Immigration a Hot Issue for Grassroots
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
The immigration bill suffered a high-profile defeat in the Senate last week. But for advocates on both sides the issue hasn't gone away. Over the next few days, we're going to check in with grassroots organizers who are continuing to make their case. We start with D.A. King. He is president and founder of the Dustin Inman Society.
The group was formed in the name of a 16-year-old boy who was killed in a car crash caused by an illegal immigrant. That group was one of many voices that lobbied Congress against the immigration bill. Mr. King, welcome to the program.
Mr. D.A. KING (President, Dustin Inman Society): Thank you, John. I'm very happy to be here.
YDSTIE: The immigration bill is dead, so what's next for groups like yours?
Mr. KING: Well, nothing has really changed. Throughout our history what we have been striving to do is to convince the federal government to secure the borders. We believe that to be the basic function of that government, and to enforce the existing laws.
YDSTIE: There were some border security provisions in the bill that were defeated. Do you regret that? And what are you going to about that?
Mr. KING: If you take a close look at the bill that was just defeated, it was the promise of future border security. We had that same promise in 1986 in what was then advertised as a one-time amnesty. So my effort is to obtain the border security without any equivocation and certainly without any more amnesty.
YDSTIE: So are you going to focus now on the presidential campaign? Will that be the focus of your group?
Mr. KING: I think it's undeniable that anyone running for president is going to have to take a position on what they would do to secure the border and to promise to enforce our immigration, and most especially our employment laws. So I think whether or not we make it an issue, the majority of the American people understand that it is an issue.
YDSTIE: Mr. King, what does your group propose the government should do about the 12 million people who are in the United States illegally?
Mr. KING: That's very simple. First of all, not many people who've studied the issue believe that 12-million figure. Most of us understand that to be inaccurate by half. But the law is very clear. The punishment for coming into the United States illegally, working illegally, is either deportation and prosecution. And what we're going to hear over and over again is that you cannot deport 12 million or 20 million, or whatever the number is, people overnight. And nobody that I know is insisting on that.
This problem took more than 30 years to develop. So what we're advocating is securing the borders at any price, enforcing the existing laws and watching the population of illegal aliens decrease over a period of time. If it takes 30 years, fine.
YDSTIE: So what you say is that you want to create such an inhospitable climate that illegal immigrants will just leave?
Mr. KING: We're saying exactly that. Not to mention the fact that we want to create such an inhospitable climate that employers will actually begin to obey the law that governs the rest of America.
YDSTIE: A national poll just before the Senate vote last week found that 51 percent of Americans said that they hadn't heard enough about the bill to say whether they were either for it or against it. I wonder how much support do you think groups like yours really have, or are you on your side and those on the other side just representing relatively small and vocal minorities?
Mr. KING: I hear that all the time. I find that fascinating. I know staffers in the United States Senate buildings that will tell me they had to use their cell phones to call out of their offices because their phone system had shut down. Many people would like to believe that this was a small but very, very loud minority. That is nonsense. The majority of the American people, had they been exposed to the actual language of the bill, that very few of the people in our legislature have read, I think the number that you just quoted would be considerably smaller.
YDSTIE: Well, thanks for joining us, Mr. King.
Mr. KING: My pleasure.
YDSTIE: D.A. King is president of the Dustin Inman Society based in Marietta, Georgia. It was part of a grassroots campaign that opposed the immigration bill defeated in the Senate last week.
Tomorrow we'll hear from a supporter of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.