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Transcript, May 12, 2006

BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW...

What some have called the invisible workforce is suddenly front and center. I'm talking about America's immigrants... and whether people have proper legal papers or they're in the country illegally, by far the largest numbers of new immigrants are Latinos.

Where is the immigration issue now headed after weeks in the news, lots of noise in congress and job actions across America?

We're going to find out in an unusual town hall meeting which we co-produced with the public radio program Latino USA.

We've assembled in San Antonio, Texas a diverse group of what you might call thought leaders drawn from politics, literature, the church and our own profession - journalism.

Moderating our discussion is now's senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa who is also the long-time host of Latino USA. Maria....

HINOJOSA: Thank you and muchas gracias David. So I want to ask our audience and our panelists how many of you think that you know an undocumented immigrant? Raise your hands high. Okay. Overwhelming majority. So, what's changed here is not really their presence but rather their visibility. Right, Henry Cisneros, former mayor of San Antonio? Tell me what you name what's going on in this country.

CISNEROS: Well, I think you name it change. And I think you name it a time of an important national dialogue. But I don't think you name it chaos or panic or a time of a societal meltdown or-- or-- or cultural Armageddon. This is going to revitalize our nation with new, young, energetic workers in the midst of American society that is aging. I think that is what is happening.

HINOJOSA: D.A. King, you are an anti-illegal alien activist. Right?

KING: I-- I'm against illegal immigration, yes.

HINOJOSA: What are you seeing?

KING: What we're going through now is a decision on whether or not the United States of America will be permitted to have borders and enforce its own laws. I think the rallies that we all saw on TV the last couple of weeks have done more to open up the average American's eyes on how large a issue, if not problem, this really is. So, I am urging people to have more rallies like that.

HINOJOSA: Michael Eric Dyson, University of Pennsylvania. Lot of Latinos saying, "This is the new civil rights movement."

DYSON: Well, I-- I think there's undoubtedly-- an element of civil rights struggle here of what it means to be an American, American citizenship. Most of the people sitting here are immigrants to America. Just at what stage did you come? I see African-American people who are-- afraid because they figure the Mexicans are coming over to take our jobs. And so, I say to them, "Stop that." It-- it is the people from above, corporate interests who manipulate African-Americans and Latinos against each other. And I say to Latino brothers and sisters, "Amen and welcome to the struggle," and let's continue to expose the realities of American ethnic bigotry.

HINOJOSA: Richard Langlois, -- you are the Chairman of the local Republican Party of Bexar County here in Texas.

LANGLOIS: First off, I think we have to look at the fact that I don't think the word "immigrant" should be used. Because these people are that are here illegally, they're not immigrants. I don't think they all oughta be put in prison or anything like this. But I think that that's where we have to get some legislation going on so that we can handle this situation so they can achieve their identity. It's not a civil rights movement because they don't have any rights.

HINOJOSA: And this is what I find fascinating, where-- you can say they don't have any rights at all. Would we want them to stay indoors then?

CISNEROS: --there are a series of factors that-- they're called push and pull factors, that brought something like twel-- 12 million people to this country. Push because there weren't enough jobs in their home country so they are pushed out, but pulled, equally powerful, by economic forces here that's the core of it, that there are 12 million human beings with rights. They have, at minimum, human rights, and certainly ought not be exposed to the kind of abuses that they are today.

HERNANDEZ: People say it's not a civil rights movement, they forget that a lotta these families, while our government turned a blind eye, didn't enforce its laws, they came across. They bought homes. They have the two kids who are born in America, the cat, the two-car garage. They have full lives here. And so, their children, maybe-- maybe if some people believe that they don't have rights, their children as American citizens do have rights. And that's why I feel like it's a civil rights movement. As for me, as a Latina whose parents were immigrants, this is like the first time I see any kind of movement, any kind of saying, "You know what? We're done being invisible.

HINOJOSA: So, what do you think of that, Michael? I mean-- this notion of staying behind closed doors, if we say that, what does that say about us as a democracy?

