Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean predicted Tuesday that the Republican Party will make immigrants an issue in the 2006 election.
In a speech to an influential Hispanic civil rights organization, Dean said Republican-sponsored immigration legislation and escalating rhetoric about immigration are part of the latest GOP effort to use fear as a political tactic.
Republicans tried to scare people in 2002 by talking about "race quotas" instead of affirmative action, he said.
"In 2006, it's going to immigrants, you wait and see," he told the National Council of La Raza at its annual convention.
Afterward, Dean told reporters he doesn't think President Bush is a bigot, but said the president "doesn't have the guts" to speak up against "the bigots in his own party."
Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said Dean's claims were "laughable" and belied by the administration's record.
"This is a party that is proud of the fact that America is a nation of immigrants. This is a president that speaks about it all the time. When debating the issue of immigration, this is a president that always says ... that family values don't stop at the Rio Grande," Mehlman told reporters after his speech at the convention.
Dean cited legislation introduced Monday by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), an outspoken critic of illegal immigration.
The bill would pay for substantial increases in border enforcement and reimburse hospitals for treating illegal immigrants if the facilities report citizenship information to the government.
The bill also would allow immigrant labor only when companies could prove a need and would require workers to go home after a limited stay.