SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) told a group of Spanish-speaking voters he opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants and defended his veto of a bill that would have granted driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
The governor, who has sometimes angered Hispanic interest groups with his comments on illegal immigration, said an amnesty (search) program similar to the one the federal government undertook in the late 1980s would be ill-advised today.
"It just didn't work," Schwarzenegger said Tuesday. "It backfired big-time. It sent the wrong message: You come here illegally, and then we go and give you amnesty. So then, the next million come and they say, 'Hey, we get amnesty, this is really terrific.'"
Schwarzenegger was addressing the group at a studio of Spanish-language Univision (search) television network, trying to drum up support for his special election campaign. Instead, he found himself fielding questions about illegal immigration.
Schwarzenegger said he favors a guest-worker program in which immigrant laborers could obtain work permits.
"Look, I'm an immigrant, so I know what it is like to dream about coming to America and then to get here and be able to make your dreams a reality," Schwarzenegger said. "Of course, there are millions of people who want to come here. Let's help them, let's find a legal way to do it."
He said the driver's license issue falls under federal jurisdiction because of homeland security requirements that have yet to be implemented at the state level.
"We can debate over this issue about what to do about the driver's license from here to eternity," Schwarzenegger said. "The bottom line is what we really need to do is work on the problem. What do we do with the undocumented immigrant? What do we do with the people who want to come to the United States? What do we do with employers who need workers from Mexico?"
The state's 12 million Hispanics are about a third of the population. Schwarzenegger won 32 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis (search) that placed him in office, but his popularity has tumbled in recent months among Democrats and independents. Recent polls show only about 17 percent of Hispanics approve of his job performance.
Schwarzenegger's appearance Tuesday was to promote his campaign for passage of four ballot measures on the Nov. 8 ballot: a cap on state spending, a plan for redrawing legislative and congressional districts, longer probationary periods for new school teachers and restrictions on the use of union dues for political purposes.