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President Bush Renews Push for Immigration Reform

April 9, 2007 at 5:20 PM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: Since last July, some 6,000 National Guardsmen have been deployed along the nation’s southern border, helping Border Patrol agents stem the tide of illegal crossings from Mexico.

The guardsmen and women are part of Operation Jumpstart, a Bush administration program the president praised this morning during his tour of the border near Yuma, Arizona.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: The men have reported that the number of arrests are down, which is an indication that fewer people are trying to cross the border at this part of along the border. So we’re making some pretty good progress.

RAY SUAREZ: In fact, apprehensions at the border during the last six months were down about 30 percent from the same period a year earlier.

In addition to increased fence construction along the border, the administration has added Border Patrol agents, beefed up aerial surveillance, installed sophisticated cameras and sensors, and built border fortifications, like this project meant to stop cars from crossing off-road, along with new skyboxes, portable watchtowers loaded with hi-tech surveillance equipment.

The NewsHour talked to Staff Sergeant Dan Heaton of the Michigan Air National Guard during its deployment late last year.

DAN HEATON, Michigan Air National Guard: If somebody sees that the border is being guarded, the border is being defended, and they decide not to cross, you know, we’ll view that as a success. It’s difficult to quantify it, but clearly that’s a success.

RAY SUAREZ: But during remarks delivered outside the Yuma border patrol station, the president said the border won’t be fully secure unless Congress overhauls the nation’s immigration laws. Key to his plan: a guest-worker program granting undocumented workers temporary permission to work in the U.S.

GEORGE W. BUSH: And that way, our Border Patrol can chase the criminals and the drug runners, potential terrorists, and not have to try to chase people who are coming here to do work America’s not doing.

RAY SUAREZ: As for the estimated 11 million already in the country illegally, they would be required to return to their home countries, get in line behind people already in the process, and pay hefty fines before they could become legal U.S. residents.

That proposal met opposition over the weekend, as thousands marched through Los Angeles, spurred in part by what they called “a betrayal by Mr. Bush,” who last year supported a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. while they applied for citizenship.

However, a majority of House Republicans and several in the Senate helped scuttle that bill, calling it amnesty for lawbreakers.

Despite early signs that Republican opposition to the president’s guest-worker idea has only grown, Mr. Bush told his congressional allies to take another look.

GEORGE W. BUSH: It’s important for people not to give up, no matter how hard it looks from a legislative perspective. It’s important that we get a bill done.

Two views on the president's push

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth
R-Ariz.
Where there is a disconnection is at this insistence that, simultaneously, we'll secure the border and at the same time institute a guest-worker program, which I still believe contains many aspects of what could be deemed as amnesty.

RAY SUAREZ: The Senate is expected to take up immigration reform next month.

Now, two views on the president's attempt to jump start immigration reform in the Congress. One comes from Gabrielle Giffords, a first-term Democrat in the House of Representatives. She joins us from Tucson, Arizona.

And from J.D. Hayworth, a Republican who served 12 years in the House before his re-election defeat last November. He joins us from Phoenix.

Representative Giffords, the president had two main messages today in Yuma, one, that the new border measures were working, two, that they were incomplete without a package that takes into account his immigration reform proposals. Is he right?

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), Arizona: I believe the president is 100 percent correct talking about, first and foremost, the importance of securing our borders.

Chief David Aguilar, the head of the Border Patrol, and I spent some time in a helicopter just a couple of days ago touring the 115-mile stretch of my district, which is one of the very few U.S.-Mexico border districts. We need to have multiple layers of enforcement on the border.

But to do all of that and not to have a comprehensive immigration reform bill that comes out of Congress within the next couple of months is going to really disrupt our economy here in the United States. It truly has to be comprehensive. We have to address border security, but we have to also look at the economic realities of our nation, as well.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Hayworth, the president has moved a little bit since his proposals of last year. Is he closer to J.D. Hayworth today?

J.D. HAYWORTH (R), Former U.S. Representative: Ray, I don't believe so. And I listened with interest to Gabby's evaluation of what is transpiring.

