HOUSTON — House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) told a group of his constituents this month that he thinks laws allowing “illegal immigrants” to be treated in area hospitals and laws permitting their children to attend public schools should be repealed.

He also said children of “illegal immigrants” born in this country should not “automatically” become U.S. citizens, and said National Guard and police departments should “pick up” immigrants and put them in tents if there is no space available in detention facilities.

Some observers said DeLay’s comments evoked images of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

DeLay’s remarks, which were aired on several local television news programs, were characterized as “outrageous” by civil liberties and immigrant rights leaders. The media also reported that DeLay declined to comment when they contacted his office for clarification.

DeLay’s comments came on the heels of his announcement that he favors legislation which would withhold federal funding from cities like Houston that do not enforce immigration law. He criticized the chief of the Houston Police Department for following a policy in effect since 1992 which forbids officers from enforcing immigration laws in most cases.

Houston Mayor Bill White supports continuing the policy so that police officers can focus on violent crime and leave immigration enforcement to federal authorities.

DeLay supports legislation proposed by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) which would allow undocumented workers to become “guest workers” for up to three years and then would require them to return home. Cornyn, Kyl and DeLay all advocate “securing our nation’s borders” by increasing border patrols.

DeLay does not believe the proposed guest workers should be allowed to bring their families. Critics called this a “Leave all the children behind” policy. He also does not believe people who are currently undocumented should be allowed to become guest workers.

Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have proposed a program in which undocumented immigrants could work toward becoming legal residents and then citizens of the United States. DeLay opposes this legislation and gave his personal guarantee that it would “not do very well in the House.”

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) introduced legislation this month that would allow governors to “establish and deploy armed citizen militias on the Canadian and Mexican borders.” Militia members would be able to detain ordinary immigrants.

The Houston Chronicle pointed out that “the militias would be official versions, with police powers, of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps.” This is the group that gained notoriety by patrolling the Arizona border and which has announced plans to come to Houston in the fall. The group has been called “vigilantes” by President Bush.

The legislation is co-sponsored by 46 House members and calls for $6.8 billion in Homeland Security funding. The aim would be to deputize hundreds of thousands of citizens as auxiliary border guards. The Chronicle said the proposal distracts the Congress from enacting more constructive legislation to manage the problems of immigration, and concluded, “The answer to our nation’s immigration problems is not nearly so plain. Only one thing is certain: It does not involve civilians with guns.”