As Congress gets set to pass a broad based immigration bill, we asked the only question that really matters, will the bill work? Will it be enforced?
Chris Matthews discussed this issue with Sen. George Allen on 'Hardball.' This is an excerpt of their conversation.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": Twenty years ago, the Senate, the House and the president got together. They had a big signing ceremony and they said they were going to stop illegal immigration into this country. It was a joke, nothing happened.
Illegal immigration continued even faster than before. Why should we trust the government to enforce the borders, to enforce our immigration laws now?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA: I don’t think you ought to trust the government. I think the American people want to see credible, believable action. In fact, President Reagan’s attorney general Ed Meese said it was amnesty back 20 years ago for three million people and it wasn’t followed through on; at least there was the honesty 20 years ago in calling it amnesty.
Now we have 11 million estimated in this country illegally and I don’t think there’s going to be much credibility or confidence on the part the American people until they see this flow reduced to a trickle, with more border patrol, with more detention centers, with more actual fences, with more also virtual fences, and sensors and technology on the border.
Until that’s done, all of this amnesty and these convoluted three-tiered approaches are absolutely meaningless, so we need to secure the border. It should have been done years ago and we need to get about doing it right now.
MATTHEWS: The president came out a couple weeks ago and said we should sing the national anthem in English. What was that? What meaning did that have to you? Was that bluster?
ALLEN: No, I think it was a question. There were some folks singing the national anthem in Spanish and the president was undoubtedly asked about it and said no, the national anthem should be sung in English. The words are in English and I don’t know if it’s so much bluster, but it’s one of those issues that is secondary but came up. It's something that the American people had a reaction to, thinking that English should be our national language and our national anthem ought to be sung in English.
After all, Francis Scott Key composed it in English when we were fighting the English in The War of 1812.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the National Guard. You were governor of Virginia. What do you make the idea of a National Guard unit going down from a state like the Commonwealth of Virginia and heading down there for a couple of weeks? Is this just a show of force by the president or is it a real contribution to border enforcement?
ALLEN: I think it’s a recognition finally on the part of the president, that our borders are not secure and we need more personnel. The National Guard will be sent down temporarily as a backup or a back stop to our border patrol personnel.
We need more border patrol personnel, easily double is the best number or estimates, but we need more actual border enforcement, and I think the president dramatically recognized that there needs to be more of an effort on the border.
Those who want to volunteer and serve on this backup and surveillance aspect of border security can do so. The guard from Virginia and other states are proud to help, although I think most of the guard will undoubtedly come from the states along the Mexican border: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
By the way, governors of New Mexico and Arizona did deploy some of their guard previously, because of the inadequate efforts on the part of the federal government.
MATTHEWS: Do you really believe that we can seal the border?
ALLEN: We can do a better job. Right now it’s a river flowing across our borders and ever since the concept of amnesty or rewarding people with a track towards citizenship was broached, the number of people rushing across the border, entering our country illegally, is increased.
I think that we can stop the flow to a trickle. I’m not saying it could be 100 percent safeguarded, but it could be done a lot better than it is right now. I don’t think there has been the prioritization of making sure we have the fencing and sensors.
The detention centers themselves are inadequate. So many who are actually apprehended are let out on their own recognizance because there is insufficient capacity and they’re not foolish, they don’t show up again.
I am not one who advocates rounding them up and deporting them back to their own countries. That’s not appropriate, practical or credible, but what needs to be done is we need to stop the flow of illegal entry into this country.
MATTHEWS: What is your message, you’re on national television now governor, senator now, what is your message to people in this country, big business, big agriculture or the local bakery or the average housewife who hires an illegal worker?
ALLEN: I think that any employer ought to try to find out if the person that they’re hiring on is legally in this country. Now what we have is a lot of document fraud and counterfeiting that is very good and it’s hard for an employer to be able to discern the difference between a National Social Security Card and one that is a counterfeit.
But we need to send a message to the American people that your federal government is finally getting around to doing what you expect it to do, and that is to secure the border. We are a country that is a nation of immigrants. We have been settled, built, and improved by immigrants throughout our history. My mother is an immigrant, so I appreciate the value of immigrants to our country.
We also are nation of laws and so for those who need temporary workers in agriculture, whether they need them in the tourism industry, whether we need them for technology; there ought to be much better, more effective ways of bringing in people into this country legally who have been checked out to help provide the jobs and the services that employers can’t find Americans to fill.
MATTHEWS: Aren’t you avoiding the key issue here of identifying the workers?
The president says we’re going to have a tamper proof system, biometric I.D. cards and that seems to me the reason people come to this country. Some may come to break the law, most come to work. Why don’t we enforce the law against illegal hiring? Are you for that?
ALLEN: Yes I’m very much for enforcing the laws.
MATTHEWS: For I.D. cards.
ALLEN: Yes. I think that makes a great deal of sense. If you can make a machine readable or you can go online to verify that Joe or Sally is who they say they are that’s good. Our worry, my concern is that if we do it under the existing system, it’s not an adequate system. We need at least 100,000 more in this country for seasonal workers. We need 100,000 plus more for agriculture workers.
MATTHEWS: What’s an appropriate sanction for somebody who hires somebody illegally and knowingly, who doesn’t check their papers, who goes with some fraudulent looking document, do you think the government of the United States is serious, are you serious about enforcing the law against illegal hiring? Are we for big sanctions, big fines, imprisonment? How do you stop a business guy as you say who needs a lot of cheap workers from doing it against the law?
ALLEN: Well, in the event that you can prove that they knowingly hired someone illegally, there are fines, there are penalties for those who do it. Now for those who have tried to comply with the law and they check out an individual and that person somehow the Social Security number pans out, even if it’s false, that person hasn’t committed any crime knowingly, but for those who have, I do think there ought to be fines against them.
MATTHEWS: You don’t sound too enthusiastic, Senator. Republicans never sound very enthusiastic when it comes to fining business people. Isn’t that the weakness here? Everybody, the Democrats are playing to LULAC and the Latino groups. I don’t know where the labor unions are, but you seem hesitant, Senator, to nail a big business guy or farm owner, nail him with a big fine. Are you that tough on illegal hiring?
ALLEN: Yes. The point of the matter is if somebody knowingly violates the law, obviously we need to enforce the laws.
One way that I think we can make it much better for employers who can’t find Americans to do the work is to make sure that there is a good, legal method of hiring people from other countries.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.
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