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Democrats Push Immigration Reform as Ariz. Law Draws More Ire

April 29, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Senate Democrats rolled out the framework of a plan to reform U.S. immigration policy late Thursday as Arizona's new law faces challenges in the courts. Judy Woodruff gets two points of view on whether legislation on the controversial issue could happen before the midterm elections.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: a look at efforts to reform national immigration laws, in the wake of steps taken by the state of Arizona.

It’s been just a week since Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed Arizona’s new immigration law. But, today, it found itself the target of challenges in Arizona and Washington. A Latino clergy group filed suit in federal court in Phoenix. The American Civil Liberties Union and others also planned to sue, arguing the new law encroaches on federal policy for border enforcement.

The law makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. And it orders police to confirm people’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that they are.

But the new statute has also become the target of a referendum drive to delay enforcement until 2012, if organizers get 76,000 signatures by late July or early August. If that happens, the law would be put on hold until state residents get a chance to vote.

The impact of the law has reverberated in Washington in this election year. Aboard Air Force One last night, President Obama said expecting Congress to pass immigration reform before November might be asking too much.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have gone through a very tough year, and I have been working Congress pretty hard. So, I know there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue. So, I don’t want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn’t solve the problem. I want us to get together, get the best ideas on both sides, work this through, and, when it’s ready to go, let’s move.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, Senate Democrats went ahead today and unveiled the framework for a comprehensive reform package. It calls for increasing the number of Border Patrol and immigration agents. It also mandates improvements in border security, before allowing illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to seek legalization.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: The fact that we do not have a good, strong federal immigration law has now engendered a disproportional and counterproductive response in Arizona, which has passed a new law that is both ineffective and wrong-hearted. That is why we must act now, as soon as possible, to repair our broken immigration system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the Republican leader in the U.S. House, John Boehner, said flatly today that immigration reform wouldn’t happen this year.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, House minority leader: There is not a chance that immigration is going to move through the Congress. Even the president last night admitted that — that this wasn’t going to happen.

I have been around here for a little while, and know that, in the middle of an election year, after we have had bills like health care shoved down our throats in a process twisted, tortured, pressured, bribed, you cannot do a serious piece of legislation of this size, with this difficulty, in this environment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But whether Congress acts or not, protests are already under way. And the Arizona law all but guarantees that immigration will be an election issue.

For more, we are joined by Roy Beck. He is executive director of NumbersUSA, a nonprofit organization that favors reducing immigration. And Clarissa Martinez, she’s director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza, a nonprofit Hispanic advocacy group.

Thank you both for being with us.

I’m going to be begin with you, Clarissa Martinez, just to get both of you to tell us where you’re coming from on this Arizona law.

What is your take on what the Arizona legislature did and — and the governor signed?

CLARISSA MARTINEZ, director of immigration and national campaigns, National Council of La Raza: We strongly believe that it is the abdication of the federal government of its responsibility over immigration laws that has left state and local governments to grapple with the issue.

And what we are seeing is a patchwork of laws emerging that are only adding greater chaos to our already broken system. That’s what’s happening in Arizona, except that I think, in Arizona, we have gone beyond the pale, where now we’re in a situation where we can practically be codifying the racial profiling of the Latino population in that state, which is 30 percent of the population.

That is just simply not the way to fix or address immigration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Roy Beck, is this — is this, as Ms. Martinez said, beyond the pale?

ROY BECK, executive director, NumbersUSA: Well, not at all.

It’s — what we have is a country that has almost 10 percent unemployment. We have 25 million people who want a full-time job, can’t find one. And we have seven million illegal aliens who are holding construction, manufacturing, transportation, service jobs.

So, there are seven million jobs that could be made available to unemployed Americans if we moved the illegal aliens out of the jobs. That’s what the Arizona law does. It — it piles on to other laws that they have passed to move these illegal workers out of the state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, with the passage of the Arizona law, do you think it makes it more urgent or not to get national immigration reform done?

ROY BECK: I don’t think it makes it more urgent, but I do think Arizona has shown the way. I agree with Clarissa that what we need is not a patchwork. It would be good if every state would pass the same laws that Arizona did. Then we would have a uniform system.

If the federal government would do the same thing as Arizona’s done, then we could put seven million people back to work.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ms. Martinez, that’s obviously not what you want to see.

CLARISSA MARTINEZ: Well, it’s an interesting proposition, to say that every state should condone the racial profiling of their Latino population.

In Arizona, again, the majority of Latinos are actually U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. And now they’re going to be compelled to — they’re going to be held suspect…


CLARISSA MARTINEZ: … in their own communities.

I agree we need to fix the broken immigration system. But I also think that voters, frankly, are having their legitimate frustrations manipulated by folks who are giving them false illusions. And this is not the first time that Arizona’s gone down this road.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Ms. Martinez, let’s turn to what the Senate Democrats introduced here in Washington late this afternoon into the evening. And that is what they say is a tough new national immigration law that would first stress beefing up the borders.

We may have lost the audio with — with Ms. Martinez.

CLARISSA MARTINEZ: Oh, no, I’m hearing you. Sorry.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Can you hear me?