DYSON: First of all, we broke the law too. It was against the law of America for a black person to be free. So, obviously I don't genuflect before the altar of the law. Martin Luther King, Junior broke the law. Rosa Parks broke the law. So, breaking of the law is-- means that they adhere to a higher moral law. Secondly, when you talk about them that they have no rights, they have a right because they breathe. They have a right because blood flows through their veins. What is the best of American tradition? Come to our borders. What-- what does it say on the Statue of Liberty? Now, some people would say, "Well, it says legally." What did "wop" mean? Without papers. America needs to own up to the fact that it shouldn't have submerged populations who are in the shadows. Come out and be free. They have contributed. What we need to do is to acknowledge their presence, or at least gives them rights.

HINOJOSA: Okay, D.A. I know you're just--

KING: The-- the question has to be asked-- has to be asked. Is it a human rights violation for the United States to secure its own borders? Is it somehow un-American for us to enforce the law equally. I firmly believe that if we do not secure our borders, we don't have borders. And-- and it's my observation if we don't have borders, we don't have a country. I hear a lot about the globalization-- of-- of-- of the world, or the global economy. There are a great many Americans who are not willing to give up the United States of America in the name of globalization. And I think for most Americans, this is not about ethnicity or color. But neither do I recognize it as a civil right to come into my country illegally, take a job for less than an American of any color, Michael, and then demand that you be allowed to stay.

CISNEROS: if we were to concede, D.A., that-- the border needs to be protected, so that-- that needs to happen, we need to put more money into border protection of all kinds. This country has an-- a-- a-- a right and a duty to protect its borders.

KING: Absolutely.

CISNEROS: Now, we also should do something about the-- about the workers. Because the country needs the workers. And so, some kinda guest worker program, which the left and labor has traditionally opposed, they are now willing to concede. But it has to be linked to some method of humane treatment and legalization of the 12 million pe-- people who are here. What's your answer to that?

KING: My answer, Mr. Cisneros, and-- and first of all--

CISNEROS: I mean, in the-- in the spirit of a-- kind of a finding a middle ground, if there is such a possibility.

KING: I think we have already tried the middle ground in 1986. And it's a reoccurring theme in my discussions. Most Americans are not even aware of the fact that we had an amnesty for three million illegal aliens in 1986. So, the middle ground sir, must be first of all, to punish the employers if not the government that didn't punish them. We as the American people, did not allow these people in here. Our government has failed us.

CISNEROS: But all of that has happened.

KING: It has hap--

CISNEROS: --reality.

KING: It's a real--

CISNEROS: --12 million human beings.

KING: There's the "reality" world-- word again.

CISNEROS: So, what-- what is your answer to 12 million leaving-- living, breathing--

KING: And I--

CISNEROS: --hum-- human beings?

HINOJOSA: Well, what do you, D.A.? Here-- here's what I wanna know. Do we ask them to leave and hope that they will? Do we go door to door? What does that mean? How do you foresee it in your dream-o-vision of the solution of the problem of getting rid of the illegal aliens in the United States, how does it happen?

KING: I wanna dispute the 12 million figure. I believe it to be in excess of 20. But the answer is that this problem did not develop overnight. Neither will it be solved overnight. Nobody I know, no reasonable person that I know, expects people to be rounded up and taken out of the country by sundown tomorrow. People are giving-- the-- the people who don't study this, two choices. We either legalize the millions of people who are here illegally, or we round them up-- as you said. There is a third option that-- should be discussed more. It's called attrition by enforcement. Nobody breaks into Disneyland if they can't ride the rides. If we begin to punish the employers and the bankers, the people who are profiting from this, the magnets, if we actually enforce existing law, then I believe people will begin to go home and improve their own countries.

HINOJOSA: Richard Langlois, and the Republican Party is gonna step up and say-

LANGLOIS: It's gotta be a two-way street. I don't believe we should send them over. if we put everybody in prison who is illegally here right now, we'd have a million grandmothers that's probably been living here for 20 or 30 years, in prison. We don't want that. The Republican Party doesn't want that.

