Video: Arming borders

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updated 8/22/2005 4:05:37 PM ET 2005-08-22T20:05:37

Ground zero for the illegal immigration debate has always been the U.S.-Mexico border.

Recently, the governors of New Mexico and Arizona have declared states of emergency due to rising violence in their border counties. 

In Texas, Republican Congressman John Culberson has proposed a plan for armed civilians to help guard the U.S. borders like minutemen. 

The question of whether or not to treat America's vast and porous borders as a national security issue has been on the tongues of Republicans and Democrats alike for years.

Frank Sharry, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum and Texas Republican Congressman John Culberson joined Hardball guest host David Gregory on Friday to debate this hot issue.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST 'HARDBALL' :  Congressman, let me start with you.  Good idea, bad idea?

REP. JOHN CULBERSON, TEXAS:  Enforcing a law is always a good idea.  I think it is wrong to condone people who are here illegally.  We, all of us as Americans have a society have laws and it has become, the country has reached a tipping point on illegal immigration.  The bigger issue is that we have this tremendous flood of illegals pouring over the borders illustrates that our borders are not secure and we will never win the war on terror until we protect our borders.

GREGORY:  They‘re here because people want to hire them, true?  Do you concede that?

CULBERSON:  There are certainly people who want to hire them.  But I believe they need to return to their home country.  If they want to work in a guest worker program, which is necessary, they should return to their home country, sign up for a guest worker program and reenter the United States legally.  My focus and the concern of the people of Texas and my 47 co-sponsors is that the borders are so wide open that we know now, from sworn testimony, that terrorists are hiding among them and entering the country, assuming false Hispanic identities and disappearing.  And that‘s the concern and that needs to be the focus of the country in this war on terror.

GREGORY:  Frank, comment just on what‘s going on in Herndon to begin with before the wider picture.

FRANK SHARRY, NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM:  The failure of Congress to fix our broken immigration system is leaving local communities on their own, trying to figure out a problem that they can‘t solve.  This is a federal responsibility.  It is a big problem.  And it needs a serious fix.  With all due respect, I think deputizing retirees sitting in lawn chairs with binoculars won‘t solve the illegal immigration problem.

GREGORY:  We‘re talking about militias, in effect, on the border.  Why do we need that?  What‘s not happening on the border that should be?

CULBERSON:  Frank is right.  This is a federal responsibility and we in Congress have tried now for many, many years to get additional border agents.  We authorized 10,000 new agents.  The administration for whatever reason refuses to ask for them.  We can‘t fill the positions.  The Border Patrol is having trouble retaining people.  We need boots on the ground and additional beds.

So I just looked at it as an objective matter, solving the—protecting our borders is the same as solving the problem with crime.  You need more patrol on the street.  And I trust average American.  I think we need to rely on the good sense and good hearts of average Americans because 9/11 ...

GREGORY:  But wait a minute.  What are you talking about?  Vigilantism on the streets?  Just deputizing people?  Isn‘t that a good point?  This is law enforcement just like it is in our big streets.  You want people leaving their homes and deputizing them?  Is that a good idea?

CULBERSON:  We need to approach protecting the border the same way we do protecting our neighborhoods.  And that is relying on the good sense of our neighbors.  You have a neighborhood watch program; I‘m sure, Frank in your neighborhood.  And we need to rely on individual Americans.  My bill with the 47 co-sponsors I have would ask for all law-abiding American citizens who have no history of mental illness.  They would be deputized, sworn to uphold the law, trained, equipped and deployed under the direct supervision of law enforcement comminutes—Law enforcement officials, under the command of the governors and deployed either working in an office or alongside a police officer.

There‘s $6.8 billion, David, sitting in Homeland Security in the treasury that has been untouched for two years.  The money is there, the willpower is there.  Let‘s trust the American people and deputize folks who go through training under law enforcement.

GREGORY:  Let me press you, Frank.  Why not?  Why is this not a good idea?  If you‘re not getting the federal help you say you need on the border, why not?

