'Let The Prisoners Pick The Fruits'

US Representative of California Dana Rohrabacher, 1999/6/1
The debate over immigration reform is causing a major split within the Republican Party.

On Thursday, House conservatives criticized President Bush, accused the Senate of fouling the air, said prisoners rather than illegal farm workers should pick America's crops and denounced the use of Mexican flags by protesters in a vehement attack on legislation to liberalize U.S. immigration laws.

"I say let the prisoners pick the fruits," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, one of more than a dozen Republicans who took turns condemning a Senate bill that offers an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants an opportunity for citizenship.

"Anybody that votes for an amnesty bill deserves to be branded with a scarlet letter A," said Rep. Steve King of Iowa, referring to a guest worker provision in the Senate measure.

The immigration bill was the main topic of talks between President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox in Cancun, where Mr. Bush insisted he wants to make it legal for more immigrants to work in the United States.

These meetings are always filled with diplomatic niceties but when it comes to the immigration issue, Mr. Bush was direct, CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer reports. With Fox at his side, he explained his view of the so-called guest worker program.

"We don't want people sneaking into our country that are going to do jobs that Americans won't do. We want them coming in in an orderly way which will take pressure off of both our borders," Mr. Bush said.

Despite the tough immigration debate back home, the president says he's optimistic that Congress will pass a bill on the politically charged issue.

The House has passed legislation to tighten border security, while the Senate approach also includes provisions to regulate the flow of temporary workers into the country and control the legal fate of millions of illegal immigrants already here. Mr. Bush has broadly endorsed the Senate approach, saying he wants a comprehensive bill.

It was the second day in a row that congressional Republicans aired their differences on an issue that directly affects the fastest growing segment of the electorate. Under Mr. Bush's leadership, the Republicans have made dramatic inroads among Hispanic voters, and party strategists fret that the immigration debate could jeopardize their gains.

On Wednesday, leading GOP senators disagreed whether the legislation amounted to amnesty.

There was no such debate at the news conference in the House, where not a word was spoken in defense of the Senate bill and even Mr. Bush was not spared criticism.