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Tancredo Discusses Immigration Reform Bills

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Congressman Tom Tancredo
(R-Colo.), 6th District
Thursday, March 30, 2006; 3:30 PM

Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) was online Thursday, March 30, at 3:30 p.m. ET to discuss his position on the immigration reform bills under consideration in Congress. Tancredo is chairman of the 92-member House Immigration Reform Caucus. He has advocated a major increase in border security spending, the hiring of more Border Patrol agents, and the building of a security barrier along the entire length of the border. Tancredo supported a bill passed by the House in December that would impose stiffer fines for employers who hire illegal aliens, add new mandatory minimum sentences for immigrant smugglers, and mandate automatic detention and deportation for immigrants caught crossing the border illegally. In addition the House bill would add mandatory sentences for illegal immigrants who re-renter the country after being deported. Tancredo opposes current Senate proposals that would implement a foreign guest worker program, broaden legal immigration, and provide amnesty to illegal aliens currently in the United States.

The transcript follows.

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Congressman Tom Tancredo: Hi, this is Congressman Tom Tancredo. Thanks for joining me.

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Rockville, Md.: Dear Congressman, I have been in this country for over 10 years - college education and work. Each step of the way, I have maintained my legal status. I am now in Year Three of (im)patiently waiting for my green card to be processed. It is discouraging to see that the proposed Senate bill rewards "illegals" but ignores the law-abiding immigrants (at least on their way to be through the correct channels). What are your thoughts on this?

Congressman Tom Tancredo: You've hit the nail on the head. This is one of the key problems with amnesty: it rewards people who have broken the law, and makes a mockery of our legal system and those immigrants, such as yourself, who came here legally. Worst of all, it encourages more illegal behavior.

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Watertown, Wis.: Congressman Tancredo, I think your idea is impractical. The reason the cost of such measures is so high is that it ignores the fact that we will not be able to stop people from getting in. If you consider that they are desperate humans, they will always be more clever than us in getting to what they need: namely, jobs. My question is this, if your ideas are enacted--which I hope isn't the case--and then proven to fail--which I believe would be inevitable--how would you know? Do you have some measure of success? And how much are you willing to pay for that success? If the amount you suggest isn't enough, is there an upper limit, which you would agree is too much?

Congressman Tom Tancredo: First off, we don't know what will work, because we've never really tried to enforce the law. Enforcing the law is the first step to getting this situation under control. But you make a good point -- most of the 12-20 million illegal aliens in the U.S. came here for a job. But take away the jobs and, I think, you can stop much of the illegal immigration. The way you do this is first come up with a system that allows employers easily to check the legal status of their employees. We actually already have this -- the basic pilot program. Our bill makes that mandatory. Second, you go after employers who hire illegals. Last year, the government sent 3 -- count that, 3 -- notices of intent to fine employers for hiring illegals. You wouldn't have to construct a police state to get the job done. Just start trying to enforce the law, and after employers see the penalties of hiring illegals, they'll get the message.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you have a plan to replace all the illegal immigrants jobs? Who will do the jobs that this illegal immigrants are doing right now?

Congressman Tom Tancredo: President Bush likes to say that he just wants to match "willing workers with willing employers." The reason that a lot of these jobs are going unfilled is because they're not jobs that Americans are willing to do... AT THAT WAGE. Continued non-enforcement of our immigration laws will continue to drive down wages and convert jobs Americans will do today into jobs they won't do (at that price).

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Greenville, N.C.: What are you feelings toward denying citizenship to children born of mothers that are here illegally?

Congressman Tom Tancredo: I'm on a bill sponsored by Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia that would deny so-called birthright citizenship to children of illegal aliens. There's a complicated legal argument at the center of this having to do with the 14th amendment, but the short of it is that people who are illegally in this country shouldn't have the right to have their children gain the privilege of U.S. citizenship. It is a terrible public policy to reward people who come into this country by giving citizenship to their children (who then, in turn, can bring them into the U.S.).

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Laurel, Md.: Can you explain why you believe that immigrants will willfully report for deportation when their work visas expire? The most workable solution is to give the people who chose some way to stay on a permanent basis.

Congressman Tom Tancredo: I think this is one of the most common mischaracterizations of what I want to do. George Will wrote in the Post a few weeks about how many buses it would take to deport all illegal aliens, and a left-wing think tank estimated the cost in the billions. Of course, no one is talking about mass roundups of 12-20 million illegal aliens. If you're an illegal alien in the U.S. and you don't have a job and if the U.S. catches you here you have no opportunity to come back into the U.S. for many years, what are you going to do? You're going to go home. That's your only choice, and that's the solution.

