TAMPA — Immigration is one of the toughest issues for the Republican Party to navigate.
Getting tough on undocumented workers appeals to the party's sizable law-and-order contingent. Yet easing the borders so that workers from other countries can perform low-wage or high-tech jobs is popular with the party's business-minded members.
These two sides clashed this week as more than 100 delegates met at the Marriott Waterside to draft the Republican platform, a document that sets general policy guidelines for the party as it heads into its national convention next week. Immigration is such a contentious issue that it provided one of the few visible signs of discord during the writing of the platform, which was approved as a draft Tuesday night and will be voted on next week by convention delegates.
For the first time ever, the GOP included a line that acknowledged the potential value of a new guest worker program, which was heavily lobbied by Brad Bailey, a Texas restaurateur.
"This is a major deal," said Bailey. "The tide has turned. The current system is 110 percent broken. What this shows is that instead of screaming about the problem with rhetoric and retaliatory comments, we are addressing the problem."
Although the platform doesn't define what type of guest worker program be adopted, Bailey said its inclusion signifies the party will support a system that gives employers greater flexibility in hiring laborers from outside the country. He said current rules make it difficult.
Yet Bailey couldn't stop efforts by Kris Kobach, a conservative attorney from Kansas who helped write controversial immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama. On Monday, Kobach convinced delegates to keep the term "illegal alien" in the platform.
"Illegal alien is the correct term to use," Kobach said. "Now there are some politically correct terms that people like to use, but I made the point that platform should be legally precise."
But that term made other delegates bristle, such as Audra Strickland of California, who preferred the term "illegal immigrant."
"It speaks to the tone of the document," Strickland said. "It's important to have that compassionate tone."
Kobach successfully amended the platform Tuesday so that it included other provisions, such as requiring businesses to use E-Verify, an Internet program run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to check worker eligibility, ending funding for in-state tuition for the children of undocumented workers and completing the financing of a border fence.
"There's a false assumption that reaching out to Hispanic voters means favoring the breakdown of law," Kobach said. "A large number of Latino citizens are among the most vigorous proponents of the rule of law."
But Bailey said Kobach's words will damage the long-term prospects for Republicans.
"It damages the Republican brand if Kobach gets his words in the platform," Bailey said. "The vocal minority is winning on this."
Times staff researcher John Martin contributed to this story.