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Immigrant Nation, Divided Country: Candidates Debate Immigration Issues

StoryOctober 14, 2004
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We speak with award-winning CNN correspondent Maria Hinojosa about George W Bush and John Kerry’s comments on immigration in the third presidential debate. Hinojosa has an hour-long special airing this weekend titled “Immigrant Nation, Divided Country.” [includes rush transcript]

  • Excerpt of third presidential debate at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.
  • Maria Hinojosa, award-winning correspondent for CNN. This Saturday, she has an hour-long special called * “Immigrant Nation,”* which chronicles the story of 4 families living in the US: two have US citizenship, while the other two crossed the border illegally.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Labor and immigration are intimately intertwined. Let’s hear the presidential candidates talk about immigration last night in Tempe, Arizona.

BOB SCHIEFFER: I’m told that at least 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. Some people believe this is a security issue, as you know. Some believe it’s an economic issue. Some see it as a human rights issue. How do you see it, and what do we need to do about it?

GEORGE W. BUSH: I see it as a serious problem. I see it as a security issue, I see it as an economic issue, and I see it as a human rights issue. We’re increasing the border security of the United States. We’ve got 1,000 more Border Patrol agents on the southern border. We’re using new equipment. We’re using unmanned vehicles to spot people coming across. And we’ll continue to do so over the next four years. It’s a subject I’m very familiar with. After all, I was a border governor for a while. Many people are coming to this country for economic reasons. They’re coming here to work. If you can make 50 cents in the heart of Mexico, for example, or make $5 here in America, $5.15, you’re going to come here if you’re worth your salt, if you want to put food on the table for your families. And that’s what’s happening. And so in order to take pressure off the borders, in order to make the borders more secure, I believe there ought to be a temporary worker card that allows a willing worker and a willing employer to mate up, so long as there’s not an American willing to do that job, to join up in order to be able to fulfill the employers’ needs. That has the benefit of making sure our employers aren’t breaking the law as they try to fill their workforce needs. It makes sure that the people coming across the border are humanely treated, that they’re not kept in the shadows of our society, that they’re able to go back and forth to see their families. See, the card, it’ll have a period of time attached to it. It also means it takes pressure off the border. If somebody is coming here to work with a card, it means they’re not going to have to sneak across the border. It means our border patrol will be more likely to be able to focus on doing their job. Now, it’s very important for our citizens to also know that I don’t believe we ought to have amnesty. I don’t think we ought to reward illegal behavior. There are plenty of people standing in line to become a citizen. And we ought not to crowd these people ahead of them in line. If they want to become a citizen, they can stand in line, too. And here is where my opponent and I differ. In September 2003, he supported amnesty for illegal aliens.

AMY GOODMAN: That is President Bush. We’ll hear John Kerry’s response on immigration. Before we do that, Maria Hinijosa, you have a major special coming up on CNN Sunday night called “Immigrant Nation.” Can you respond to what President Bush just said?

MARIA HINOJOSA: You know, it was interesting, Amy, because I was watching the debates, and I was not clear whether or not they were going to talk about immigration because it’s the one invisible issue that hasn’t been brought up. And I said, they have got to bring it up in Arizona, they’ve just got to, but the time was going on, and I was putting my kids to sleep and running back. When they actually ended up talking about it, I had to run and get an envelope because I was so surprised that they were actually addressing the issue. I think — what we did in this CNN documentary that’s going to run Sunday night called “Immigrant Nation, Divided Countries,” we went into the front lines, because there’s so much doublespeak on the part of the politicians. Right there even with George Bush talking, he’s saying on the one hand that there’s more border security, but all of the numbers show that there’s more people getting into this country than ever before without proper documentation. On the one hand he’s saying that we want to give workers a chance to be legal while they’re working here, but we’re not going to give them amnesty. So it’s this continual doublespeak, and one of the things that I saw on the ground because we focused on immigration into the American south, what I think is now the new front lines of immigration is that people are so frustrated on the ground that there is a real bubbling up of activism against these immigrants post-9/11. It’s almost just like you can dislike immigrants and it’s okay. No matter who you are, no matter what side you are on, liberals dislike immigrants, conservatives dislike immigrants. You have got a real bubbling up on the ground of anti-illegal immigrant — they say, anti-illegal alien activists.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s hear John Kerry on the issue.

JOHN KERRY: With respect to immigration reform, the president broke his promise on immigration reform. He said he would reform it. Four years later he is now promising another plan. Here’s what I’ll do: Number one, the borders are more leaking today than they were before 9/11. The fact is, we haven’t done what we need to do to toughen up our borders, and I will. Secondly, we need a guest-worker program, but if it’s all we have, it’s not going to solve the problem. The second thing we need is to crack down on illegal hiring. It’s against the law in the United States to hire people illegally, and we ought to be enforcing that law properly. And thirdly, we need an earned-legalization program for people who have been here for a long time, stayed out of trouble, got a job, paid their taxes, and their kids are American. We got to start moving them toward full citizenship, out of the shadows.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you want to respond?

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Kerry, Maria Hinojosa.

MARIA HINOJOSA: You know, it’s interesting, because my first take when I was hearing this was I actually started to think that Kerry sounded a little bit more conservative in tone than George Bush did, which was a little bit strange and maybe some people might not expect that from the democrats. I think the big difference here is in terms of people who are concerned about immigrants’ rights is the fact that Kerry is talking about full legalization or the possibility of full legalization citizenship. Again, on the ground where I was doing this documentary outside of Atlanta, I spoke to a southern employer, who owns a 150-year-old chalet. I really didn’t know what to expect from him, big southern guy, you know, just that typical image. I was concerned when I was interviewing him about the employees that he had. His response to me, first thing he said was, if all of these immigrants are here, and they have been here a year and they haven’t broken the law while they’re here and they want to become citizens, they should become citizens immediately. Not something I expected to hear on the ground from an employer in Georgia. But that’s some of the perspectives that we got in this documentary.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And interestingly, I think you’re right that Kerry at first sounded as if he was actually more for the militarization of the border than even Bush was, but what I’m amazed at is that neither one dealt with what is causing this massive immigration, what are the conditions in the countries that — Bush referred to it a little bit. A lot of it is caused by the United States in terms of what is bringing so many people to this country. Also, a few of them dealt with the fact that the nation, with an increasingly aging population is going to need more immigrants not less, in the decades to come.

MARIA HINJOSA: You know, Juan, it’s interesting, because I’m Mexican. Although when I was asked by one of our characters in the documentary who is very much against what he calls illegal aliens, the first thing he said was, he asked me, “Are you a citizen?” almost as if he wouldn’t talk to me, unless I was. But I go back to Mexico a lot, oftentimes mostly to be with family, not often as a reporter, but being in this small, small town in Vera Cruz, and witnessing firsthand the fact that the entire town is decimated. All of the men are gone. This is because of the fact that the economic area of Vera Cruz has just been decimated because of the closing of petroleum refineries, et cetera. I mean, these are — you’re exactly right. The issue is in the long run, unless there’s some kind of bi-national way of dealing with the development issues in Mexico, and as long as you have these people who, if they’re able to survive getting through the desert and all of the other challenges, will be rewarded by a job with either a low wage or a higher wage depending where they are, you’re going to have people who make that decision, just like the woman in the documentary, who is now even now trying to get her children across the border. Probably even before Sunday night when our documentary airs.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Maria Hinojosa, the documentary, “Immigrant Nation,” spending an hour on this issue on CNN. Very interesting.

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