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September 29, 2006
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Transcript - September 29, 2006

ANGRY GUY: They've sucked up the jobs up, doing them for half the price.

BRANCACCIO: Illegal immigration ... in this political season, it's become a hot button issue in the heartland...

GARRISON: They come in and take medical services and they take food stamps and they take welfare it just fries my shorts.

BRANCACCIO: Republicans are pushing get tough policies—will voters buy it. And...religion in politics...a former senator breaks ranks....

DANFORTH: There's something more than winning elections. And I think that dividing the country on religious lines is just not worth whatever possible benefit there is from that.

BRANCACCIO: John Danforth, a Republican and an Episcopal priest on what he sees as the damage caused by putting god into politics.

BRANCACCIO: Welcome to was the Republican Party that made a big deal about illegal immigration, hoping to score votes in this fall's elections. But the law of unintended consequences has since kicked in. Curiously, the issue may now end up dividing the Republican Party.

Senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa and producer Bryan Myers have our report.

GARRISON: Its time for us to look at the Hoosier State from the perspective of its own people.

HINOJOSA: Each weekday morning, Greg Garrison holds court from the studios of w-i-b-c radio in downtown Indianapolis. Garrison's show is the highest rated talk radio program in town and today's topic a familiar one.

GARRISON: It's very easy to talk immigration from the mountain and swell all up about economics and international relations and all that stuff. But what about what happens right here?

HINOJOSA: Garrison says his listeners can't stop talking about illegal immigration. There's a widespread belief that undocumented Latinos are overrunning Indiana, bringing with them crime, disease, and economic ruin.

GARRISON: Let's get right back to the phones. Mike, what's going on?

MIKE: Community Hospital, according to the medical professionals my mom knows, is on the verge of bankruptcy. And it's because of the illegals coming in and they're not paying. They get their treatment for Viagra, depression or psychological counseling. And they never pay their bills.

HINOJOSA: Stories about undocumented Latinos taking advantage of social services are common. By the way, that caller was wrong—the community hospital in Indianapolis isn't going broke at all. But it just goes to show how worked up people have become. When did you hear it start percolating on your airways?

GARRISON: One of the first ways is healthcare professionals they would begin to call and go, "Boy, you know, something's really different here because none of these people speak any English. We're treating hundreds upon hundreds of people a day. Filling thousands of prescriptions."

HINOJOSA: This fall, Republicans are hoping to tap into fears about illegal immigration. It is exactly the kind of hot button issue that can get voters to the polls, especially conservatives. It's no secret that many Republicans candidates are in trouble, and some have been making a big deal about what they call the threat of illegal immigration. In Indiana, three of the state's incumbent Republican congressmen are in danger of losing their seats. And in all three of those races, they've been doing a lot of talking about the issue of immigration.

HOSTETTLER: This is the single most important issue I have heard about from my constituents...

HINOJOSA: Republican john Hostettler represents Indiana's 8th congressional district. It's often called "the bloody eighth" because it has a history of close elections. This year, Hostettler's bid for re-election is in trouble. It's become one of the most closely watched races in the country. A few weeks ago, Hostettler with the help of fellow Republicans—held a much-publicized meeting in his hometown of Evansville. It was billed as a hearing about the effects of illegal immigration on American workers.

ANGRY GUY: "Ten years ago, it was all Americans. Now, you go out and they've sucked up the jobs up, doing them for half the price."

HINOJOSA: One witness after another argued that undocumented workers are taking jobs away from Americans. Even such Republican Party heavyweights as James Sensenbrenner flew in to show their support. Sensenbrenner is the author of tough legislation that would expedite the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. All over the country, Republicans have taken a hard edge on immigration. They've held nearly two dozen meetings just like this one and many of them have been in districts where incumbents, like Hostettler, are in trouble. As for Hostettler, he's even got a pod cast, on which he often warns about the perils of illegal immigration.

HOSTETTLER: Illegal immigrant populations cost the American taxpayer significantly in order to meet the requirements of them and their families.

HINOJOSA: But here's the thing. In Hostettler's hometown of Evansville, there's hardly a Latino face in sight. Latinos, whether legal or not, account for only 1% of the county's population. And Indiana as a whole ranks in the bottom half of states in the percentage of undocumented workers. So what's going on? One survey has found that people living in areas with few immigrants are much more likely to have a negative opinion of Hispanics. Robert Dion has a theory that it's about raw politics.

DION: Elections are about winning.

HINOJOSA: Dion is a professor of political science at the University of Evansville.