HINOJOSA: Lee Teran, are you seeing level headedness within the Republican Party on this or are you--

TERAN: No. (CHUCKLES)

HINOJOSA: -- more concerned about the legal issues here?

TERAN: Well, I don't think the proposals-- any of the proposals really cover-- are-- are gonna solve the problem, frankly. I think that-- yes, there should be border security. But you're not gonna get border security by building walls or by increasing border patrol. Every time there's a legislation we double border patrol. They've put an enormous amount of money into prisons. There are prisons all over South Texas filled with undocumented workers. It's not gonna stop the flow if the employers are still here bringing in the workers, and the workers are still coming in from those countries needing a place to work.

DYSON: well, maybe the laws are out of tune and out of touch with the actual practice of American democracy. Maybe what's bursting at the seam is a re-thinking of what it means to be an American. And maybe this new development has suggested that we have to change the law to reflect the new America in which we live.

KING: Before we give up on the law, Michael, I-- I would ask the 20-year period of time where we actually tried to enforce it. We have had a series of administrations who has refused to punish these employers for bringing these people in.

HINOJOSA: But D.A., you-- I mean, the question is, it's not as if they don't see what's happening. So, they're making a choice?

CISNEROS: Maria, let-- let me just say--

HINOJOSA: Yes, Henry Cisneros.

HENRY CISNEROS: For me, what I don't understand is fundamentally, the American economy is almost as strong as it's ever been. And it's the strongest force on the-- on the globe. And immigration has contributed that, including ilig-- illegal immigration, whether you wanna acknowledge it or not. And so this is-- this has been part of the success.

that really bothers people I think, and what re-- what-- what-- what-- what causes this-- this anger, is that these new immigrants look different. These are-- this is a-- the-- people are afraid of sort of cultural change in America because they see different faces and different last names and different-- language and so forth. But I would say America, you need to get over it. These are human beings who come here to work hard, raise their children, have a better life, go to church-- pay their taxes, pay taxes. They're paying their way. What is the problem?

KING: Whatever this discussion goes to, I hope we could all agree that American borders have to be secured, period. Is there anybody here who does not agree with that?

HERNANDEZ: I think that you're absolutely right, but I-- I think that when we talk about borders, we just point to the Rio Grande. And it's not like any of the hijackers crossed the Rio Grande to hop on their planes. So, when we talk about securing the borders, we really need to get serious about securing all the borders. Because then it seems like the discussion is geared towards Latinos. And that, I think, is the most dangerous threat out of this whole argument.

KING: Macarena, nobody said secure the borders against Latinos. We're saying secure the borders.

CISNEROS: We keep pointing to the Rio Grande.

DYSON: When I heard "borders," I hear-- that-- that's a code word Brother D.A. The code word is they're not us. They're not white people. They're not Anglos. They're not people from Western or Eastern Europe.

LANGLOIS: I-- I don't see this to be a racial issue. And what--

DYSON: Right.

LANGLOIS: --Brother Dyson's trying to make. It's not a racial issue. One thing is-

DYSON: It's ethnicity.

LANGLOIS: --who has ever asked an immigrant what they want? What do they really want? That's real issue about where-- where we're going is, do they wanna come in the country work and then keep their family in Mexico and not become citizens?

HINOJOSA: What do you think they want, Macarena? I mean, do they want to come here and not only come here, but do they wanna come here and change America?

HERNANDEZ: That assimilation argument is so old. It-- I mean, by the third generation, most Latinos speak only English. Half of them will marry outside their ethnic box.

HINOJOSA: In fact, within Latinos, aren't they-- aren't people worrying, "Oh, my God, my children aren't gonna speak Spanish anymore."

FEMALE VOICE: Oh, yeah.

HINOJOSA: Or they're not-- they're not gonna marry a Latino, oh, my God.

LANGLOIS: But-- but the-- many of 'em that I'm familiar with, and as a criminal defense attorney, I represent many of 'em-- they will come in here and, you know, part of 'em wanna stay here and assimilate, like you say. A lot of 'em wanna keep their identity back in Mexico.

