Journalist Discusses Immigration Issues
Thursday, March 30, 2006; 12:00 PM
Emmy Award-winning Univision News anchor Jorge Ramos , author of "Dying to Cross," was online Thursday, March 30, at noon ET to discuss his views on the immigration reform bills currently under consideration in Congress. Ramos, who was born in Mexico City, came to the U.S. after having one of his reports censored and has since become a prominent journalist and columnist who has interviewed every president since George H.W. Bush . Ramos is a recognized voice on immigration issues, and has called for providing legal status to undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. and a better system for those who want to migrate legally. Ramos argues that despite the additional burden for social services, immigrants generate significant revenue each year for the country's economy.
Read more: jorgeramos.com
The transcript follows.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Jorge, good to have you here in this forum, just a a couple of questions, what is Latin America's sentiment about this proposal from President Bush about the "guest worker" program. Do you agree with the idea of having illegal immigrants coming to the U.S. as a temporary or maybe seasonal workers depending of the nature of the jobs they are asked to perform, as long as they come back to their native countries? Thanks.
Jorge Ramos: Most immigrants in the United States and most Latin Americans, according to the polls that I have seen, do not think that a guest worker program is going to work. Undocumented immigrants will take anything at this point, because they have nothing. But it is not realistic to think that after being in the US for 3 or 6 years that they will go back to their countries of origin. So, there has to be some sort of a permanent solution to this problem, namely, a path to citizenship or to become a permanent legal resident
Los Angeles, Calif.: Aren't we simply being asked to repeat the mistakes of 1986? The only way the illegal labor market "works" (for big business and for those so poor even those conditions seem appealing) is for illegal workers to take jobs at substandard wages or conditions. Once they are legalized, employers will simply look for more illegal workers, and we'll have another 11 million illegal workers here in a snap.
Jorge Ramos: No, this time it is not an amnesty. It would be earned legalization. That is not forgiveness or a pardon. Undocumented immigrants will have to pay a penalty and go to the back of the line. It would take them, if approved by congress, about 11 years to be a citizen. But in order not to repeat the same problem, there has to be an immigration agreement with Mexico and about half a million visas for the new immigrant that will be coming, legally or illegally, every single year.
The reality is that the disparity in salaries (you can make 20 times more in the US than in Mexico)will motivate a continuous flow of immigrants north for the next decades
Harrisburg, Pa.: Our nation's history has been acceptance of immigrants into a country of opportunity, followed by those residents then seeking to close entrance to others. Isn't this no different from other times in history and, if so, wouldn't it be interesting to watch the descendants of subsequent waves of immigration explain why immigration laws should restrict immigration now rather than before their ancestors arrived?
Jorge Ramos: There is nothing more sad in the US than to see an immigrant criticize other immigrants. The identity of the US is linked to our diversity and to our acceptance of immigrants. On the other hand, the US need more immigrants. For example, the white working age population is going to decrease in 5 million in the next 20 year. And who is going to replace those workers? Who will pay for their social security? Who will keep America growing? Immigrants.
Abilene, Tex.: What do you think the effect of this debate will be on the strength of the Republican party (as they seem to be so divided)? How do you think this debate will effect the 2008 election?
Jorge Ramos: Very interesting question. No doubt the Republican party has gained a lot within the Hispanic community in the last two elections. Bush got 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. But the question is if Hispanics might perceive Republicans as anti-immigrants if Congress does not approve a legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants.
It already happened in the past when Hispanic voters identified Republicans with the anti-immigrant positions of the former governor of California, Pete Wilson.
Annapolis, Md.: Is it legal for employers in the US to hire undocumented workers?
Jorge Ramos: No, it is not legal. But in reality every single American benefits from the work of undocumented immigrants. It is almost impossible to spend a single day without getting some kind of benefit from their work. We eat the food that they harvest; we live in the homes that they build; they take care of our children; we depend on them in hotels, restaurants, fields, etc...
