Tancredo Foresees Immigration Battle

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.), chairman of the 90-member Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, spoke with the editors of HUMAN EVENTS last week about the immigration-reform legislation now beginning to move through the Senate.

You supported the House immigration reform bill that passed in December.

I did.

Now we have a bill starting through the Senate Judiciary Committee under Chairman Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.). What are your concerns there?

Number one, the bill would provide amnesty for just about every one of the 13 to 20 million illegal aliens. It has an unlimited guest-worker plan attached to it. The provisions that are designed to actually enhance border security are so weak as to be non-existent. It takes almost everything and makes it into “studies” or in some way waters down all the enforcement issues. When all is said and done, it is no better than what I call the McKennedy plan—Senators [John] McCain [R.-Ariz.] and [Teddy] Kennedy [D.-Mass.] have sort of morphed together in my mind.

We are having the same argument we have been having for years around here as to whether or not we are going to succumb to the desires of the business community and, of course, the lobbying of other governments, Mexico, specifically, but not uniquely. Other governments are funding lobbying efforts here for us to open up our borders and give amnesty to all their nationals here, because they want the remittances that flow back to their countries.

The question I keep asking every senator I happen to come across: How many people do you have writing you, calling you, faxing you, emailing you, demanding a guest-worker/amnesty program, especially legal residents of the country?

What do they say?

Well, none. Nobody has anybody. That’s not the issue and everybody knows it.

What do you call an amnesty program?

If you let people stay here, who are presently here after having broken the law getting here, if you let them stay for six years or any other amount of time, that is amnesty, because you are not applying the penalty to the violation of the law that is on the books.

What would you do to people who have been here for a long time, like 10 years?

In a word, it’s adios. You really have two choices in America, even though people keep trying their best to think of a third way: You either enforce the law, or you repeal it. Don’t keep making a mockery of it. The extension of any sort of guest-worker/amnesty is making a mockery of the laws we have on the books. Every member of Congress is getting e-mails, faxes and letters from people, saying: Close the border, no amnesty, no guest worker, and, as a matter of fact, I want a reduction of legal immigration. A majority of people in this country have actually expressed that.

So, when you say to people you are going to go this third route, that is a wink and a nod at the law. I say, you know what would be even better is [if] the President, and McKennedy and others, would actually just introduce a bill to do what they really want to do, and that is repeal our immigration laws, stand down the Border Patrol, open up the borders, and it’s “ally-ally-in-free.” That’s what they want. Now, why don’t they just do it and see how many votes you can get?

I think everything is on your side at the moment, meaning people are for sealing the borders, no blanket amnesty, etc. But if in fact the Bush Administration starts deporting thousands or millions, you are going to have a backlash at that point, I think.

I understand. I think that is a correct analysis of what the future would bring if we did that. And I was too flippant saying that “adios” is the way to handle it.

We have two tracks to follow in terms of the people who are presently here: The first one is enforce the law against employers who are hiring illegal aliens. That’s No. 1.

And that is in the House bill.


You would like it stronger than it is in the House bill?

At least it requires employers to use the Social Security check system.

Isn’t the strategy in the House bill, whether it’s going to be effective or strong enough, that you make people have the means to identify themselves via a Social Security Number?

That’s correct.

Then you have employers who are required to check that that Social Security Number is legitimate?

It makes it mandatory.

And the hope would be that people who are no longer able to secure a job in the United States would self-deport?

They would go home.

You wouldn’t have government agents grabbing and taking them home?

You wouldn’t have to deport anybody. You wouldn’t have to round people up. If you do not have a job, you can’t get social service benefits, you go home. Now in some places you will get some for awhile. But in America today, frankly, few able-bodied males, anyway, can get welfare, especially for any length of time.

Eventually, you will see millions return home. The ones that don’t return home, then you deport them.

One of the things you can certainly say is: Look, if you go home, it’s sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” in a way. Go home. Get in line. Come into the United States the right way. And you will be able to come into the United States without any problem. If you don’t go home—if we catch you here after, let’s say, we give them a year—and you get identified here, you will never get in.

Is that actually part of the House bill?

Today the law says if you’re found here illegaly and have been here between six and 12 months, there is a three-year ban on re-entry. If you’ve been here more than a year the ban is 10 years. The idea in the bill is to make it a carrot and a stick.

Given the weakness of the bill that Sen. Specter is starting to move, do you see any hope that somewhere along the way the bill will be significantly strengthened, or do you expect a weak bill to emerge from the Senate, period?

I cannot imagine a bill coming out of the Senate that will not be anything but a very, very bad immigration bill.

And it will include an amnesty?

And it will include an amnesty.

And will not include sufficient border security measures?

That is correct.

So we are headed toward a House-Senate conference committee that could be cataclysmic?

Absolutely. Although it would be bad for the Republican Party not to be able to deliver, I would rather have no bill than one that includes any sort of guest-worker/amnesty proposal.

What is your sense of the feeling Republican House members have about the collective jeopardy they face if the President signs a bill this year that legalizes illegal aliens?

Everybody I talk to thinks that that’s a pretty scary deal. I think there are certain members who are looking for some wiggle room and trying to figure out a way, because I think they want to vote for something so bad. We had a conference right before the vote on the House bill and one or two members stood up and said, “Let’s not do it. It’s too much.” We have the President over here, we have the Tancredos over there. And that caused this spontaneous reaction. People kept jumping up and saying: “I can’t go home. I can’t go home for Christmas unless we do something here. I’ve been having my you-know-what kicked around all over my district. I tried to have a town meeting on Social Security, and it turns into a debate on immigration. No matter what I tell them I’ve done, they always say it’s not enough.”

I would say we have 100 members-plus, who just want an enforcement bill, and no other kind of immigration provisions, especially no guest worker provision. Whether we have the magic number, which is a majority of Republicans, I don’t know. Why I call that the magic number is because the speaker has told us that he will not bring a bill forward that is not a bill that the majority of the House Republicans agree to. I am hoping that that is still the case. That was the case with the first one we brought. I am hoping, of course, that a majority will not support an amnesty.