DION: If you're a Republican Party that's fairing poorly sometimes you have to win ugly. And in this case, it's stirring up fears about the menace posed by immigrants. Why is healthcare so expensive? Illegals are using it and not paying for it. Why are schools full of students? Because illegals are going but they not paying for their taxes. Why don't I have a good job? Because some illegal has taken it away from me. And it's a convenient foil.

HINOJOSA: If the idea has been to get the voters stirred up, it seems to have worked. One poll shows that today, in Hostettler's district twice as many people view illegal immigration as a problem than they did a year ago.And just this week, a survey by a local newspaper found that nearly three out of four registered voters in Hostettler's district consider immigration a top priority. Hostettler's campaign didn't return our calls requesting an interview, but we were able to catch up with his democratic opponent, brad Ellsworth.

ELLSWORTH: With the people here, I think you're talking in the top five issues.

HINOJOSA: Ellsworth, the democrat, is just as tough on immigration as Hostettler, the Republican. Polls show Ellsworth is ahead of the six-term incumbent. Political pundits are predicting Hostettler's time "may be up."

ELLSWORTH: This is a society of rules. And people want laws enforced.

And I think the American people and the people of the eighth district resent when laws are broken. If we're gonna have laws in the books, let's enforce them. I think that's really why's it's resonated. And I think it should resonate.

HINOJOSA: And how is the issue of illegal immigration playing out at a national level? Most democrats have been content to largely side step it. But Republicans have been fighting among themselves. The issue is driving a wedge between business interests and social conservatives. Meet Doctor Bill Escoffrey of Muncie, Indiana. He's an immigrant himself, and a naturalized citizen.

ESCOFFREY: This is my citizenship certificate, and I'm so proud of this.

HINOJOSA: Escoffrey's also a proud conservative. For him, illegal immigration is mostly an issue about the law. As a young doctor, it took Escoffrey six years to get here. He finally made it legally on the fourth of July in 1975.

HINOJOSA: So when you look at what's happening in Indiana now, and you look at a different, a new wave of immigration, what do you see?

ESCOFFREY: Well, first, I have to be frank with you. I'm a human being. And first of all, I feel resentment. But I feel resentment in that it took me six years to get here as a person who was coming with something, bringing something to the table.

HINOJOSA: Escoffery was born in Jamaica, back when it was a British commonwealth. After his father returned from world war two with tales of how the Americans fought the Nazi's, Escoffery says he knew he wanted to live in America.

ESCOFFREY: This is young me at about age 16.

HINOJOSA: Escoffery says he understands why immigrants come here illegally looking for work. But, he says, if they don't respect the law, they don't respect America.

ESCOFFREY: I mean, I believe in this country. Here's a guy who grew up in the third world. Who saw the great shining beacon. Who believed the message. Who is right there with the founders, who read the Declaration of Independence. And I came here legally. And I want to see everybody else appreciate it that much. I didn't just come here for a buck. And so when I see people coming over the border like that, it makes that whole dream tawdry. It sullies it for me. And I think that it demeans it.

HINOJOSA: There are an estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the United States. The bush administration wants to find a way for many of them to stay here, legally. Supporting legislation that would allow undocumented workers to apply for legal residency. Reaction from the law & order crowd has been swift and severe, but business leaders applauded. David Holt is the vice-president of the Indiana chamber of commerce.

HOLT: I see, you know, hard working individuals that are very family oriented people

HINOJOSA: Holt's organization represents over 4000 business in Indiana. His group doesn't encourage employers to hire illegal workers, but, he concedes, the business community couldn't live without them.

HINOJOSA: Are undocumented immigrants taking away jobs from Indiana residents?

HOLT: They are not taking jobs away from Indiana residents. Citizens of Indiana, Hoosiers, they don't want to do those types of jobs. They want more skilled jobs. They want the jobs in the factories that might bring, you know, $20 or $30 and hour.

HINOJOSA: So, is there a shortage of unskilled workers in America? Consider this recent headline: talk of a crackdown has scared so many undocumented farm workers away from their jobs, growers can't get enough people to pick fruit. In some states, crops are rotting in the fields.

PENCE: Hi, I'm Mike Pence

HINOJOSA: Congressman Mike Pence is proof of just how divisive the issue of illegal immigration has become for Republicans. Pence represents Indiana's sixth congressional district. Several months ago, he tried to broker a compromise between the business community and hard-line conservatives. Pence put forward a bill that would allow millions of Mexicans into the country as guest workers.

PENCE: You know, politics is the art of the possible. People want us to secure our borders. But they also want us to create a new system that provides the workers that our economy needs. I like to say I'm a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.

