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Illegal Immigration Debate Returns


After three years on the back burner, the immigration debate is back. Thousands of immigrant activists rallied in Washington D.C. over the weekend, and two U.S. Senators are working on a bipartisan immigration reform bill. What elements should be included in the immigration reform bill?

GLORIA PENNER (Host): The interesting thing is that you actually raised this during our earlier discussion, healthcare for illegal immigrants, John, you raised that so let’s talk about that a little bit. It’s going to surface again this spring when Democrats are expected to introduce comprehensive immigrant reform legislation. Amnesty or legalization could make millions of illegal immigrants eligible for health insurance. Well, this week the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California released its survey which found that a strong majority of Californians support immigration reform, eventually leading to legal status. So, Alisa, how likely are we to get that kind of change this year?

ALISA JOYCE BARBA (Western Bureau Chief, National Public Radio): It’s not going to happen.

PENNER: It’s not?

BARBA: Totally, absolutely unlikely. No, it’s a political impossibility over the next year. It’s just that with Obama’s, you know, taken healthcare reform to the stand, he’s got, he’s got jobs, he’s got financial reform, he has multiple mass of political battles to continue to fight even though he may have the wind behind his sails at this point. But there’s – there is really not enough of a constituency and political force behind immigration reform especially in this time when we’re still looking at unemployment in this state at 12%, nationally 9 to 10%. There’s just – immigration reform is not going to happen this year.

PENNER: Well, that’s the end of the conversation.

BARBA: Is it? I’m sorry.

PENNER: Let’s go on to the next segment.

DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego CityBeat): Yeah.

PENNER: John. John, do you agree with Alisa? You – I mean, I – Certainly there are pressures on the president. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be back in the national conversation.

JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Well, I agree it’s not going to happen but I think we need to have even more discussion as to why it’s not going to happen. I was amazed to find the members of the civil rights movement, Urban League, NAACP, involved in the demonstration last week in Washington. I mean, here we have a scenario where unemployment for African-Americans is in excess of 15%. For those 45 and older, it’s even higher. And we talk about this survey in California, we’ve got to look at the makeup, the demographics of the state. There is no way that the American people right now want to open the door and add 12 million more people in terms of all legal rights and benefits when we can’t even provide healthcare and benefits for the people who are citizens, or jobs. And what is disturbing in this is the attitude of the pro-immigration movement, as if they have a constitutional right to demand that we change everything for them when if we go to the average country that these people have come from illegally, we would not get the benefits that they already receive. And I find it appalling that people are afraid to speak up and say where is the balance? We send over $28 billion a year out of this country in terms of income to people’s families who are undocumented. And so, no, the American people are not going to buy immigration at this point. I don’t care how many flags they run and how many rallies they have, it’s not going to happen in 2010.

PENNER: Well, the gauntlet has been thrown, listeners. You heard Alisa, she doesn’t think it’s going to happen. You heard John, he doesn’t…

BARBA: Think it…

PENNER: …want it to happen.

BARBA: …should happen.

PENNER: And now we’re going to hear from David before I open the phones to you. Do you think that immigration reform should be on the table this year or maybe early next year and that it is necessary in the United States? Let’s hear what David has to say.

ROLLAND: It is necessary, I do want it through mostly moral purposes or reasons but also for economic reasons. What has to happen is the people who are already here, who got in, the, you know, 11 or 12 million immigrants that are here illegally, they need to have some kind of – We need to legalize them in some way to bring them out of the shadows, to bring them into – to bring them into mainstream society where they will pay more taxes, they will be productive members – more productive members of society, and if they pay more taxes and they join the rest of us, then wouldn’t that create more jobs? Because you would need, you know, more – more people, you know, more service workers, more people, you know, in the system to accommodate them.

PENNER: All right, before I let John respond because he wants to, I’m going to take some of the calls because some of them have been waiting for quite a while, including Greg in San Diego. Greg, what do you have to say to the editors this morning?

GREG (Caller, San Diego): I just wanted to share my story. I benefited from the amnesty back in ’84. My family and I are from Guatemala. We have been in the country for over 10 years. My dad always told us, you know, behave, go to school, study, work hard, you know, be – show the appreciation for the country. And when we got legalization, we were so happy as a family. It included 8 family members. But what my dad said didn’t ring a bell because along with us a bunch of other people got amnesty that I can recall as a kid that were in crime, that were in drugs, that were making – They were not making any – adding any value to the country. So that’s where I think that the law fails because they allow a bunch of people to get amnesty but really never investigate: are you productive? Are you going to school? Are you working? That’s my comment.