Take this challenge: try to spend a day without taking advantage or getting in contact with undocumented immigrants, open your eyes, and you will see how important they are to the economy of the US.
San Antonio, Tex.: Please spend equal time regarding illegal immigration talking about what Mexico is doing, should do, and will need to do for its own people! Why is commentary ONLY about what the U.S. needs to do about it? Whether we benefit from immigration is secondary (your argument), we have the obligation to protect our borders first and how we bring immigrants is our business, not yours. Why don't you go to Mexico and make your arguments to the Mexican government to improve the lives of Mexicans? I am a U.S.-born "Hispanic", fyi.
Jorge Ramos: You are absolutely right. In this debate the Mexicano government is also at fault because it has not been able to create good paying jobs for Mexicans. So they sometimes have not option that to go to the US. Hunger is stronger than fear. I understand what you are saying. But the reality is that as long as there are unemployed Mexicans, or Mexicans making 4 dollars a day, and jobs for them in the US in which they can make exactly the same in just a few minutes, they will keep of coming. It is a matter of economics, of supply and demand.
Phoenix, Ariz.: It's a pleasure to speak with you Mr. Ramos, my question is in regards to Mexico's upcoming elections and its potential affects on the exodus of people from Mexico into the U.S. If Senor Obredor is elected and the country shifts more towards a socialist venue, to what extent do you think immigration of Mexicans out of Mexico and into the U.S. will be?
Jorge Ramos: The latest polls suggest that Lopez Obrador, a leftist politician, might win the election on July 2nd unless he makes a fatal mistake in the next 100 days. The question is he will be a good manager of the Mexican economy and if foreign investors believe in his economic plans. But, whoever makes if to the presidency, if the Mexican economy cannot create a million new jobs every single year, the immigration wave to the north won't stop. Also, it would be interesting if Lopez Obrador wins to see how an American president deals with a leftist (although not self described socialist) president south of the border. The US has ignored Latin America since 9/11 and now the anti-American feeling in the region is stronger than ever, especially because the Latin American opposition to the war in Iraq.
Fairfax, Va.: Jorge, first congratulations for your books. Question: Do you think that people who has no legal document to stay in this country will get a work program or resident.
Jorge Ramos: Depends completely on the Congress. But it would be a lack of political courage and a waste of time if any immigration reform does not include the legalization of 12 million undocumented immigrants and visas for those who will be coming next.
Not, let me just say that immigrants contribute a lot to the economy of the United States. All immigrants, legal and undocumented, contribute more that 10 billion dollars to the economy of the US according to the National Academy of Sciences. This is a surplus after you deduct at the expenses on education, health, etc. So it is a great business to have immigrants, but the deserve to come out of the shadows. Immigrants are not terrorists. Immigrants are not criminals. The 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US had nothing to do with the 19 terrorists who killed almost 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Immigrants are the best allies of America. They love this country. That's why they are here.
Maryland: In response to an earlier poster who talked about the U.S. being a nation of immigrants. Yeah, we are. But the current debate isn't ABOUT immigrants (of which we have many each year). It's about ILLEGAL entrants. It's not the same thing at all.
Jorge Ramos: Yes, the debate is about undocumented immigrants. I agree, they broke the law, but so did thousand of American companies who hired them, and millions of Americans, including you, are their accomplice, since everyone benefits from their work. Try to spend a single day without benefiting from what they do? For instance, what did you have for breakfast? I bet you that an undocumented immigrant, somehow, was involved in it. At least, he or she harvested the food that you eat every single day.
Silver Spring, Md.: Jorge, Shouldn't the Hispanic leaders from national organizations such as La Raza and others try, in a more aggressive way, to send the right message to the rest of the country (through interviews with General market media outlets or even paid ads) that this is not amnesty but rather a path to citizenship?