Essentially, sadly, in a time of war, the dynamic needs to be this: number one, enforcement first. The president, Gabby and I all agree on border security. Where there is a disconnection is at this insistence that, simultaneously, we'll secure the border and at the same time institute a guest-worker program, which I still believe contains many aspects of what could be deemed as amnesty.

I don't believe it will stop the flow. And I believe the irony is, for a wartime commander-in-chief, to leave as his historical legacy an undying commitment to open borders, instead of following enforcement first, that's why you're seeing such widespread dissatisfaction.

Unfortunately, there is an essential distrust that we will move to enforce the border first, at a time of war, that is both regrettable and unconscionable.

Crossing for work

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
D-Ariz.
90 percent of the people that are coming here are coming here for economic reasons. That means that there's jobs available here, my farmers, my ranchers, folks in the construction industry.

RAY SUAREZ: Representative Giffords, speak to that point, will you, that, first, border security, as Mr. Hayworth points out, should be handled without the concentration on regularizing the status of people or addressing the status of people who are in the country illegally.

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: Well, the chief of the Border Patrol just last week at Ellis Island during a hearing talked about the fact that 90 percent of the people that are coming here are coming here for economic reasons. That means that there's jobs available here, my farmers, my ranchers, folks in the construction industry.

Arizona is now the fastest-growing state in the nation, and there are jobs out there that we do not have workers for.

This bill is tough, practical and effective. This bill, meaning the STRIVE Act, which I'm proud to be a cosponsor, along with a fellow Republican colleague, Jeff Flake, from the Phoenix area.

This bill puts sanctions on employers who are knowingly hiring people here illegally. There's more border enforcement. There's a temporary visa program for high-tech workers, also for folks that are taking agricultural jobs and lower-skill-type jobs. And there's also a realistic plan to deal with the 11 million people who are here illegally.

This bill is not amnesty. I don't support amnesty. My district doesn't support amnesty. The president doesn't support amnesty. That's what President Ronald Reagan granted back in 1986. The bill that we're working on here in Congress does not do those things.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Mr. Hayworth, what about the economic point that Representative Giffords is making, that it's one thing to secure the border, but you also need the supply of labor that's needed in a place like Arizona and a lot of the places where illegal immigrants are heading to work?

J.D. HAYWORTH: Well, I believe I just have a fundamental disagreement and it comes from this fact. I was pleased and proud to serve 12 years. When I took the oath of office, I understood that my first commitment was to protecting the American people for national security.

And, look, I believe in pro-growth economic plans. And I listened with interest to Gabby's assessment, because I'm sure I could find some skilled laborers, some carpenters and others, who are out of work because they've essentially been undercut in the job market with the influx of illegal labor.

But the fact remains that, first, foremost and always, border security is national security. And I will tell you, Ray, I will tell you, Gabby, it's the equivalent of whistling past the graveyard if we try to subsume national security to temporary economic policy, because that is a prescription for disaster.

If we have learned nothing in the post-9/11 world, if we fail to take into account the numbers of people we have picked up, those who have come from the Middle East, assuming Hispanic surnames, attempting to have a workable knowledge of Spanish so as to blend in with the masses from Mexico, if we fail to take that into account, then I shudder to think of the consequences.

Obeying existing laws

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth
R-Ariz.
For all the reasons, but paramount being national security, we must move to enforce the laws first. Failure to do so sends the wrong signal, not only to those who wish to come across our border -- albeit illegally -- but also to our enemies abroad.

RAY SUAREZ: Representative Giffords, can you serve all these masters, keep the country safe, secure the border, make sure there's a steady supply of labor, and keep track of the people that want to gain entry on temporary work permits?

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: Well, certainly, it's easy to throw out sound bites, and it's certainly easy to rile the fears and anxieties that we have in our country over a whole host of different issues.

I had a hearing just last week in Saladita, which is a border community here in southern Arizona. We had folks such as the Minutemen show up, along with folks from the faith-based communities, like Humane Borders, come. And we had a several-hour discussion, along with representatives of the Border Patrol, to talk about some of the real challenges that we have here on the border.