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Bel Air, Md.: Rep. Tancredo, what do you make of all the recent protests against your bill especially those in Los Angeles, Dallas, and today in Arlington, Va.? Do the protestors have a point?

Congressman Tom Tancredo: It's hard to imagine a more helpful action that the demonstrators could do to galvanize people on my side of the issue. John Q. Citizen looks at hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens in the streets, waving foreign flags, and demanding, basically, that they be allowed to continue to break our laws, and he realizes, if he hasn't already, that there's something terribly wrong here. The best parallel that I can think of is what happened in California in the lead up to Prop 187. 70,000 people protested in downtown LA during the week before the vote and it helped propel the measure to victory. I think that's what's going on here.

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McLean, Va.: As an Italian American, would you please share your own family's story of immigrating to this country?

Congressman Tom Tancredo: Thanks for the question. My grandfather came to this country legally from Italy quite a long time ago. The running joke in my family is that he aimed for Iowa, missed, and wound up in Denver. He was going to continue going west, looked at the Rockies and said "If Iowa is over THOSE, forget about it." One of the experiences growing up in a home with immigrants that shaped my views on immigration was when my grandparents told me to be American. We celebrated our Italian heritage -- and still do -- but they wanted more than anything for their children to become American and enjoy all the opportunities available in this country.

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Marietta, Ga.: Are there any proposals regarding illegals who's been here for over 10 years and has been paying all taxes and contributing to the economy?

Congressman Tom Tancredo: Economists, including Harvard's George Borjas, have written on the question of what overall contribution illegal aliens make to the economy (no matter how long they've been here), and have concluded that they are a net drain to the economy. My critics like to cite the money they pay into social security and in terms of some withholding of taxes, but, first, illegal aliens are often paid under the table (so they don't pay any taxes), and, second, they cost the American taxpayer through social services such as hospital costs for the uninsured, education for their children, etc.

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Lakewood, Colo.: Hi Congressman, thanks for fielding my question.

Even with a guest worker program, it seems difficult to manage such a task without FIRST securing our borders. Shouldn't we be able to control the number of immigrants (legal and illegal) in this country to protect our nations interests? Could you comment on this?

Congressman Tom Tancredo: I'm glad we have some writers from Colorado. This is the House's approach -- enforcement first. During the 1986 amnesty, we were told that, yes, we'd have more guest workers, and, yes, we'd have amnesty, but that more border security would be in place. We found out what often happens: amnesty and guest workers always are allowed, but securing our borders is rarely tried. Another reason why I'm behind the enforcement first approach is that doing otherwise is impractical. Why would any immigrant come here through the front door when the backdoor is wide open? When you come here legally as a guest worker, you're constrained by how long you can stay, you have to pay fees and fill out paperwork, etc. So without secure borders, the path of least resistance is coming here illegally.

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Tucson, Ariz./Washington D.C: How would a monstrosity of a fence between two partner countries improve their relationship?

Let us think more towards regional integration rather than armed and fenced segregation.

As parties to the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA), both countries should strive towards cooperation and not division.

A fence would not reflect an attitude of cooperation.

Congressman Tom Tancredo: Economic cooperation is completely different than throwing open our doors to whoever wants to come here and work. It's pretty clear that the Mexican government has an interest in keeping our borders open and the money flowing south from illegal workers back to the country. They've even hired a lobbyist in Washington to advocate amnesty! So, we have a responsibility to secure our borders, and as much as Mexico would like to help, we'd be grateful. Good fences make good neighbors.

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Springfield, Va.: Congressman Tancredo,

Do you think that H.R.4437 goes too far in some areas by turning illegal immigrants into felons, making it a crime to assist illegal immigrants, and denying services? These make the bill seem too punitive and mean-spirited towards illegal immigrants. I think that the focus should be on building a fence. It is discouraging to see the Senate considering amnesties and new guest worker programs. What are the chances of the House and Senate agreeing on a bill that leaves out the more harsh measures and the measures that will make the problem worse?

Congressman Tom Tancredo: Unfortunately, this has to be our last question. Let me briefly address the issue of making illegal presence in the U.S. a felony.

The truth is Democrats voted for the felony provision, and a majority of Republicans (including me) voted against it.

Right now, illegal presence in the USA is not a crime; it is a civil infraction. The House Judiciary Committee voted to make it a felony but then was counseled that millions of new felons could clog our courts.

Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., wrote an amendment to his own bill asking that the penalty be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor; 191 Democrats and a few Republicans voted to keep the felony penalty in the hope that it would be a poison pill to defeat the measure. After his amendment lost, Sensenbrenner promised, "When this bill gets to (House-Senate) conference, those penalties will be made workable. You can count on that."

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