Potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate Sen. George Allen (Va.) declined Wednesday to support the idea of a fence separating the United States and Mexico, but said he would back a guest-worker plan as envisioned by President Bush.
In an exclusive interview with Human Events, Allen passed on the opportunity to take a firm stance on immigration reform — likely to be one of the key issues among Republicans in the 2008 presidential sweepstakes.
When asked directly on whether the United States has the capability to build a fence along our border and if it was his top priority, Allen said building a physical barrier was only “worthy of consideration.” He cited economic concerns with installing such a security measure and said he supported comprehensive policies that included a guest-worker program.
Below is the exchange I had with Allen yesterday.
Does American have the engineering capability to build a fence along the border that would keep people out?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: Do we have the engineering capability?
ALLEN: I suspect so.
So, this is the follow up, why don’t we?
ALLEN: Because it would be — I don’t [think] it’s worthy of consideration. The reason is, while something might be able to be done at an enormous cost to the taxpayers if there are more effective ways of doing it other than a fence, whether it’s with surveillance and more personnel, and surveillance–
Are you in the camp of those supporting the “virtual fence” idea?
ALLEN: I think a virtual fence would be much less costly to the taxpayers. I think the key thing, regardless of virtual or actual fence, which would take a long time. Let’s assume we wanted to build the Great Wall of America, which can be done, it would take years and years. I’m watching the Woodrow Wilson Bridge being built here, which is a much more difficult task than building a wall. It’s not over a river. The key point is to make sure we have a workable, legal, guest-worker system in this country not rewarding illegal behavior. Not this don’t ask, don’t tell–
Do you support closing the border first before we do guest worker or do you think they go hand-in-hand?
ALLEN: I think you need to do all of them. You need to do all of them.
Are you going to put a priority on one?
ALLEN: If you get, well, first you have to secure your borders. That’s No. 1. But securing the borders in itself is not going to solve the whole problem. What we need to do is devise a good guest-worker program. And we should not reward illegal behavior because if you reward illegal behavior somebody will find a way to get in here and they will think, “Oh, gosh I can get amnesty,” and so forth. So, I think all of them go together. It’s a comprehensive approach. We should have been securing the borders much better, years ago. The fact that there’s not even sufficient detention facilities where they catch people and–
But you don’t think building a fence, so to say, or some kind of secure physical barrier is necessary?
ALLEN: I think you need to strengthen, you’re asking about the specific on how you do it.
Well, sure, this is policy, right?
ALLEN: The best way to do it, to securing the border then, what you can actually get done now is with more personnel, is with better use of technologies. You can call it a virtual fence, but using unmanned aerial vehicles that also have sensors that at night you can sense the heat from human beings and the detention centers. Because once you catch those [people] coming in here illegally it does no good just to make it a catch-and-release system. Of course they don’t show up. That is clearly not the one. But doing that alone is not going to solve the problem.
So, you would want all these three things together before you’d do one or another?
ALLEN: As a process, I think, to have an effective, for the safety of this country, for adequate workforce capabilities of many companies and for protecting the rule of law, all three of these matters or principles need to be there.
So, guest amnesty, virtual fence and–
ALLEN: I am not for amnesty. Not for amnesty.
Guest worker? Excuse me.
ALLEN: A legal guest-worker program. And they way I look at it, take the H2B, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this, but it’s a seasonal worker approach. Mostly small businesses, they certify, they prove they can’t find Americans to do work. They show the ads they ran in the newspapers and then they are matched up with someone who is checked out, I mean scrutinized, from another country that they’re not a terrorist or criminal and that person comes and they are a guest worker. The whole family doesn’t come, that person comes.
What states use that now?
ALLEN: All states in the United States. The problem is that there are only 66,000 for these seasonal workers for the whole country and that’s got to be much higher. But that is an example of a legal guest worker program. Same as the H1B for the technology workers or some of the agriculture migrant workers that follow the crops as they need to be harvested. You have these legal approaches.
And you think that is effective and safe?
ALLEN: Yes, I do. The problem is the numbers, particular in the H2B, these are the seasonal workers for the seafood industry, for the hospitality industry, some of the more seasonal work, and 66,000 are just not enough.
So, we just need more of those?
ALLEN: Yeah. But it’s a legal guest worker system. It’s not just don’t ask, don’t tell.