PENNER: Thank you very much for that. Alisa.

BARBA: I mean, it’s a great comment. I have not seen any form of any comprehensive immigration reform bill that really kind of analyzed who should be legalized and who should be not. I mean, most of – most, when we’re talking comprehensive immigration reform, we’re talking looking at the 12 million who are here, giving them a path towards, what they call a path toward citizenship but I’ve never seen one that really, you know, tested one’s worthiness to become a citizen. I just don’t know.

PENNER: Well, you know, there’s one piece of legislation that’s being talked about. I don’t even know if the bill has been formed yet. It’s a collaboration between Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, and they’re cooperating so we have a Republican and a Democrat cooperating. But the interesting thing is that they seem to be, once again, saying we need more border security, we need a tamper-proof ID, we need a fraud-proof social security card, tough sanctions for employers who hire illegal immigrants, and zero tolerance for illegals who commit felonies. Well, we have, theoretically, zero tolerance for anybody who commits a felony in this country. Is this the same old, same old, no fresh thinking here, David?

ROLLAND: Well, I don’t know. I mean, look, you got to thread a needle with something as politically charged as immigration is. You’ve got to – you know, the broken system calls out for a reality check that people do come in, people come in, they will get here any way they possibly can, they will come over fences, they will go under fences, they will go around fences, they will die to get here. And they are dying in great numbers in order to get here when the jobs are here, and that’s an important point. When the jobs are not here, they don’t come. When the jobs are here, they do come and they will get here. So you’ve got to have a reality check here that people are coming when there are jobs for them but then the needle you have to thread is that you have to also show that you’re, you know, you’re cracking down in the name of Homeland Security and you’re going to be tough on, you know, criminals and all that sort of thing.

PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727, excuse me, 895-KPBS. John, you wanted to respond.

WARREN: Four quick bullet points. Number one, since the 1984 bill, which provided the amnesty that the caller mentioned, we have this additional 12 million people, so obviously amnesty, in and of itself, is not the answer.

PENNER: But it might have encouraged more people to come.

WARREN: Of course it did. And number two, more – fewer people are coming now, according to all of the reports, because of the economic situation in this country so, therefore, the jobs are not readily attracting them. Number three, there is resistance within this country in terms of the biometric Social Security card because many people, ethnic groups in particular, felt that this is something that the government would use against them. And number four, one of the provisions in this Schumer-Graham bill would call for, I believe, the whole idea of putting people at the end of the line who come forth. Well, the people who are being deported or who have family members being deported are not likely to step out of the shadows, to take the chance that they’re going to be given that fairness without being sent out of the country to come back. So there are flaws with the proposed measures but there’s also a flaw with the attitude of the people who are seeking the change, and these things need to come together.

PENNER: It also includes a guest worker program and, you know, the feeling about guest worker program is that we’re treating people coming north like a labor supply. Alisa.

BARBA: We’re treating people coming north like a – they are – it is a labor supply. I mean, that’s the reality and there’s still, in the agricultural west, in the heartland of this country, there’s still a – strangely enough, a severe labor shortage where people in much of the west—I just did a story about this last week—are looking at their crops, they’re looking at their – they don’t have enough people to bring them in. They say that’s strange given the economic situation but they actually are saying the agricultural industry still very much wants some kind of a guest worker program.


BARBA: They want the cheap labor.

PENNER: All right, we will be back in a moment. We’re going to continue this conversation on immigration reform, whether it’s going to come this year. We’ve decided maybe not. But it’s going to come, or maybe not. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

PENNER: I’m Gloria Penner. This is the Editors Roundtable. We’re in the middle of a really fascinating discussion on immigration reform. We have lots of opinions at the table, we also have lots of opinions among our listeners, and some of them are going to get through to us right now. Let me tell you who’s at the table quickly, it’s David Rolland from San Diego CityBeat, John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, and from NPR News, Alisa Joyce Barba. The number is 1-888-895-5727. We start with Rodney in Mission Hills. Rodney, thanks for calling in.

