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Busy Week For Immigrant Rights Activist In San Diego

April 10, 2013 1:09 p.m.

Guests

Pedro Rios, Director, American Friends Service Committee

Ted Hilton, Founder, Taxpayer Revolution

Related Story: Busy Week For Immigrant Rights Activist In San Diego

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition. This is a big week for immigration reform activists in San Diego and around the country. The bipartisan group of eight senators working on an immigration reform bill say they could be ready to introduce the legislation by the end of the week. Today has been dubbed a national day of action to promote immigration reform in rallies around the country, including here in San Diego. Here with me to talk about all that's going on are Ted Hilton, founder of the taxpayer revolution, an advocate of border security. Welcome back to the program.

HILTON: Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: And we're expecting Pedro Rios. He's obviously having a little bit of trouble parking.

[ LAUGHTER ]

CAVANAUGH: He's director of the American friends service committee. We're expecting to speak with Pedro soon. Ted, you've been following this, I would imagine, the immigration reform package that's about to be introduced. I'm wondering, after years of gridlock on this issue, why do you think this is happening now?

HILTON: Well, if does seem as if they've read the Hispanic vote as one that is favoring this type of immigration reform, where many people in the Hispanic community have a friend or relative who might be here undocumented. So they're giving that as the reason, but it is something that has to be addressed. But it should be addressed in a piecemeal fashion rather than a comprehensive bill. And I think that's what's going to take it down.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And one more question, Pedro has just joined us, I'm very glad to see you, Pedro Rios, director of American friends service committee.

RIOS: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you questions about what's happening today. But Ted is here, and I just asked him about why this was happening now. Now, as a proponent of Americans working in America, you worked against illegal immigration, you've worked for border security. What would you like to see come out of this bill?

HILTON: Well, I think the 1965 legislation is outdated, with the family reunification. We have to start to focus more on people with specific skills. So that is one thing that we do need to work at. And I think e-verify, mandatory e-verify is critical. And I think in answering the leaders of the high-tech businesses who say they cannot find sufficient people to fill the jobs that they had, which is very unfortunate for our country, then we're going to have to provide those, just to let them have what they need to suffice in their businesses.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let me go to you, Pedro. The way I introduced this is that this is being dubbed the national day of action. There is a rally underway I believe at Senator Diane Feinstein's office right now. What are the events that are surrounding this national day of action that are taking place here in San Diego?

RIOS: This is an echo event, that's what we're calling it. We're essentially following all the events taking place around the country, specifically at the capital in DC. The events this week have been plentiful. We have had the City of San Diego take a positive stance on immigration reform last night. Tonight Southwestern College will be doing the same. And we have had other local school bodies take positions on immigration reform. So we have had people gather and speak in front of Diane Feinstein's office because we believe she has a critical voice in representing the concerns of San Diegans. So we want to make sure her position reflects the positions that we've maintained for quite a while now.

CAVANAUGH: And what are you hearing, what do you expect to be the main points in this immigration reform package that is about to be unveiled in Washington DC?

RIOS: My understanding is that the senators are doing a line by line read now. So an introduction of the package is imminent, probably within the next week or so. We do know that it will include a pathway to citizenship. We're expecting that it will address border issues in a different way. We're hoping that it contains language insofar as improving the ports so people don't have to wait four or five hours to cross from Mexico to the United States. And we expect that there will be some language around holding agents accountable for abusive instances.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And what's the latest that you've heard about the Senate's group of eight actually introducing this immigration reform package this week?

RIOS: There's a lot of -- a flurry of information about when that might take place. We heard it would take place this week, then the week of the 15th, which is next week. And now we're hearing that it might be toward the end of next week. So introduction of it will come by very soon. Hopefully followed by the House of Representatives, then at that point we will need to see how those bills are reconciled and whether or not there will be an amendment process.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I asked Ted why now, after years of gridlock, and he told us what he thinks. Why do you think this is happening now?

RIOS: I think that there was a promise that President Obama made when he took office, and that was passing immigration reform. And his first term was up, and now he sees the pressure from immigrant communities. Not only the Latino community but the vast, diverse representation of guarantee communities. And that with the last results where the Republican party saw they now have to fight for political relevancy. And how to do that is to essentially try to bring in the Latino vote to their side. So one way of doing that politically would be to try to pass an immigration reform that's palatable to the immigrant community.

CAVANAUGH: Ted Hilton, what would you say is your major concern about what you've been hearing is developing as this immigration package takes form in Washington DC?

HILTON: Well, I think both Democrats and Republicans don't need to say that they're trying to get a particular vote of an ethnic community. What they need to do is what's right. And we have a major entitlement fraud problem in the United States and overuse of the welfare system. An over 900% increase in disability recipients since 1960 per population. In Sacramento, I heard someone who's done intake for 19 years, that at the last meeting the goal was enrollment and retainment. They're trying to retain people on the system. The government workers want more people. They want to process workers' comp complaints. You heard Bonnie Dumanis say there is a $4 billion fraud situation in California right now. So those are the things we have to address. And Congress is going to address entitlements this year. But they should have done it first, before immigration. That's what needed to happen.

