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Conservatives, Liberals Take Aim at President’s Immigration Plan

May 16, 2006 at 3:06 PM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: The president used a news conference with the Australian prime minister today to renew his call to Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: And the objective is, on the one hand, protect our borders; and, on the other hand, never lose sight of the thing that makes America unique, which is we’re a land of immigrants and that, you know, we’re not going to discriminate against people.

KWAME HOLMAN: During his Oval Office address last night, the president cited five key objectives: Secure the U.S. border with Mexico, with the help of 6,000 National Guard troops; create a temporary-worker program; hold employers responsible for verifying worker identification cards; give illegal immigrants a chance to earn citizenship and help them assimilate into American culture.

Today, the president defended the one new proposal that’s gotten the most scrutiny: sending the National Guard to the border.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Up to 6,000 Guard in the first year of operation really is not going to put a strain on our capacity to fight and win the war on terror, as well as deal with natural disasters. And, of course, we’ll be working in conjunction with governors to make sure that that’s not the case, that it doesn’t put an unnecessary strain on other functions of the Guard.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the president’s plan got mixed reviews in the Senate, which began voting today on its immigration reform bill. Democrat Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said simply increasing the number of people guarding the border won’t solve the problem of illegal immigration.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), Massachusetts: We know the record on the border. Twenty years ago, we had 40,000 people that were coming in here illegally. Ten years ago, it was 400,000. And you know what we did? We spent $20 billion between the last 10 years.

We’ve increased border guards by 300 percent. And guess what? We have doubled the numbers to 800,000 today, to 800,000. And what is the answer to that? The answer to that is that we need tough border security, but we need tough law enforcement here in the United States.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Larry Craig of Idaho liked the president’s focus on beefing up the border.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), Idaho: The president simply gets it. And if this Senate doesn’t get it, shame on us. We can’t write a bill in any fashion, Democrat or Republican, that works unless our borders are secure and the law plays against the border in allowing an orderly approach through that border on a daily and an annual basis.

Oh, yes, our economy needs immigrant workers. We’ll need several hundreds of thousands a year if we expect our economy to continue to grow as it has and to prosper.

KWAME HOLMAN: And Majority Leader Bill Frist said he supported the president’s proposal.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), Senate Majority Leader: It’s not so much as a compromise but a coming together to recognize the reality of stopping that flow, that influx coming across the border, but doing it in a compassionate way. I think the president’s leadership does help.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic Leader Harry Reid praised the president’s call to allow the nation’s 11 million undocumented people to earn citizenship, but Reid charged Senate Republican leaders today indicating they favor an immigration bill passed by the House in December that focuses on enforcement and criminalizes illegal status. That legislation spurred nationwide protests last month.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Minority Leader: So the president, if he wants to help us on comprehensive immigration reform, needs to look first at his Republican leadership in the Senate and say something negative about this monstrous House bill that we’re going to have to go to conference with if we’re fortunate enough to pass something here.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate has some 20 amendments to wrestle with in the coming days before any reform proposal can be reconciled with a very different House version.

JIM LEHRER: Gwen Ifill takes it from there.

In search of a middle ground

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez
D-Calif.
[T]he president is saying: Look, if your children are born here, if your husband has got a work permit, but you -- and usually it's the woman -- don't have the paperwork to be in this country, we don't really want to be pulling apart that family.

GWEN IFILL: As the Senate immigration debate continued today, the president's ideas received a thorough going-over from both Republicans and Democrats.

Here to discuss the status of that debate, two members of the House: Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, who chairs the House Immigration Reform Caucus; and California Democrat Loretta Sanchez, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee.

So the president said last night, Tom Tancredo, that he was looking for rational middle ground in that debate. Did you hear that in his proposals?

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), Colorado: Well, I certainly heard a rational statement for the first part of the speech, and that was that he said we need to do something to beef up our border security, and he's going to commit elements of the National Guard to do that. That's rational.

I heard him talk about the need for some sort of identification card for people who are legal immigrants, legal aliens into the country, so that both they and employers could rely on them when they go to get a job here. That's rational.

Where we departed from that, I think, was when we lapsed into -- where the president lapsed into his now, I think, very tired and not very compelling arguments to mix the two concepts of immigration and border security and enforcement-only with some sort of guest-worker/amnesty program.

