhetoric between Monday's debate and the Latino event in November, Pompei maintained that there has been confusion about what Whitman means by "comprehensive immigration reform.
Pompei explained that when Whitman uses the term, she is only referring to a "temporary guest worker program," not a pathway to legalization.
Monday's debate was the first of two scheduled encounters between Whitman and Poizner before California's June 8 primary. The second debate is scheduled for May 2.
The winner of the Whitman-Poizner primary will square off against state Attorney General Jerry Brown, the lone Democratic candidate for governor of California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is barred by term limits from running again.