CAVANAUGH: I know from speaking to you in the past that one of your concerns is the idea that there's too much fraud in entitlements, many of those people should be doing the jobs that people who come here illegally do. And therefore if those workers, those citizens were doing the jobs, there wouldn't be a need or a draw of so many people from Mexico and Latin America into the United States. Now, but do you think that also the reforms that we're hearing about not only will get people off the rolls of welfare or disability, they will not only not do that but will they hurt the American worker as well? I'm sorry, I said that very badly. What I'm asking is do you think these reforms will hurt people in America who are working, not on disability and not on welfare?

HILTON: The reforms will hurt people that are working? Well, I don't think so, no. Unless you have people in the high-tech world that believe they can get the jobs that this legislation is going to encompass. But I think in general people who are already on the workforce, I don't think they're going to be impacted by this immigration bill, that I can tell.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, so that's not one of your concerns.

HILTON: No.

CAVANAUGH: Let me talk to you, Pedro about e-verify, because e-verify is probably going to be one of the points of this package that comes out of Washington DC. We recently had a problem here in San Diego about hotel workers going on a hunger strike because they're protesting their potential firings due to e-verify. Can you tell us about that protest and how that might factor into the -- whether you support e-verify moving forward as part of this immigration package?

RIOS: I'll begin by saying that I don't support the inclusion of e-verify in an immigration package. Unfortunately that it probably will be a part of it. A little bit about the background of what happened with the hunger strike. The workers at the Hilton hotel in Missions Valley had been -- had a labor issue for over a year now. And recently the ownership changed, and the new owners decided to quell the struggle that the workers were uplift big deciding to implement e-verify. And that would be essentially a way of removing the workers who had been involved in this labor struggle. So it's a classic example of what's wrong, one of the components that's wrong with e-verify, that it's used as a way to break up organizing campaigns on the ground, it's a way to destabilize workers' rights when they're trying to improve working conditions not only for themselves but for other people as well. And we've seen that e-verify has a very high rate of problems in that there are a lot of false positives that result of it, and the worker then bears the burden of having to prove who he or she is.

CAVANAUGH: Now, during these nationwide protestors that we were talking about earlier? People who are living here illegally say they're going to come out with their illegal status. That's been happening at rallies around the country. Is that still a dangerous thing for someone to do?

RIOS: It certainly is. It's still a dangerous prospect for someone who has been living in the shadows for many years to decide that they're going to out themselves as being undocumented. We've seen there have been some cases where some people have been targeted for doing things like that. However, when those individuals are involved in an organizing campaign, then there are -- least likely the chance that they will be harmed because they're working with others, they're working to ensure their safety, they're coming out in a way that upholds their values and their dignity, and that's the way to do it, in a way that really upholds who they are in a campaign effort, in an organizing way.

CAVANAUGH: Ted, one of the reasons I asked you that terrible circular question a little while ago is because I think that your opposition to that immigration reform or most immigration reform is a little bit singular in that you see it as connected entirely to entitlements and having people who are fraudulently receiving benefits entering the workforce instead of people who are here illegally. It seems that people who have been against immigration reform, even like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, they're saying now that basically the entire Republican party is now understanding there has to be an earned pathway to citizenship. Do you find yourself becoming increasingly isolated with your opposition to this?

HILTON: No, there are many behind the scenes that are -- haven't spoken yet. We have Senator Sessions and many others, representative King from Iowa. But here's the situation as well. You have juvenile offenders that could be picking the crops, I think they would prefer to behave themselves in society rather than do that. And we have prisoners that could be doing that. Grapes of wrath, 1930s, white people were picking the crops. I just think we've developed a mentality where Americans are entitled to the job of their dreams, and that is false. They should be glad they're living in the United States, and they need to take any job available and not look to society to take care of them. But certainly we can work with the prison population as well. It also reduces the recidivism rate that we have from 70% to less than 10% when we get I parolee working for more than six months.

CAVANAUGH: And does it remain your position that if that indeed occurred that the people who are living here illegal would just go home?

HILTON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Even though they've established family ties and are really part of the United States?

HILTON: It happened in the 1950s. Was it about 1 million that left or more during the 1950s?

RIOS: Well, under operation wetback.

HILTON: Right.

RIOS: Many of them were actually picked up and deported, including U.S. citizens. So many did not leave voluntarily.

HILTON: Voluntarily. But there were massive numbers, yes, way over a million.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let me ask you, Pedro, there is so much momentum as I've been talking about here from Republicans and Democrats, that something is going to happen, some sort of immigration reform package is going to move through both houses of Congress, probably be signed by the president. But if it doesn't happen, what happens if it fizzles out? What's the next step?

RIOS: Well, certainly it is a generational moment. I think Congress really needs to acknowledge that, that we are in a position where if we don't get the full package, then we're going to find ourselves in a really big mess. So what happens afterwards would then be the possibility of piecemeal legislation, which would not be the route would be a preferable route for most people. We want to ensure that we change the system comprehensively so that we don't have problems arising elsewhere.

CAVANAUGH: All right. And piecemeal legislation is just what you support, right?

HILTON: What I support, absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: And why is that?

HILTON: Well, I think you always find a certain number of congressmen who won't vote for something just because of one thing in that bill. And that's what happened in 2007. You had a comprehensive bill that was passed in the Senate, and in the house, and then they got together in the conference committee and they couldn't come to agreement on how they were going to resolve the differences. And I think that is exactly what's going to happen again.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, we'll have to wait and see what happens by the end of this week, this month. Gentlemen, thank you very much.

HILTON: Thank you.

RIOS: Thank you.