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Border control issue heats up on Capitol Hill

Immigration reform is one of the President's top priorities in 2006
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Despite the 9/11 attacks, illegal immigration in this country is actually on the rise.  And it's going to continue to be a hot-button security and economic issue for 2006. 

There have been requests, led by Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, for a guest worker program but Republicans are divided.  However, this month, House Republicans passed a bill without such a program but they did pass a bill to tighten the border. 

Former Bush Adviser on Hispanic Education Leslie Sanchez, and George Taplin, President of the Herndon Minutemen, addressed the subject on Tuesday with MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell.

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

NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: George, let me start with you.  The president says he wants this guest worker program.  Why do you oppose such a program? 

GEORGE TAPLIN, PRES., HERNDON MINUTEMEN:  A program like that won't work until you secure the border.  Simply enough, the border is not secure.  We have anywhere from 13 to 20 million illegal aliens in our country already.  What do you do about the people here already? 

O'DONNELL:  The president has also called groups like yours, The Minutemen, he's called them vigilantes, and Secretary Chertoff has told me in conversation he calls the Minutemen amateurs.  What is your reaction to that when the administration has called groups like yours who are trying to tighten the border, if you will, or toughen up when it comes to immigration, they call you those names? 

TAPLIN:  I think the names are misplaced.  We're not trying to tighten up the borders, we're trying to bring attention to the problem.  We've done so.  If you've noticed, the president has shifted his position on immigration, and Congress is now working on it. 

We're the fist group that's way ahead of the politicians on this. 

O'DONNELL:  Leslie, how do the explain this divide in the Republican party on immigration?  Tom Tancredo, who is a Republican from Colorado, is now the star in the House of Representatives, a man that Karl Rove says, don't darken the door of the White House by showing up here with your proposals, now he's the head guy in the House making law on immigration? 

LESLIE SANCHEZ, FMR. BUSH ADVISER ON HISPANIC EDUCATION:  You know, I'm not going to speak ill of a another Republican.  I will say that the problem with Tancredo's proposals is it's a thee-legged stool that's missing one leg. 

He doesn't want to talk about a guest worker program or what to do with the 11 to 13 million undocumented workers here.  I agree with Mr. Taplin that there has to be something done about the undocumented individuals who are rampant in all 50 states of this country. 

But the president is trying to deal with it in a realistic way and not just a bunch of bar room banter.  Which is what, I almost believe, some of the House proposal is, unless you can realistically deal with all three elements of it.  Dealing with interior enforcement, border security, and what to do with individuals already in the country, you're not going to have a realistic chance to have immigration reform. 

O'DONNELL:  George, one of the things House Republicans wanted to do, it didn't pass, was deny birth right citizenship.  If you are an illegal in this country and you have a child here, that child has immediate citizenship. 

Do you think Republicans would be better off and that this Congress should move forward, the president should support denying birth right citizenships? 

TAPLIN:  I believe that's true.  It removes another motivation for people to try to enter the country illegally.  If we remove the motivations, we'll have less of a problem, we can secure the borders for the safety of the country and not worry about the illegal aliens coming across. 

SANCHEZ:  Norah, that's nonsense.  To think that the people are trying to do this anchor baby issue, where they think that people are coming over undocumented to have children here and then somehow gain U.S. citizenship is just not realistic.  That's a 25-year investment. 

The reality, if you want to stop and curb the flow of immigrants, you've got to look at Mexico and these Latin American countries.  What are we doing to curb poverty and unemployment there? 

I have met airline pilots who are making more money doing construction work in Northern Virginia than they are flying planes back home. 

O'DONNELL:  George, do you support rounding up the 11 million illegals in this country, making them felons and trying to deport them immediately?

TAPLIN:  No, we don't support that all.  But we do need more enforcement here in this country.  This is not just a border issue.  It's an international security issue as well.

O'DONNELL:  Leslie, how do you explain that then?  When Republicans, members of your own party, want to engage in something like that.  And Secretary Chertoff says: I hope common sense will prevails, it would just be physically and financially implausible to try to round up so many immigrants.  Do you think your party is involved in immigrant bashing?

SANCHEZ:  You know, Norah, I would say there's a very small fraction, a group on the fringes that actually believe that could be the case.  But it's not realistic, and I don't think anybody thinks that you can cattle call 11 million people out of this country.  It's not feasible. 

I think homeland security secretary told us that's not even something that's on the table.  I speak to a lot of voters across this country, and most of them will come at it very particularly.  They say, “If we can trade in goods and services, why can't we trade in labor?”  I mean, they want to do something about these 11-to-13 million undocumented individuals.  They want to know who they are, where they are, find a way for them to work legitimately in the country, pay taxes and go home.

O'DONNELL:  But Leslie, as you know, the debate is, what to do with illegals in this country.  Because before you can get to a guest worker program, which this president wants, members of his own party say, “We are not going to grant amnesty to people who are in this country illegally.  That's not the way our country works, and we shouldn't do that.”  So then how do you deal with all these in this country?

SANCHEZ:  You know, Norah, I think you hit on a great point.  That is what I call political spin 101.  I think there are many folks, maybe even political consultants on my side of the aisle, that use this as a wedge issue.  They think it's something that can really motivate some in our base to look at this issue.

But I don't believe that that is the direction where this party is going.  I think America overall is inclusive, not exclusive.  The president and voters are going to go with folks that understand we have to hold these folks accountable, we have to find a realistic way to address this situation. 

And that isn't just calling names and what I call, bar room banter.  Whether people agree or disagree with the president has said on his guest worker program, one thing is true.  It's not amnesty and two, they can call him whatever names they want.  He is taking on a very tough issue with he's taking it on within his party, and he's offering a solution.  And I think if the Democrats have a better solution, I would like to see what it is.  But so far they're mute and that's a critical point here.

