TOPICS > Politics

Issue & Debate: Immigration

October 22, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


JEFFREY KAYE: Well, as Kwame Holman reported, the immigration debate is most heated here in California. For our debate, the Clinton and Dole campaigns have each designated a California official as representative. Tapped by the Clinton campaign is Democratic Congressman Howard Berman. The Dole campaign is represented by California’s Attorney General, Republican Dan Lungren, he joins us from Sacramento. Welcome to both of you. Let’s start with the nature of the problem, and I’m interested in seeing whether there are any differences between the Dole and Clinton campaigns in just how we see the problem, starting first with you, Congressman Berman.

REP. HOWARD BERMAN, (D) California: (Los Angeles) I think there is a broad consensus that illegal immigration is wrong. It’s bad for the country, and we have to try and stop it for a number of reasons. It makes a mockery of the law, whereas, we want a well-regulated legal immigration system, the continued flow of the legal immigrants undermines support for that legal immigration system. It displaces jobs, particularly at the low end of the work force from American workers, and finally, it’s unfair to the legal immigrants, who are waiting in line for many, many years to come to this country the appropriate way.

MR. KAYE: And with the legal immigration system?

REP. BERMAN: The legal immigration system I think is basically okay. You can make some adjustments in it, but it’s a very different issue. I believe, the President believes that legal immigration is good for this country in reasonable numbers, and we want to see that system maintained.

JEFFREY KAYE: Mr. Lungren, any differences with the general philosophical approach enunciated by Mr. Berman?

DAN LUNGREN, California Attorney General: (Sacramento) No. While I was in the Congress, I worked for those things. In fact, I led the floor fight on the Republican side for the legalization program that we had in the overall Immigration Reform Act about a decade ago, but the problem here is implementation. You undercut support for legal immigration so long as the federal government does–fails to do two things: one, control the border, and two, pay for the consequences of the impact of not controlling the border in California.

As Attorney General, I’ve had to sue the federal government in an effort to get them to pay for the costs, and we’ve been met in court by this administration to stop us time and again, and frankly, it was Sen. Bob Dole who put $500 million into the budget that was vetoed twice by the President and finally signed. Now there’s a billion dollars, but it has been basically held by this administration and not paid out to the states, and California is, in fact, the most deserving state. If, in fact,–

JEFFREY KAYE: Let’s deal with some of those issues and get our laundry list, and let’s see where the differences are.

REP. BERMAN: There are some mistakes in this.

JEFFREY KAYE: Well, we’ll pick up, but Mr. Lungren, you want more money to the states, more money spent at the border. What else should be done and would be done under a Dole administration that the Clinton administration isn’t currently doing?

MR. LUNGREN: Well, the first thing is to take responsibility for controlling the borders. That has not been done. We’ve only made a feeble attempt at doing that. We pushed the problem closer into the middle of the state. We have in fact improved the problem along San Diego, but we then pushed it into the middle of the state, and there we had a confluence of two problems; one is just plain illegal immigration, but second is also bringing illegal drugs across the border. We have not enhanced the border in terms of the numbers that are necessary.

For that, we’ve just moved the problem along. Secondly, we had a policy of not actually going after in terms of prosecuting those who are illegal aliens who came across the border with as much as a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five pounds of marijuana. Rather, the decision made by this administration was to just send them back across the border as if the only offense was coming across illegally, so you have a confluence of two problems along our border where there’s been a failure.

JEFFREY KAYE: All right. Let’s get a response from Mr. Berman. First of all, controlling the border, what has the Clinton administration done?

REP. BERMAN: My friend, Dan, and my former colleague, and we’ve worked together on immigration issues in the past, knows that this is the first administration, the Clinton administration, that has made a major effort to increase our efforts at the border. The administration basically believes it is a three-prong strategy, at the border, at the workplace and moving more quickly on deportation. They have increased the Border Patrol by 50 percent since the administration came into office. They have reversed a decade of neglect by the previous administrations in this particular area. They have doubled, even as we have moved to cut the deficit from $300 billion to $116 billion, they have doubled enforcement dollars into the INS.

They have massively improved the situation in San Diego and are now moving East like Dan suggests to try and deal with that problem; they have made major inroads in the ability of illegal immigrants to get into this country. They have deported nearly 200,000 illegal immigrants, over a hundred thousand of those are criminal aliens, and this is the first administration to put money into its budget and to support funding to reimburse the states and the local governments who have the cost of incarcerating criminal aliens. It is the most proactive administration on this issue that we have ever had.

