Dec. 18, 2012 -- A conservative Texas congressman came out in favor of a guest-worker program this weekend, and now he's facing the wrath of anti-immigration groups who say he's promoting what amounts to amnesty.
Representative Ted Poe (R-Texas) said in an opinion piece for Politico that his party was "silent" on the immigration debate during election season and called for Republicans to support several specific immigration proposals.
"Tangled up in embarrassing statements about rape and abortion and notably silent on immigration," Poe wrote, "the electorate chose what they knew over what they perceived incorrectly as closed-minded and out of touch."
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He noted that Democrats and Republicans can agree that undocumented immigrants who commit violent crimes be returned to their home countries.
But he followed that statement with a policy stance that drew immediate fire from the self-proclaimed "immigration enforcement and border security advocacy" group, Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC).
"A good starting point for a legislative package is the so-called Texas Solution," Poe wrote. "Although I don't agree with all points on the list, it's a start. And, importantly, it includes a verifiable, temporary guest worker program."
A guest-worker program would permit U.S. employers to sponsor non-U.S. citizens as workers. Proponents say it would help fill job openings that American workers simply will not consider, such as picking crops. But some say the idea promotes amnesty.
"This is the first time in our organization's 8 year history that any candidate endorsed by ALIPAC has defected to join the illegal alien invasion and Amnesty supporters," read a post on their website. "Let's work together to throw Ted Poe and others like him out of office and replace them with real Americans who will stand up for our citizens, the Rule of Law, and the US Constitution instead of caving in to the globalist controlled media."
The guest-worker program is not a new idea. It was part of both the Texas and national GOP platforms. Brad Bailey, one of the author's of the Texas platform's immigration language and a vocal supporter of including the idea in the national platform, said in an interview with ABC/Univision News that groups such as ALIPAC have "hijacked" the party.
"These groups are not conservative in the least bit and somehow they've infiltrated the party," he said. "Enforcement-only legislation is what they push for, but that doesn't address the whole problem."
Bailey supports the idea of a federally administered guest-worker program where states could work with the government to match unemployed workers and open job positions. Only once all available jobs have been offered to American workers, Bailey said, would remaining jobs go to guest workers.
"These groups say, 'They're taking American jobs!' Well, no they're not," Bailey said, noting that many employers have difficulty finding workers for agriculture and crop-picking jobs.
Yet ALIPAC opposes Poe's endorsement of a guest-worker program. The organization urged readers to call Poe's office and express their displeasure.
"We need a strong political backlash to Ted Poe's betrayal so that other GOP leaders will not follow his example," the organization wrote.
Poe also said in his piece that a documentation process should be implemented, but stressed that he didn't mean citizenship.
"Documentation does not mean citizenship and all of the rights that the term bestows. It means a type of legal status, either temporary or permanent, for some that are here, and it also means a pathway home for those who are here to commit crimes," he said.
"Those given legal status would contribute to the U.S., primarily by paying taxes, for the benefits that they enjoy by being in the U.S. Amnesty is not an option," Poe continued. "Those who receive documentation eventually may apply for citizenship, and those who have served in our military should be placed ahead of the line."
Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman for Poe, said that the congressman "remains opposed to amnesty."
"If a guest-worker program was implemented, he would not support a pathway that included citizenship," she said.
Hynes said her office had received only a handful of calls from opponents of the guest-worker program.