Yes, the number of entrants being apprehended is down. Last year, the Tucson sector apprehended about 450,000 people coming illegally. But actually the drugs are increasing, 37 percent increase from last year, of over 600,000 pounds of marijuana, Tucson being a major clearinghouse for those drugs.

So we had a chance to talk about the enforcement. We heard from farmers, and ranchers, and the businesses about the challenges that a guest-worker program and a visa process would certainly take into consideration. And we had a chance to hear, also, about the real humane aspects of people that are dying in the deserts, as well.

This is a very complicated problem. The last Congress failed to deal effectively with the immigration crisis. And that is why it is important for this Congress, Democrats and Republicans working together, along with the leadership of the president -- and I'm really pleased to see him in Yuma -- step up and do the right thing in overhauling our immigration laws.

RAY SUAREZ: J.D. Hayworth, the president shifted a little bit by adding the so-called touchback provision that would make it necessary for people to return to their native country in order to begin the process of entering the country illegally. That had been a sticking point with your caucus in the last Congress.

Is that enough? Will he get more Republican support by making sure that's in a new bill?

J.D. HAYWORTH: Well, again, it begs this basic question, Ray. If people aren't obeying existing laws because those laws are not being enforced, what makes us think they're going to obey any new laws with or without a touchback provision?

And I might add, to actually evaluate and see if, in fact, people are engaged in the touchback will require the mother of all bureaucracies. Far better to enforce the law first, to send a clear signal, both for national security and for humanitarian reasons, so that those are not tempted to cross the border.

And we might also point out, in terms of national security, just a few weeks ago, if memory serves, I believe in Sasabe, Arizona, where some of the National Guardsmen manning an observation post were overrun and outgunned essentially by Mexican drug runners.

We have a very serious situation on the border. The problem, in fact, is compounded by the presence of National Guard units who are not engaged in their own force protection. In fact, they're depending on the Border Patrol for force protection. They're there primarily for clerical work and observation.

For all the reasons, but paramount being national security, we must move to enforce the laws first. Failure to do so sends the wrong signal, not only to those who wish to come across our border -- albeit illegally -- but also to our enemies abroad.

A new immigration bill

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
D-Ariz.
People don't want to break the law. The majority of people who come here come here seeking a better life. The majority of people coming here are working, doing a lot of jobs that Americans just don't want to do.

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier in the discussion, Representative Giffords, you mentioned that this is not an amnesty bill. And, sure enough, there is a sizable fine, if you want to leave the country and begin the process of coming back in illegally. Will people really leave, if they have to pay a $10,000 fine, in order to get in status, get legal?

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: Yes, the fine isn't quite $10,000. I believe that people don't want to break the law. The majority of people who come here come here seeking a better life. The majority of people coming here are working, doing a lot of jobs that Americans just don't want to do.

I think about my farmers out in Sunflights and Willcox and these rural areas. It's really tough to find people that want to do those agricultural jobs.

So I think, when people start seeing the process, that they can apply for a temporary visa program, that they'll have to learn to speak English, have civics education, go through criminal background checks, pay fees and fines, have to leave the country to apply, and then they're going to start at the end of the line, again, not like what President Ronald Reagan granted, where millions of people jumped the line after 1986. This bill, the STRIVE Act, is different.

And I think people do want to comply with the law. People don't want to live in the shadows. And, again, we can either continue to put our heads in the sand and pretend there's not a problem, or we can aggressively and actively deal with this problem. And that's what I intend to do representing the southern Arizona district.

RAY SUAREZ: J.D. Hayworth, I only have time for a very quick response.

J.D. HAYWORTH: Well, I just believe it's important to understand this: If people are not obeying existing laws, what makes us think they're going to obey any new laws? The way you get people to obey the law is to enforce the law.

And it does not come about with so-called comprehensive immigration reform, which essentially tries to marry two issues or put the cart before the horse, in terms of allowing illegals to stay, oh, and, yes, simultaneously enforcing the law. That is a dangerously mixed and ineffective signal in an increasingly dangerous world.

RAY SUAREZ: J.D. Hayworth, Representative Giffords, thank you both.

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: Thank you.

J.D. HAYWORTH: Thank you.