HINOJOSA: Macarena.

HERNANDEZ: It all has to do with how long they've been in the country, you know. When my parents came here in the late '70s, and my parents had been crossing the border since they were eight years old working in the King Ranch picking cotton. And my parents always said by-- "When you guys turn 18, we're gonna go back to Mexico and we'll see you." But you know what? Life intervened. They had kids who had no desire to go back to a little ranch in Mexico where there's no AC and no running water. (LAUGHTER) So, it became like, you know, this is your life now, you know. You have kids here. You can't go back.

HINOJOSA: There are a lot of issues around the question of assimilation.

GOMEZ: Well, like, I kind of prefer "integration" instead of "assimilation." 'Cause I think we have learned the-- value of every single culture: the Italians, the Irish, the African-American.

HINOJOSA: But some people might say in this particular case with Latinos, that's what makes it different. There's too many of them. And they're always going to be here.

GOMEZ: Right. But that doesn't mean that they're gonna pa-- participate in the life of the country. I mean, every single ESL school is-- has long waiting lists, right, 'cause people wanna learn English. They know that if they don't learn-- learn English they don't-- make progress in our society.

HINOJOSA: Macarena, I wanna ask you about the question around living in two worlds. And when you and I first spoke, you said, "My God. I've always felt like I've lived in two worlds, but never as much as now."

HERNANDEZ: I go to Mexico. They don't think I'm a Mexican at all. I'm a gringa. And I'm here in the United States. They don't think I'm an American. I am a Mexican. And I think that as long as people look at me and don't see-- see an American, we're gonna keep fostering this divide.

HINOJOSA: We want to open this up now to our audience. So I'd like to ask all of you in the audience if you have any questions, to just line up over here. So you're here first, just your name and your question please.

JOHN HERNANDEZ: My name is John Hernandez and I've kind of got a personal interest in this debate since I'm an out of work homeless veteran. What I'd like to know is why anyone from anywhere should be treated any differently who were in violation of our laws than a native born individual who is violation of U.S. laws.

CISNEROS: It's a well framed question. And I've never been in a position to answer it before. The facts on the ground are we have some 12 million, D.A. says 20 million, I don't know what the right number is, But they're here, right. And sending them back, deporting 'em, sending swat teams ala Elian-- Elian Gonzales and pulling 'em out of their houses or showing up at plants and taking people by the dozens. Or taking mothers who were destined to pick up their children after school but never get there because the immigration has picked them up. That's not right and acceptable.

HINOJOSA: Lee Teran, as a lawyer you're thoughts on this issue.

TERAN: Well, laws have to be drafted very carefully so they work. And a good deal of the laws we have, particularly immigration laws since 1996 don't work. People have to wait eight to 15 years to immigrate to this country when they have family members that have filed petitions for them. It causes illegal immigration rather than reducing illegal immigration.

KING: The law causes the problem.

HINOJOSA: Archbishop Gomez.

GOMEZ: There are a couple of important issues of natural law that are involved here. One is the right to work. And-- and-- because we work together to create to work. And also the right to move. So I think the problem is that our laws do not reflect those-- or follow those basic rights of natural law.

HINOJOSA: Another question from the audience. Your name please and your question?

DENISE RODRIGUEZ: Hi, my name is Denise Rodriguez. What are your thoughts on the free market ideology that labor as a part of capital should be able to move freely in order for the free market capitalist system to work?

KING: Free movement of labor is-- is the same thing as saying that the American worker must compete with the rest of the world. And I don't think anybody can point to an example of wages having gone up in the United States because of illegal immigration.

HINOJOSA: And we're gonna take another question from an audience member. And your name sir and what is your question?

FRISBEY: Name is Perry Frisbey. And I would ask the panel when and how do the illegals account for the deception and dishonest act to enter and remain in this country?

CISNEROS: Well, it-- my answer would be that in the legislation that is propose it is not an amnesty. It's called an amnesty by those who want to oppose it but it's not an amnesty. An amnesty is a blanket, you are now eligible for citizenship, that is not what's-- what's envisioned. What's envisioned is a quote path to citizenship that says you have to earn your way here.