He said, as a matter of fact, that one was necessary for the other, that we could only have border security, he said, if we have a guest-worker program. That is simply inaccurate.

GWEN IFILL: Loretta Sanchez, did you hear middle ground or see the possibility for it?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), California: Well, I certainly believe that we need to have three phases or three pieces of this immigration reform in order for everything to work.

We certainly need to secure our borders, not just the southern border. We need to do something about the northern border, which is twice as long as the one we have on the south.

We also need to worry about who comes through the coast, through our airports, through our ports of entry, all of them. That's important.

It's also important to figure out what to do with the people who are already here, many of them that come from mixed families.

And I think the president is saying: Look, if your children are born here, if your husband has got a work permit, but you -- and usually it's the woman that we see -- doesn't have the paperwork to be in this country, we don't really want to be pulling apart that family. We need to keep them together.

So this is a case where I think it would be a good thing to find a path to legalization. And for the future, we are going to need more workers. There are not going to be enough American workers to do the expansion of the economy as we see it, and so we will need to have some sort of a guest-worker program.

Sending in the Guard

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo
R-Colo.
What we know is that the Border Patrol cannot handle the flow... the inability of the Border Patrol to effectively use the technology that we have available, that's the real added value of having the National Guard involved.

GWEN IFILL: Let's separate this now. The president's -- the newest proposal, the freshest proposal he made last night was to activate National Guards, 6,000 National Guards members to the border. Does that sound, Congressman Tancredo, like something which you could support?

REP. TOM TANCREDO: Absolutely.

GWEN IFILL: Does it sound like he's heading in the right direction?

REP. TOM TANCREDO: The House of Representatives, believe this or not, has passed an amendment ever year since 1997 calling for troops on the border. It passed it again just this last week. We do support that; I certainly do support that.

GWEN IFILL: Permanently or transitional, as the president said?

REP. TOM TANCREDO: Well, the amendment doesn't specify. It just gives the president the authority to do so and the encouragement to do so. It doesn't have any sort of date with it. So we certainly are supportive of the concept.

What we know is that the Border Patrol cannot handle the flow. Certainly, the number of people coming through, the inability of the Border Patrol to effectively use the technology that we have available, that's the real added value of having the National Guard involved.

They bring not just human resources, and that's why the argument over the 6,000, or 5,000, or 15,000 is not nearly as important to me as what they bring with them. Do they bring UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles? Do they bring sensors that will determine whether or not people are actually tunneling underneath to get into the United States?

If they do that and if they are put to work and in a capacity that complements the Border Patrol, then I'm very happy with it, and I want to see it continue, but it's just one small part of a very big problem.

GWEN IFILL: Is this the correct role for the National Guard, Congresswoman Sanchez?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: Well, also sitting on -- I not only sit on Homeland Security, I also sit on the Armed Services Committee. And let me tell you: My military families across the United States, the bulk of them from Reserves and National Guardspeople, 50 percent of them serving tours now in Iraq and Afghanistan, they're very, very tired.

They don't want to be called up, and they don't want to -- the families don't want their people sent away. These are the wrong people to put at the border.

When we passed the 9/11 act, when we passed the intelligence reform that gave us the intelligence czar and everything, we also passed in that law that we would actually fund more and put more Border Patrol people and we would get more enforcement officers. And you know what? They just haven't voted the money to do it.

We are not following the law that we actually have in place to put more people in. Don't you think it would be better if we had people at the border who were permanent, who were trained correctly, who knew the job, rather than to send a National Guardsmen to Iraq, where he's got his machine gun and he's worried about everything that's going on, and he's out there for 18 months or 24 months in war, and then we bring him back, and then we pull him out of California and we put him down at the border, and he's supposed to somehow act differently or have a different role?

It's a very conflicting and confusing role to use our National Guard in that way. And most of the members who sit on the military committees, both in the Senate and the House, are not very happy with that.

REP. TOM TANCREDO: There are 440,000 members of the National Guard in the United States. At the present time, 20,000 of them are serving in Iraq. And when they do come back from Iraq, they cannot be deployed for a certain period of time, in order to provide that R&R. We are talking about a very small percentage of the National Guard that's being used here.

