LOS ANGELES – Republicans are calling House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's efforts to capture the immigrant vote blatant, last-minute grandstanding that is misleading because he offers a proposal that can't be achieved.
Earlier this month, Gephardt earned applause at a Washington rally, which included scores of illegal aliens, when he implied that that the legalization of undocumented immigrants can be accomplished by putting Democrats in control of Congress.
"If we want to get earned legalization passed, we need a new agenda in your House of Representatives," Gephardt exclaimed to the crowd. "Si se puede," he and those gathered chanted, "Yes we can."
But Republicans say there is no chance that a bill considering measures to help illegal immigrants gain legal status will be taken up by the current, outgoing Congress.
The rally in early October drew major groups that had been pushing for the rights of unauthorized immigrants, whose numbers have increased to approximately 8 million.
"Any issue raised right now is purely political," said Bob Stern of the Center for Government Studies. "Gephardt is looking for a wedge issue but I'm not sure this is a good wedge issue for the Democrats."
Gephardt is one of 25 Democratic sponsors of legislation that would legalize millions of immigrants who have lived in the United States at least five years.
In a show of respect for the power of the Latino vote, Gephardt has been learning Spanish and presenting himself as more pro-immigrant than President Bush and the Republican Party, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The bill Gephardt touted would allow illegal immigrants to get a green card if they've lived in the United States for five years, worked full-time for two years, and have passed a background check.
"In the wake of 9/11, there aren't going to be enough Republicans who will put their name on the record supporting illegal-alien amnesty," Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants less immigration, told The Washington Post.
The House leader is angling for any issue that will hook voters, say Republican critics, because the Democratic stance on the economy, education and Iraq have failed to have the anticipated impact. Still, while it may not hurt, observers are skeptical that immigration amnesty is the issue that will put Democrats back in charge.
"What you see Gephardt doing now is recognizing that if he can energize their relatives, if he can boost turnout among legal immigrants, particularly in key battleground states, it may hold the difference for a Democratic Congress," Susan Estrich, Fox News political analyst, said.
But amnesty politics can prove tricky, especially when Americans are increasingly sensitive to foreigners sneaking into this country illegally.
"The Democrats have to be very careful that this issue doesn't backfire and turn off the white voters that turn out in much larger numbers than Hispanic voters," Stern said.
Fox News' Trace Gallagher contributed to this report.