SHARRY:  Look.  This is a serious problem.  The idea of deputizing a few volunteers will solve this, is ridiculous.  We have half a million workers and families coming across our border every year.  11 million people here illegally.  We have this huge labor migration and now in a post 9/11 world, the danger that terrorists are going to exploit the smugglers and the fake documents that are rife in the system.

And our response to this national security threat?  Is volunteers?  I mean, come on, let‘s get serious.  The people of America are tired of the politics of gestures.  Look.  McCain, Kennedy, John Cornyn from Texas, President Bush, they‘re trying to grapple with this.  How do you have tough enforcement at our borders, at our workplace, combined with expanded legal immigration that would bring immigration out of the black market and into the rule of law?  That‘s a serious debate that the American people deserve to have.  The politics of symbolism.  That‘s yesterday‘s politics.  Let‘s get serious.

CULBERSON:  This is very serious effort.  The FBI director testified under oath to my committee that there are individuals from countries with known al-Qaida connections who have entered the United States, assuming false Hispanic identities and disappearing.  Unfortunately, the terrorists will hit us again and I am confident the next attack will be massive truck bombs in multiple cities across the U.S.

The focus of our bill is to deploy citizens from all over the country.  All 50 states.  Honest, law-abiding American citizens.  Let‘s trust the American people.  Give them training, equip them, deploy them, under the direct supervision of law enforcement on the border to prevent people from entering.

The money would also be available to help pay overtime for law enforcement officials and to build the beds necessary to house them and process them.  We will never win the war on terror until we protect our borders.  And that‘s what this is a neighborhood watch borer patrol program trusting the good hearts and sense of Americans..

GREGORY:  Of whether the focus here is misplaced.  Whether there ought to be some kind of government crackdown on the businesses that are supplying the jobs that are in fact luring so many of these illegal workers over.  And as we see in this Herndon example, they‘re here because they know they can get the jobs.

SHARRY:  That‘s exactly right.  We need tough border enforcement.  Professional law enforcement at the border.  Not armed militiamen.  We need much tougher enforcement in the interior combined with legal channels so that workers who are coming to fill available jobs can do the job as well.  That‘s what‘s so difficult about this debate, David.  People say are you for immigrants or are you for enforcement?  And what we say is we‘re for both.  We want the workers to come in legally.  We want the people to come out of the shadows.  And we want to make sure that only legal workers get hired by being very tough with employers.  A worker verification system that works and tough sanctions against those who (unintelligible)

GREGORY:  Congressman, is the president out of touch on this?  A border governor in Texas.  Somebody who knows a lot about these issues, certainly tough on terror.  Is he out of touch on this issue?

CULBERSON:  I don‘t believe the president is out of touch.  He has a good heart, he is a good man.

GREGORY:  He doesn‘t believe in the militias on the border, does he?

CULBERSON:  The president hasn‘t spoken on this issue yet.  But I‘m working very closely with a coalition of border sheriffs and having very good response.  I have got 47 co-authors of this bill because 9/11 deputized every American but not everyone can serve in the military or the FBI or the CIA and just as in World War II and every other war, average Americans want to participate.

GREGORY:  Aren‘t you casting this as a fight in the war on terror when that misses the mark?  That is not the overall problem.

CULBERSON:  No, sir.  It really is about the war on terror.  My focus and my co-author‘s focus is the war on terror because the FBI director, law enforcement officials .

GREGORY:  You don‘t think most illegals coming into this country simply want work rather than want to hit the United States?

CULBERSON:  Most of them undoubtedly do want work.  But the problem is, David, that there are terrorists and criminals hiding among this full scale flood.

GREGORY:  What percentage of them?

CULBERSON:  The FBI director tells us there is a significant number of individuals from countries with known al-Qaida connections entering the U.S.

GREGORY:  What does that mean?  Frank, is this a political argument

CULBERSON:  This is about the war on terror.

SHARRY:  It is a vulnerability.  There‘s no evidence it happened but of course it is a vulnerability.  So how do we get control of it?  It‘s not a matter of if we control our borders.

CULBERSON:  Boots on the ground.

SHARRY:  He wants to deputize volunteers.  We want a comprehensive fix that combine legal channels with tough enforcement.

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