Gore Challenges Bush on Immigration
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (AP) _ Vice President Al Gore, courting Hispanic voters, challenged rival George W. Bush to join him in backing a Democratic proposal to expand immigration rights for hundreds of thousands of Central Americans.
``This will not only ensure equitable humanitarian protections, but also advance our commitment to the stability of emerging Democracies,″ Gore said in a statement issued by his campaign office.
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said the Republican candidate ``does not support a complete amnesty at this time″ and pointed to Bush’s own suggestion that the Immigration and Naturalization Service be revamped.
``Al Gore should be behind Governor Bush’s plan to reform the INS and make sure that America is more welcoming to new immigrants,″ McClellan said.
Gore is pushing legislation that would broaden the rights of some Central Americans and longtime illegal aliens to obtain citizenship, a hot issue among Hispanics. Currently, people fleeing strife in Cuba and Nicaragua can obtain citizenship; the new measure in Congress, a Democratic amendment to a bipartisan bill on high-tech visas, would expand the list to include Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Haitians.
By some estimates, 500,000 people could be affected by the changes. The measure has strong backing by Hispanic members of Congress.
``I believe we should correct this long-standing injustice, and I urge Congress to pass this legislation,″ said Gore’s statement. ``I call upon George W. Bush to make clear his stance on this issue and join me in challenging Congress to pass this essential legislation.″
The same measure also would make it easier for those living in this country since 1986 to obtain citizenship and allow some families to remain while applications are being processed.
``Families who are in this country legally should be allowed to remain together in the United States while immigration applications are made,″ said Gore.
Hispanics are a major voting bloc nationally, and even more important in some big states like California, Texas and Florida. It’s been a largely Democratic leaning group, but Bush has worked hard to make inroads.
Sharpening his appeal, Gore’s campaign also issued a statement that called for confirmation of Enrique Moreno, a Texas judge nominated to the federal appellate bench in September 1999 who has not yet had a hearing.
A son of Mexican immigrants, Moreno has been backed by a long list of Hispanic groups. Gore said Bush has been sitting on the sidelines and should weigh in.
Gore issued the challenge during a lazy first day of his vacation off the North Carolina coast.
``They’re just hanging out and taking it easy,″ said spokesman Jim Kennedy. No public events were on Gore’s schedule.
He is vacationing on Figure Eight Island at the seaside home of Parker and Becky Overton, longtime family friends. The four-mile long island is a private community with about 400 homes.
Reporters and photographers were brought in late Friday to watch the Gores take off for a ride in a sleek power boat owned by their hosts.
Gore was the picture of vacation relaxation, wearing shorts and flip-flops. When reporters shouted questions about how his mulling over a running mate was going, Gore said: ``Everything is going fine.″
Wife Tipper weighed in with, ``I thought you said mullets, which is more of what we’re thinking about.″
Daughter Karenna Gore Schiff and her husband, Drew, were along, as was Frank Hunger, who was married to Gore’s late sister and is a close family friend.
Aides and Gore himself say they expect little activity from the vice president, who is working on his convention speech in mid-August and considering choices for a running mate. His campaign was quite busy, however, issuing statements and criticizing Bush.
Deputy Campaign Manager Mark Fabiani offered a conference call with reporters to renew the campaign’s attack on GOP running mate Dick Cheney’s ties to the oil industry.
Cheney is an executive with an oil equipment supply company, and Fabiani said he had an interest in high oil prices.
``When oil companies have more money, the are able to buy more equipment,″ said Fabiani. ``Consumers, particularly in the Midwest, were gouged big time in 2000.″