Jorge Ramos: Something very impressive about the demonstrations in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington is that there is not a defined Hispanic or immigrant leader that is giving voice to the immigrant demands. So we all have to give voice to those voices that have been silenced for so long. The strength of this movements is based on the fact that many people, finally, lost their fear and are talking about it openly.
Arlington, Va.: You wrote: "in reality every single American benefits from the work of undocumented immigrants."
This is only true of affluent Americans. Low-income and unemployed Americans are harmed because illegal immigration creates a pool of laborers willing to work for less than minimum wage, without the worker protections that the law allows. Studies have shown that illegal immigration depresses working-class wages by as much as 8 percent. Your perspective reflects the fact that your job and salary level are not threatened, but other Americans are not so well insulated from the true consequences of this issue.
Jorge Ramos: I doubt that many Americans would like to do the jobs that undocumented immigrants are doing. Just recently I was in Immokalee, Florida, and say hundreds of worker picking up tomatoes. I did not see a single American.
It is true that immigrants might lower salaries in certain industries, but overall, the maintain inflation under control, the do the jobs that nobody else wants, they pay for the social security of a rapidly aging population and we will depend on them even more in the future...
Phoenix, Ariz.: What about proposing that MEXICO become part of the United States, sure it would be a hard undertaking but with education and medical assistance, let's educate and begin industrializing Mexico to U.S. industrial standards thus providing a work force and a chance for those already living in Mexico.
Jorge Ramos: No, that won't happen. But we can follow the example of the European Union. Rich countries in Europe, namely France and Germany and Great Britain, invested billions of dollars in nations like Spain, Greece and Portugal, so they could create more jobs for their citizens. Now, many Spaniards of Greeks do not even consider migrating to other countries. The same thing should happen here. A massive investment of American capital in Latin America not only will create new allied but also will, eventually, create the economic conditions necessary for potential immigrants to stay in their country.
Arlington, Va.: Please be honest, when you state so confidently that the nation would collapse without the contributions of the illegal immigrant labor pool, are you willing to put that to the test? Many of us citizens are ready to give it a whirl.
Jorge Ramos: No, the United States will not collapse without the work of immigrants. But the US need immigrants to continue its economic expansion. Not only that, there are many immigrant soldiers fighting and dying for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is there a more courageous way to express your appreciation for this country?
Finally, it is impossible to think of deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants. Some estimate that it would cost 240 billion dollars and, inevitably, would generate human rights violations. So, that is not an alternative.
Anonymous: How realistic a chance do you think the current bill in the Senate have of becoming law given the election year profiling?
Jorge Ramos: We are all very surprised that this possibility has surfaced with such strength in the Senate. But I believe that it has great momentum. If it does not happen now, it will be very difficult to revive in the future. The timing is perfect -Bush and Fox in Cancun, the country finally realizing that massive deportations are not an alternative, consensus on securing the US border, and an president who does not have to think in re-election.
Washington, D.C.: Jorge:
You need to appreciate that many of us would gladly give up 'economic expansion' if that's the price we have to pay for securing our borders.
Jorge Ramos: Secure borders is a right that every country has. The reality at the border is very different. Every minute an immigrant crosses the border illegally. And that, I agree, is an enormous threat to the US. However, I believe that we can have both things: secure borders and a legal flow of immigrants to the US. As a matter of fact, both things are linked. If we can legalized the entrance of about half a million immigrants every single year, then they won't have the need to do it illegally. But again, if this does not happen, they will keep on coming. Hunger is stronger than fear. And, also, it is in the best interest of the US, in terms of national security, to know who is here and who is coming in.
Washington, D.C.: Dear Mr. Ramos,
What do you think of fellow columnist Robert Samuelson's idea that if American employers paid a decent wage for the jobs that undocumented workers are now performing, American citizens would do the work and the immigration problem would fade away?
Jorge Ramos: It is impossible. It is nor workable.
Unless you are a native American, we or our families all came from another country? Where is your family from?