PERRY FRISBEY: How do they account for the dishonest act--

CISNEROS: I'm responding to you. They are--

PERRY FRISBEY: I didn't get the message.

HENRY CISNEROS: They are-- they are put on a path that requires that you be here for a period of time, you pay a certain amount of taxes, you work and have work record that shows it. You stay-- on the right side of the law and so forth. And over time you have earned a pathway to citizenship by the contribution you make to this country. That's-- that is the answer to your question. Whether you like it or not that's the answer about a way to account.

HINOJOSA: What would you-- what would you like to see? If you were the person in power what would you like to see these immigrants do to account for--

PERRY FRISBEY: Well, if they're illegal I would like to see them account to go back and do it legally. That's what I'd like. I think that's a fair way we're asking them to do it.

CISNEROS: what you would have them do is go back, get in a cue that may be years and years given the nature of our bureaucratic processes. And it's just-

PERRY FRISBEY: -- I don't see it as unreasonable.

HENRY CISNEROS: I think it's totally unreasonable.

PERRY FRISBEY: Well, that's where we'll--

CISNEROS: Then I would disagree. Yes sir.

PERRY FRISBEY: I don't think it is reasonable.

CISNEROS: I think it's totally--

PERRY FRISBEY: To ask them--

LANGLOIS: I think that really shows the problem we're having with legislation. We have people who feel like Mr. Perry and people who are more forgiving like you Mr. Cisneros. And that's the real challenge to Congress and Washington DC.

PERRY FRISBEY: So nobody's accountable.

DYSON: Let's put this in line. Forgiveness for, I don't know, benefiting from the free labor of people over a couple of centuries. How about 40 acres and a mule. When we start distributing responsibility and blame for what was illegally done, what was immorally done and what we owe all of us have bloody hands.

HERNANDEZ: I think it's a little bit tough to spread the blame evenly when you have the U.S. government as an enabler in this whole situation.

HINOJOSA: We're about to wrap up. And I do wanna ask all of you to-- to think about one thing specifically. What are each of you going to do specifically around this issue? We'll start with you, Richard.

LANGLOIS: I think the issue is not what I'm gonna do, is what are the illegals gonna do? How are we gonna forge-- are we gonna forgive and forget? We have to start somewhere. And it's gotta start with legislation.

HINOJOSA: Macarena?

HERNANDEZ: There's issues beyond immigration that we need to start talking about. And those are issues I-- I tackle in my weekly columns. But I hope to also keep pounding away that at the very core of this, we're talking about families.

HINOJOSA: Okay. And you, Lee?

TERAN: Well, I think we have to change-- change the focus back to making immigration law what it is supposed to be, and that's keep families together, and turn our attention maybe to do a Marshall plan to help-- la-- Latin America or Mexico rebuild its infrastructure so that maybe the workers wouldn't have to come here.

HINOJOSA: D.A. King?

KING: We secure the borders first, stop illegal immigration and punish the employers and then lead the third part of that for-- for another year. I don't think that's a-- an unreasonable request.

HINOJOSA: Archbishop Gomez?

GOMEZ: I'm gonna pray for-- that we all in our country can have a reasonable dialogue-- on this issue respecting the dignity of the human person, and for elected-- officials to find a-- a reasonable solution.

HINOJOSA: Henry Cisneros?

CISNEROS: I think we're very close to a-- to-- to potential of a national compromise that has those three elements: We'll enforce the borders, we'll figure out how to deal with guest workers and-- and create some kind of path to-- to legalization. I think it's the-- sort of the decent thing to do. And for the country-- for the country the right thing to do.

HINOJOSA: I want to thank all of our panelists for this incredible conversation. And as for Latino USA and NOW on PBS we will continue to cover the issue of immigration all facets, you can be sure of that. And for me as a mother, as an immigrant, as a journalist, and as a Latina and as an American I think I'll be spending a lot of time in the next few years exploring these issues which I think are at the very heart of our democracy.



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