RODNEY (Caller, Mission Hills): Thanks. Good morning.

PENNER: Good morning.

RODNEY: So I heard the panel agree that immigration reform may not happen this year. My question would be is it a discussion that still needs to happen this year, a discussion that may help Democrats get Latinos to the polls?

PENNER: Excellent. Alisa.

BARBA: Oh, you know, I think absolutely. I think both the Republicans and the Democrats are looking at the political implications of discussing immigration reform but not passing immigration reform. There’s no question that the defeat of any kind of immigration reform two or three years ago galvanized Hispanic and Latino vote in favor of the Democrats. The Republicans are aware of that so they are – they’re very much aware that they need to bring the discussion up.

PENNER: Alita in Del Cerro, now. Thank you, Alita, for calling in. Please go ahead.

ALITA (Caller, Del Cerro): Hi. Good morning. My comment is most people say that the illegal immigration problem is – I mean, it is mostly folks from South America, Central America, but no one’s addressing the issue that a lot of people from, say, Canada, UK, Hong Kong, you know, some affluent countries are coming here and they’re taking jobs of folks that people are, you know, the most, you know, they’re the ones that are complaining the most when the illegal immigrants from South America and Central America, they’re the ones picking the fields. And that’s just a comment I wanted to say.

PENNER: Okay. Do you know – Alita, do you have a personal acquaintance with somebody from one of those not-third-world countries who have taken the jobs of an American?

ALITA: Yes, I knew a friend from Canada and she was working here illegally and no one ever said anything just because, you know, she looked just like everyone else and she spoke beautifully and, you know, she was, you know, exotic, so to speak.

PENNER: Okay. Thank you very much. John.

WARREN: Well, I think that bluntly looked like everyone else means she might’ve been blonde, blue-eyed and, therefore, she wasn’t assumed to be illegal. And that’s one of the issues that’s being addressed. Even if you look at like places like the Detroit point of entry, people coming into the country, the people coming in from Canada and other countries have a different economic scenario statistically than the one that we see coming from the south, number one. We don’t have a tremendous influx from the African countries as is suggested. We also have a situation on the east coast where people coming from Cuba are treated as political…

BARBA: Refugees, asylum…

WARREN: Political – what’s the word I’m looking for?

PENNER: Asylum?

WARREN: Asylum. They seek political asylum but people coming just a little further from Haiti are put on ships and turned back prior to the earthquake and even during the earthquake. So we can’t just compartmentalize this argument. It’s got different dimensions to it and we need to look at all of it if we’re going to be really objective.

PENNER: David and then Alisa and then we’re going to wrap it up and look at the county.


PENNER: Go ahead.

ROLLAND: …the caller brings up an interesting point and John, you know, rightly says that, you know, people who are blond-haired and blue-eyed aren’t perceived as illegal. They’re not – they’re also not perceived as a threat culturally and that’s a big component of this. You know, John talks about, you know, people – I think you’re saying that people who are against illegal immigration are afraid to speak out, is that what you were saying?

WARREN: Yeah, many people are.

ROLLAND: Wow, I don’t – That’s not my – that is not my – that’s not my read…

WARREN: Well, people who are liberal…

ROLLAND: …on the situation. They don’t seem to be afraid to express their anti-immigrant opinions in my experience. But I think – And the people who are expressing their anti-immigrant feelings, I think, are – What they’re worried about is a cultural shift. They’re worried about, you know, frankly, you know, the browning of America. You know, it’s no longer…

PENNER: But it’s here.

ROLLAND: …”Leave It To Beaver.” I know…


ROLLAND: …and they hate it.

PENNER: But it’s here. I mean, that’s reality.

BARBA: Moving beyond race just for a second, all of the different proposals for comprehensive immigration reform talk about one aspect of our immigration system, seriously flawed, needs to be fixed, which is to rationalize a system to bring in skilled workers that we need in this country and to fulfill job gaps, get jobs that we can’t fill with people in this country, to bring in whether they be Canadian or whether they be African, Haitian, whatever they are, just to find jobs that need to be filled and rationalize the immigration system to that.

PENNER: And I think that’s in the Schumer-Graham legislation. Okay, well, with that we’re going to have to wrap up this section. I can see that this requires a whole hour. And let’s move on.

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