O'DONNELL:  George, why is it then, like people like you who are on the front lines of this immigration debate and this battle, don't support the president's proposal?

TAPLIN:  Well, it's not just a matter of whether it's the president or they're Democrats or Republicans.  This is affecting every person in this country.  And you're talking about, it's not fiscally feasible or financially feasible to round up 11 million people.  Nor is it fiscally or financially feasible to let 11 million people work in an underground economy?

O'DONNELL:  Why not?

TAPLIN:  Well, they're not paying taxes, and yet they're using benefits.  If you look at the report that was given to the...

O'DONNELL:  Leslie, is that true, that most of these people are not paying taxes, or do most of them have fake Social Security numbers and are actually paying taxes?

SANCHEZ:  Both of them, not only do they have fake Social Security numbers, but they're also paying consumption taxes.  I mean, they're putting a lot of money into their local and state municipalities and putting money into a Social Security system that they'll never see in return.

TAPLIN:  The governor of Minnesota was given a report two weeks ago that said it's costing the state of Minnesota approximately $2,250 per illegal, and they have 80 million illegals, to the tune of $180 million a year.  If you put that here in Northern Virginia, that's $516 million a year that it's costing this economy.  That is not helping the economy.

SANCHEZ:  Mr. Taplan, I think you raise a great point.  Reality is, you'd have to agree, nobody has a good sense of those numbers.  I see two or three reports, I've seen the similar reports you're talking about, Center for Immigration Studies, whatever you want to call it.

There are no real numbers, not only on the number of immigrants who are in this country, but the economic effects that they have.  What is real is there is a demand for labor.  There has to be a legitimate, legalized way for workers and employers to work together so they can get out of this underground economy, which I agree with you on. 

I think there's a bigger issue that Norah eluded to earlier, and that is that this argument of vigilantism, this argument that you say you're getting sensationalism in the press with the minutemen effort on the border. 

I mean, if you look at it, the concern that folks have with this kind of new wave of border security, whatever you want to call it, is you've got individuals on the border in a very dangerous situation where they're not trained.  We have no criminal investigation on the folks that are on the border.  We don't know if they are stable or not.

TAPLIN:  OK, that's not true.  Every minuteman has gone through a criminal investigation prior to joining the minuteman.  That's No. 1.

SANCHEZ:  And who is monitoring that?

TAPLIN:  And there isn't another organization in the country that can say that.  That's No. 1.  The other thing is, no minuteman has ever done any law enforcement at all in the guise of a minuteman. 

You're stretching the point here you keep saying the larger point.  The largest point is that the minutemen were responsible for bringing and elevating this discussion to the level it is brought to right now. 

Prior to a year ago, nobody was even looking at this issue.  Now the president has backtracked and he's done what he should have done a long time ago, and that's address this issue.  We have a problem with illegal immigrants or illegal aliens in this countries.  And we need to do something about it now, before it gets worse.

O'DONNELL:  George, let me ask you, because one of the things that's going on here is that there's a security issue, OK?  So we need to tighten our borders. 

There's also a business issue.  The president's proposal is, “Let's set up a guest worker program so workers and businesses can meet in a legal way.”  You are saying, one of the things is enforcing businesses, and you're working on your own to crack down on businesses.  Tell us exactly what you're doing.

TAPLIN:  What we're doing is going back and tracking the people that are hiring these illegal aliens and reporting them for not being—not paying business taxes, not having contractor's license, not having insurance, not paying the taxes on the employees.

O'DONNELL:  And who are you reporting those to?

TAPLIN:  To the various agencies.  Right now in Virginia, the local, the state and the federal agencies like the IRS.

O'DONNELL:  Isn't that a form of vigilantism? 

TAPLIN:  I don't call it vigilantism at all.  If you are there in a neighborhood watch situation and you see somebody committing a crime and you report it to the police, is that vigilantism?  That's called neighborhood watch and we have a great neighborhood watch system in this country.

That's all we're doing.  We are doing nothing else.  We don't get into confrontations.  We ignore people that try to bait us, we are serving the local and state and federal community. 

O'DONNELL:  Leslie, why shouldn't businesses face tougher standards, too? 

SANCHEZ:  Two points there, Norah.  One, yes, they face tougher standard.  That's what's unique about the reform.  For the first time, we're talking about interior enforcement in a meaningful way.

I was part of the 1996 effort and other immigration efforts.  That was never part of the discussion in a way that really made sense, so I commend the fact that that's part of the discussion. 

But as to the point of Mr. Taplin, you know, you're going out there photographing individuals who happen to be of Hispanic decent, speak Spanish, how do you know the difference between somebody who is legal and not legal? 

Is standing outside a 7-11, taking pictures of folks, writing down people's license plates numbers, thinking that you're doing something.  I think it's tarring an entire group of people with a brush stroke. 

TAPLIN:  We don't have to know if they're illegal or not.  All you have to know is employers are not hiring people using regular employment services.  That is a federal offense.  That is a felony to not pay taxes. 

SANCHEZ:  How they go about hiring and recruiting individuals versus what they do with their internal book keeping. 

TAPLIN:  If these people were here legally, they would be able to use the regular employment services in the state of Virginia.  And they can't because they're not here legally.  They know even with fake I.D.’s they can't get services through the state employment services. 

SANCHEZ:  I'm sorry.  There are ads in papers.  There are numerous ways to recruit workers.  How do we know that they are not?  That's what I'm saying.  You are tarring an entire group. 

TAPLIN:  Because they are standing out outside of 7-11 trying to get work. 

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.