HINOJOSA: Pence is a rising star in conservative politics. Many believed if anybody could pull off a deal, it was pence. Instead, he got eaten alive by fellow conservatives. Phyllis Schafly called his plan "a sick joke." Pat Buchanan compared pence to a character in the "godfather" who betrays Michael Corleone, saying Pence is the " the great immigration battle of 2006." Pence isn't in danger of losing his seat in congress, but the experience taught him about the deep seated divisions among Republicans that are not easily overcome. Political scientist Robert Dion says how the Republicans deal with illegal immigration will have lasting implications.

DION: Hispanic voters have eclipsed now, have surpassed the number of African American voters. It's an emerging and important constituency. And if you seem to be playing to nativist fears, or playing to, or drumming up concerns about minorities and non-white people, it's not a pleasant image for the party of Lincoln.

HINOJOSA: The Republican Party is battling for what's likely to become a big voting bloc. In 2004, more Latinos voted for president bush than any Republican presidential candidate since exit polling began over 30 years ago. Latinos voted for Bush because of his stand on things like family values and national defense. The Republican Party is eager to see them become life-long allies. Veronica Guerrero is a Mexican immigrant and, like most people of Hispanic heritage in Indiana, an American citizen. Guerrero owns a dress shop in a part of Indianapolis known as "Little Mexico." She knows these streets better than anyone. Around here, she's considered a "Madrina," or godmother. When newly arrived immigrants need help, they turn to her. While we were visiting, this woman came by seeking advice on dealing with a family crisis. Guerrero told us she knows some Latinos who voted for president Bush. But, she says, word on the street is that all the tough talk about immigration is turning them off to the Republican Party.

GUERRERO: Maybe like 90 percent of Latinos that I know they're not gonna vote for any Republicans.

HINOJOSA: Latinos aren't a huge part of Indiana's population—only about four and a half percent. But things are changing. They now account for half the states population growth. And that's what's getting people's attention.

GARRISON: They come in and they take medical services and they take food stamps and they take welfare that we set up for the less fortunate in our community Just fries my shorts. And it breaks my heart...

HINOJOSA: Some people say they are bringing in crime, that they are overwhelming the schools, that they are overwhelming hospitals.

GUERRERO: Let me tell you something. I read on the newspaper the highest percentage of collecting food stamps, it was Anglos.

HINOJOSA: According to the state of Indiana, she's right. Anglos account for nearly 2/3's of the families in Indiana receiving food stamps.

GUERRERO: I think it's just ignorance.

HINOJOSA: Guerrero worries that the constant drumbeat about illegal immigration is making it dangerous just to be a Latino. Just recently, residents of little Mexico woke up to find this flyer plastered on store fronts. It says, quote, "Wanted: citizens with firearms to hunt down illegal aliens, and do the justice the government refuses to do. Contact the American militia."

GUERRERO: I was like, "Oh My God, this is bad." We're human beings. We're not animals. And as you read it, is says what the government refuses to do, we are gonna do. So they think the government is not doing enough and they want to do whatever they think is correct in their own hands.

HINOJOSA: The political jousting over immigration, Guererro says, has now become a matter of life and death.

GUERRERO: I mean, this is a scary thing. You know. I could walk into my store or my house and because I'm Latina, you know I could get shot.

BRANCACCIO: You can find useful info about immigration and the fall elections over on our website, PBS-dot-org. Now... did you see this one?

BRANCACCIO: At the recent "values voters summit" in Washington, D.C., evangelical luminaries such as Tony Perkins and James Dobson urged their brothers and sisters in Christ to keep their faith in the Republican party.

DOBSON: Regarding George W Bush, he is not a perfect man but I'm telling he is the most pro-life president we have ever had and when it comes to the war on terror he gets it.

BRANCACCIO: At the event—part pep rally...part strategy session—speakers accused Republicans of ignoring issues near and dear conservative hearts—stem cell research, abortion, same-sex marriage. The formidable influence of conservative Christians in politics is viewed as a godsend by many Republicans. But not all. Former Missouri senator John Danforth is also an Episcopal priest. "Faith and politics" is his new book.

BRANCACCIO: Senator Danforth, thank you for doing this.

DANFORTH: Good to be with you. Thanks.

BRANCACCIO: You are a anti-abortion ordained Episcopal priest. What possible problem could you have with the current relationship between conservative Christians and the Republican Party?

DANFORTH: Well, you know, I'm for everybody participating in politics. That's fine. And, I think the— the problem is if they— if a political party becomes the sectarian party. That's what's happened to the Republican Party. I think especially in recent years. It's become so identified with its base. And, its base has become the—conservative part of Christianity that. I think that it, it's very divisive.