CLARISSA MARTINEZ: I thought you were going to switch to the Senate press conference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: No, no. I’m sorry. I was asking you to respond, because what they have been saying is, they think there does need to be national immigration reform…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … and it needs to start with securing and toughening the borders.

CLARISSA MARTINEZ: Well, I think that we have been hearing a lot, particularly over the last few months, that we need to strengthen the border.

The reality is that, if you are interested in restoring the rule of law, the way to do it is through comprehensive immigration reform. You put smart measures in place that protect the border and protect the workplace, but, at the same time, we have to fix our legal immigration system, because that’s what’s feeding illegality.

Doing only one thing is what we have been doing, and it just simply doesn’t work. That is what has put us where we are right now, and leads to things like Arizona, which, although…


CLARISSA MARTINEZ: … the frustrations are legitimate, it just simply doesn’t solve the problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Beck, what about the approach that the Democrats today are putting forward in Washington, saying we — we need national reform, and they’re acknowledging that it needs to start with a tougher border security?

ROY BECK: Well, but the problem is, is that they’re doing the opposite of what Arizona — Arizona wants to move unemployed Americans into the jobs illegal aliens have.

What was proposed today by the Democrats was to make sure that the illegal aliens have those jobs permanently, because it has a legalization as a part of it. So, it’s not about — it’s not about opening jobs up.

I mean — and jobs are the number-one issue right now. Now, there are some things about toughening up the border. And one thing that’s interesting is, they require people to carry an I.D. card, which is one of the criticisms of the Arizona law that requires — requires the — the — excuse me — the illegal immigrants to carry I.D. cards, which, by the way, is a federal law already.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ms. Martinez, it is the case that the Democrats’ proposal does include this I.D. requirement.

CLARISSA MARTINEZ: Well, look, in the past, when we had a legalization program, the — the reality is that, when you are going through that process, you have an I.D. card.

But what Arizona has done is not really about moving people who are unemployed into jobs. What it is, is that somebody can stop because they are suspected of being in the country illegally. What does that mean? The governor can’t define that. The bill didn’t define that.

And part of the issue here is that people who are deemed to be foreign, people who are held as suspect are going to be stopped. So, I agree we need to fix this problem. We also need to focus our resources. And what Arizona’s doing is adding more hay to the haystack.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. I want to — I want to let you respond very briefly, because I do want to get back to the national picture, very quickly here.

ROY BECK: Well, it’s just that the critics are saying that this is going to create all this profiling. But the law is written very carefully to try to prevent that.

Now, the governor and the legislature say they don’t want it. So, you know, we will find out. I do believe that one effect of all these protests is there’s just almost no chance that the police in Arizona are going to racially profile.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back here to what the Democrats have been…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … and the Republicans are talking about in Washington.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I — we heard several of the senators today, Democratic senators, say, we want the Republicans to join us. We want this to be bipartisan.

What do you think the chances are that Republicans are going to come on board and work with the Democrats?

ROY BECK: Yes. I believe Mr. Boehner is correct.

For one thing, who wants to run for reelection by saying, we’re going to give these jobs permanently to these illegal workers? You’re going to run for reelection saying how you’re going to put Americans back to work.

So, I don’t — I don’t see any reason why the Republicans would want to jump in. And I don’t see the reason why any Democrat in a competitive race would come out in support of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s not what the Democrats say they’re doing. They’re — they’re — they say that what they’re…

ROY BECK: Oh, that it’s all about enforcement?

JUDY WOODRUFF: They don’t — that’s right.

ROY BECK: But they say, well, you don’t get on a path to citizenship until after the enforcement.

But the fact is, is that their proposal gives people legal residence and the right to a job immediately, and then, later on, they get on a path to a green card. But the fact is, the legalization happens immediately.


ROY BECK: And when they say, after enforcement is in place, what they mean is, after they have put — spent a certain amount of money. They don’t have any criteria for actually stopping illegal immigration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that point, Ms. Martinez? And what do you think the prospects are that anything is going to happen this year at the national level?

CLARISSA MARTINEZ: Well, I think what the senators have done today with this proposal is to create a solid platform to invite Republicans to the table. We have heard many Republicans saying that the federal government needs to act. And this is an invitation to address the problem together.

And, frankly, I challenge Mr. Boehner; when he says that the government can’t do this, he is part of the government. And while Americans across the country are battling unemployment, as Mr. Beck says, and foreclosure and multiple problems at the same time, the least we can expect of our elected leaders is, frankly, to have the appetite to address the problems that the nation is facing.

And Mr. Beck can go on and on talking about the jobs issue. I haven’t heard what the real solution is going to be to move us forward. Right now, we have a broken system, where an unscrupulous employer is able to pit an American worker against a vulnerable undocumented worker. What reform will do is make sure that we level that playing field.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re going to have to wrap it up, but I do want to get a quick forecast from you.

Ms. Martinez, you — you do think there’s a chance for legislation this year at the national level?

CLARISSA MARTINEZ: I think the moral imperative, policy urgency, and politically smart moves are behind immigration reform.


ROY BECK: No, there — there won’t be. And I wish there were, because the answer really is to have some kind of a time-out on legal immigration, as well as passing the SAVE Act by the Democratic Congressman Shuler and Senator Pryor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Roy Beck, Clarissa Martinez, we thank you both.

ROY BECK: Thank you very much.