Falls Church, Va.: The Anti-American sentiment is growing around the world, do you believe that this debate shows the face of America and what do you think other countries will believe of U.S.? And also if Congress doesn't include a legalization ladder, do you think that the economy will suffer a blow because of lost business in the agricultural and construction sector?
Jorge Ramos: This is a great country. It is the most diverse country in the planet. It's strength depends on its diversity, its creativity and its acceptance of immigrants. And it definitely helps the US to show its generous face in light of the anti-American sentiment prevalent in many countries after the war in Iraq.
Reston, Va.: Mr. Ramos, please make sure that your responses focus on the illegal immigrants that are at issue here, not those that entered the country legally. I think the failure of the Hispanic leaders to clearly distinguish this fact is hurting their arguments.
That said, why doesn't the Mexican government support the creation of the border wall with controlled access points. This would clearly help both countries with multiple issues, going beyond illegal border crossings?
Jorge Ramos: Any solution at the border has to be done in coordination with the Mexican government. The US need Mexico to have a secure border, to help with the process of thousands of applicants (if a new law is approved) and, most importantly, to prevent more deaths at the border.
Mexico and the US can disagree on many issues, but the have to stop the deaths at the border. Last week 20 immigrants died, and last year 460 immigrants died at the border. That has to stop.
Mission, Tex.: Is what you are talking about an amnesty?
Jorge Ramos: It is not an amnesty. It is not a pardon. Immigrants will pay penalties, will go to the back of the line, and wait for 11 years. That is not an amnesty.
Washington, D.C.: You dismiss concerns that the large illegal immigration causes some strains in education, health care, and criminal justice system in the United States. I think that many Americans have serious concerns about those issues. I think that some tougher legislation will be passed. Some pundit wrote that the elite in the media, business, academia, churches may be soft on immigration, but many ordinary Americans disagree. Many of the elites were opposed to welfare reform in the 1990s, but many Americans wanted it. Finally, welfare reform was passed in 1996 even though many of the American elite opposed it. What do you think?
Jorge Ramos: No I do not dismiss the enormous costs that immigrants impose on cities, counties and states. But immigrants pay taxes, create jobs and contribute a lot to the economy. The problem is that the Federal government, who gets most of the taxes from undocumented immigrants, do not distribute this money appropriately to the cities, counties and states that need it the most. But overall, immigrants contribute much more to the US economy than what they take from it. (Check the report from the Nation Academy of Sciences and the National Immigration Forum estimate that every immigrant contributes about 1,800 dollars every year to the economy)
Austin, Tex.: Why should illegal immigrants wait 11 years to get their citizenship, when some of them have been working in the U.S. for years already? Do you think an amnesty would be more just? (even if not acceptable to certain Americans) What would be the ideal action to take for the benefit of America as a country?
Jorge Ramos: It is impossible at this time to argue for an amnesty. It is earned citizenship that has more possibilities right now in Congress. What is important is that, at the end, an immigrant could become a US citizen.
New York, N.Y.: A point of clarification, the immigrants who are in the armed forces are either legal residents or naturalized citizens, otherwise they could not join the military. These fine outstanding people are not illegal immigrants, but rather legal immigrants who want to contribute to their newly adopted land.
Jorge Ramos: Agree.
Arlington, Va.: Jorge,
I have always admire your career and you as a person and I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for serving as a voice for those who are not allowed to talk. You are an inspiration to all Latinos that live in the U.S.
Jorge Ramos: I am just an immigrant. Just like many others. But I am very thankful to the US because it gave me the opportunities that my country of origin could not gibe me. At the same time, I believe that immigrants contribute a lot to the economy, the culture and the diversity in this country. Immigrants make this a better country.
pd. I would love to stay longer but I am in Cancun, Mexico, as a journalist covering the Bush-Fox summit and I have to run now. I was great hearing your points of view and I hope to be able to talk to you again. There are many great questions and I read all of them. Thanks again...
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.