BRANCACCIO: But how can you argue with success? This strategy, a political strategy of cultivating these Christians, has led to, in part, the presidency and both houses of Congress being firmly in the Republican camp.

DANFORTH: I think it's worked to date. But, I don't think it's got much more life in it. Now, more broadly, let's say that it works forever. Is it worth doing? And, I don't think it is. I mean, there's something more—

BRANCACCIO: What are some of the costs?

DANFORTH: There's something more than winning an election than and, I think that, that dividing the country on religious lines is just not worth whatever possible benefit there is from that.

BRANCACCIO: Well, not too long ago earlier this year I was out at a— very conservative church in Ohio. And, the reverend there has a kind of score card on every candidate. And they can look it up and see if people meet that litmus test and be informed voters. Is there any problem with that?

DANFORTH: One problem is that from the standpoint of a Christian or religious person the degree of certainty that, that exists with that kind of position I think is problematic.

BRANCACCIO: Well, he was totally certain. When I sat down with this reverend he said, "Come on. When I pick up the Bible, it says a whole bunch of core things."

DANFORTH: Yeah. But, I think that the ability to translate religion into a political agenda, and the identification with a political agenda with religion "I'm on God's side. You are not on the side of God"— is not my idea of—of what my theology tells me. I mean, is there really a one to one identity between God's way and your way? I'd say in the Bible, no. I mean, like when Prophet Isaiah says, "My way are not your ways" says the Lord." My thoughts are not your thoughts." We have always recognized since the— our Constitution that the mix of religion of politics can be something that is very divisive for our country. It also— religion can also bring to the American people, and any people, a degree of humility and a degree of respect for each other that makes it possible for us to have civil discourse. So, the question is which way do we want to play it? Is religion going to be divisive? Or, is religion going to be reconciling?

BRANCACCIO: Now, let's get really specific here. You favor research into the use of human stem cells to solve all sorts of potential medical problems. But, if a person comes to you and says, "It is my most deeply held belief, part of my religion that I must oppose stem cell research", you can't say much back, can you?

DANFORTH: Yes, I can. I can say, there are other people who are at least as faithful who would say that, "My religious commitment is to healing— for healing the sick." That's what I read in the Bible. And, that's why I think the stem cell issue should be determined on the basis of science. It should not be determined on the basis of politicians saying, "Well, we agree with religion A. We don't agree with religions B."

BRANCACCIO: What is it about our national character that seems to embrace this idea of very rancorous politics?

DANFORTH: I think something has happened in recent years. I think politics is more polarized now than it was when I was engaged in politics. And, one of the reasons I'm speaking out— really the reason I'm speaking out is the hope that the center will find its voice so that we can address serious issues like terrorism. Who— who can imagine that in the post-9/11 world it turns out that the— the question of how to deal with terrorism has become a political football? And, that's what it is. It's both sides positioning themselves for the next election.

BRANCACCIO: So, the absoluteness that faith can sometimes bring to a political view you think can get in— in the way of national security?

DANFORTH:I think that on a number of issues whether it's on questions of national security, or the budget, the entitlement programs, trying to have a an energy policy which doesn't make us so dependent on foreign sources of energy. On all these issues, I think it's important for America to try to, to regain its, its center.

BRANCACCIO: Do you think you'll see a move to the center in a few weeks?

DANFORTH: I don't know about a few weeks. But give us some time, yeah. I mean, most people, and people of strong religious faith, do not want our country to divide on the basis of religion.

BRANCACCIO: Is the media gonna cover it? I mean, an appeal to moderation lacks a certain— I don't know— pizzazz.

DANFORTH: I'm countin' on PBS. What we really need is a citizen movement. What we really need is the average person to be much more outspoken and not leave it to the talking heads. And, not leave it to the professional politicians. And, begin to weigh in more on the state of American politics.

BRANCACCIO: John Danforth, thank you very much.

DANFORTH: Thank you.

BRANCACCIO: Former Senator John Danforth is an ordained Episcopal priest. And, author of Faith and Politics.

BRANCACCIO: If we were owned by a corporate media giant there would be a slick marketing slogan to lure you to our podcast, instead we'll extend a polite invitation, is the place to sign up. Next week on NOW, politics and the economy intersect on the issue of the minimum wage. Congress hasn't raised it in almost a decade, but now voters will get a chance to weigh in. ... minimum wage initiatives are on the ballot in six key states democrats hope this is the issue that get's people to the polls.

MELONE: I mean why should you work your hardest and be there every day and you're not making any money to get anywhere?

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for now. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

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