And as a matter of fact, if we are going to be able to do some training -- I mean, what we do here in the United States is train the National Guard. We train them in various states. Why would it not be absolutely appropriate to have that training go on where we need them most right now, and that is on a border that is essentially being invaded? And that is exactly what is happening.

And their expertise, again, comes not just -- you know, they're not going to be there, frankly, armed with their M-16s. As I understand it, there's going to be a reluctance -- there is a reluctance on the part of the administration to provide that. But what I do want them with is the technology. That's what I keep saying. That's what they can provide the Border Patrol.

Amensty or citizenship?

U.S. Reps. Sanchez and Tancredo

GWEN IFILL: I want to talk to you about what the president called a path to citizenship, in which some people, including, I think, Congressman Tancredo called amnesty, which is creating this path where people then have to earn English and have to get to the end of the line, as the president put it, and have to hold a job for a period of time in order to gain citizenship.

Does that sound like a reasonable approach to you? Is that a central part of any immigration proposal?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: Well, first, I don't want to give away citizenship to anybody. I think they should earn it. And many of these people have been now here many years. Some even have qualified under the 1986 reform that we had.

But because paperwork was wrong, or something that was a snafu, or some lawyer defrauded them, some of these people have still been in this country. Remember that their kids are born here, that almost everybody in their family probably has the paperwork to be here.

Again, what I see coming through my door are mothers who -- we don't really want to pull apart families, so I think it's important. I think it's important that people learn English to be in the United States. I think it's important that they understand our history, and our culture, our value system of the United States, what we value, that they know how to say the pledge, they understand what that means, that they're working, that they don't have a criminal record.

GWEN IFILL: And do you think the president's proposal would do that?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: And I believe -- well, I believe he wants to see something like that. He is waiting for the Congress to work out the details and the compromises of what that path to citizenship would look like.

GWEN IFILL: Why won't that work?

REP. TOM TANCREDO: I'd like to see all of the things that Loretta says are necessary for citizenship. I like the idea that people would be encouraged to learn English and all of the rest of it, but there's one little aspect of it that we disagree on, and that is that one thing that is imperative, it seems to me, in order -- that precedes all of the rest of that is to enter this country legally, to do it the right way.

There are millions and millions of people who have done it the right way. And there are millions and millions of people who are waiting to come into this country, and they are suffering through the process -- and I know it's a difficult one -- but I, like Ms. Sanchez, do not want to give away citizenship.

But what I'm telling you is that, when you say to people who have broken the law to come into this country -- and, with all due respect, there are certainly cases where there will be hardships. But I must tell you, a choice was made at some point in time in that person's life to come into this country and to break the law in doing so. There's a penalty that should be paid.

The price of immigration

GWEN IFILL: So should the penalty be deportation?

REP. TOM TANCREDO: The penalty should be an inability to obtain a job. It is illegal in this country to hire someone who is here illegally. All we have to do is enforce that.

We do not have to round people up. We do not have to do any of these kind of draconian things that people keep talking about as being the response to that because what you will see is attrition. People will go home on their own if they don't have jobs here.

GWEN IFILL: Will that happen...

REP. TOM TANCREDO: So I want attrition and not amnesty.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: No, Tom, that won't happen. But more importantly, go and talk...

REP. TOM TANCREDO: What are they going to do, Loretta?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: ... go and talk to your business owners. Look, I go and talk to my business...

REP. TOM TANCREDO: What will they do?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: I go and talk to my business owners all of the time. And they say to me, "Look, Loretta, we follow the law. We try to figure out what the paperwork is and everything. I've got 40 people in my restaurant. I've got 2,000 people in my hotel. I know some of them don't have the right documents or what have you."

They said, "But you know what? These people know their job. They're efficient right now. They're part of the community. They are the umpires in the Little League. Why are we going to take these people out, send them out, only to replace them with people who don't know the American way of life?"

REP. TOM TANCREDO: Because they broke the law.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: No, no, no.

REP. TOM TANCREDO: Yes, they did. And there is an important distinction, Loretta.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: They are part of the community.

REP. TOM TANCREDO: They broke the law.

GWEN IFILL: You know, you're not going to settle this argument tonight, so we're going to leave it there. Congressman Tancredo, Congresswoman Sanchez thank you very much.

REP. TOM TANCREDO: It's been a pleasure.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: Thanks.