JEFFREY KAYE: Let me have Mr. Lungren respond, and then we’ll move on to other issues. Anyone who’s been down to San Diego, Mr. Lungren, and I’m not taking sides here, cannot help but be impressed by the changes in recent years in terms of the fence, the number of agents — at least what you see is a remarkable change. What is your response?

MR. LUNGREN: The fence was a result of an effort by Congressman Duncan Hunter, Republican of San Diego, who pushed that in the Congress prior to when this administration came into office. Secondly, part of the improvement is a result of the National Guard being there in a support role. Unfortunately, this Administration’s DoD, that is the Department of Defense, budget cut the amount of money that was going to the National Guard for those support efforts, and we’ve had to drag them kicking and screaming back to understand how important that is. The third thing is that, in fact, while there have been some things pushed on them by the Congress, they have had to be pushed on them. I had to send a letter along with other officials from the State of California to this administration repeatedly over a 12-month period to tell them that we ought to be prosecuting federally those people who had committed crimes while here illegally, i.e., committed additional crimes, who had then been deported and then come back into California.

In fact, we knew they were here because they’re reporting to their state parole officers, and it took us almost a year to get this administration even to pay attention. The laws are on the books there, but they need to be prosecuted.

JEFFREY KAYE: What about prosecuting employers? Let’s move on to another contentious issue in the immigration debate, and that’s employer sanctions. How far should employer sanctions be pushed, and should there be a national workplace identification card? Mr. Lungren…

MR. LUNGREN: I have supported employer sanctions. I carried the legislation to do that. I don’t think you need a national ID card or national employer card. You just need to enhance the counterfeit-proof capabilities of the current Social Security card, and this would be very different than any national ID card, such as some that you found in European countries where you would be required to show at any time on your person, rather just an enhanced Social Security card to be shown at the time of employment, along with an 800 number that would allow the employer to call the INS. I think basically we have agreement on that. I don’t think there’s much disagreement on that.

JEFFREY KAYE: Agreement, Mr. Berman?

REP. BERMAN: Dan and I and the Clinton administration agree on that. The Republicans in Congress destroyed the meaningful provisions in the immigration bill which was just signed into law to significantly increase work site enforcement. They just totally destroyed the number of investigators that could visit the businesses. They also turned the pilot verification programs that the administration has been pushing, 60,000 employees of meatpacking companies, a major program involving 200 employers in Santa Ana, they have turned all those into voluntary so that any employer can refuse to participate in those verification programs.

Dan and I–Dan and I agree, but Dan has to come to terms with what the Republican Congress–what Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, and much of the Senate leadership did to weaken a key aspect of this. Everyone agrees that jobs is the magnet that brings illegal immigration here. Every dispassionate study says that’s the key. The Republican effort has consistently been to erode any meaningful requirements or enforcement of work site verification and employment process.

MR. LUNGREN: Well, that’s just not true. That has to be predicated on some identifiable documents that you can rely on, and there has not been the support that we need in the Congress to have that enhanced counterfeit-proof documentation. The second thing is it is not only the potential of jobs which is the magnet. There is also the magnet of benefits in this country, and we have to start dealing with that one way or the other. And if this administration is going to fail to do more to try and control our borders, then it ought to step up to the plate and admit the federal liability for the cost, estimated to be between 2 and 3 billion dollars–

REP. BERMAN: But, Dan–

MR. LUNGREN: –that are placed on the California taxpayers, and it was Bob Dole who got–

JEFFREY KAYE: Mr. Lungren, very quickly–

MR. LUNGREN: –$500 million–

REP. BERMAN: Dan, Bob Dole attacked, voted against, and opposed the effort to reimburse states for the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants. He said it was a budget buster, and he’s on the record voting against it.

MR. LUNGREN: It was Bob Dole’s–

REP. BERMAN: The Clinton administration–

MR. LUNGREN: –amendment of $500 million.

JEFFREY KAYE: Gentlemen, I’m sorry. I’m sorry–

MR. LUNGREN: Bob Dole’s amendment.

JEFFREY KAYE: We’ll have to leave it there.

REP. BERMAN: That’s an election year conversion.

MR. LUNGREN: No, no.

JEFFREY KAYE: This will continue. Thank you very much for joining us, Mr. Berman, Mr. Lungren.