WASHINGTON -- Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- who was the first person of Hispanic descent to hold that position and a lightning rod for controversy as President George W. Bush's chief legal adviser on the war on terror -- warned his fellow Republicans Thursday that the issue of immigration could be their third rail in November.
"As a Republican, I am saying that the way Republicans have talked about this issue has been harmful to the party," Gonzales told trial lawyers at an American Bar Association panel here that featured former attorneys general. "The dialogue has been mean, and we find our party facing an uphill battle because of the way we talk about this issue, immigration."
Gonzales' frank statement comes as presidential challenger Mitt Romney struggles in polls to attract Hispanic support in his bid to make Barack Obama a one-term president. But the message applies to Republican candidates across the ballot, as laws targeting undocumented immigrants in Arizona and Alabama, as well as GOP opposition to the DREAM Act, have angered many Hispanic voters.
Gonzales said, "The real story is not what states like Alabama and Arizona are doing" on immigration. "The real story is what the federal government is failing to do" to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the country.
"I worry about the future of this country in a post-9/11 world. We need to know who is in our country and why," he said. But, "I believe we don't need a $3,000 fence [sic]. It is a waste of money. I do agree we need a secure border, but we can do so without a fence."