Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is focused on winning back the Democratic Party's majority on Capitol Hill.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he will support legislation that would give the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States a "path to legalization." A bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday would do just that.
Reid, who faces the daunting task of restoring Democratic control of the Senate in crucial midterm elections this November, also backs the creation of some form of guest worker program that would give foreign workers a legal means to live and work in the country.
"We have 11 million people in our country today who are undocumented," Reid tells News & Notes host Ed Gordon. "Let's move on to a temporary guest worker program. Do we want an underground society of 11 million people who are living in the shadows?"
Hear selected cuts from Sen. Reid's interview:
Reid adds that a mass deportation of all undocumented workers is unrealistic. "Let's deal with them," he says. "Let's give them a path to legalization."
Reid says he is in favor of a plan, approved by the Senate panel, that would screen workers for criminal records, encourage long-term work for skilled laborers and collect payroll taxes. The plan would allow illegal immigrants to become citizens eventually, provided that they hold jobs, learn English and pay back taxes and a fine. Reid rejects critics' contention that the plan amounts to amnesty for those who have broken the law.
The plan passed Monday by the Senate Judiciary Committee is considerably more favorable to illegal immigrants than legislation passed by the House in December, which focused on border-security issues and did not call for a guest worker program. The House bill would make it a criminal offense to live in the United States without authorization (right now, it is a violation of civil immigration law). That would make felons out of the nation's illegal immigrants, leaving them permanently ineligible for citizenship.
Reid, a former competitive boxer and writer of books on U.S. history, pulled no punches in his analysis of President Bush's tenure in office and his handling of the immigration crisis and other key issues. "For a while, I said this is the worst president since Millard Fillmore, but I've changed my view," he says. "I believe [President Bush] is the worst.
"I believe this is a failed administration that's hurt our country and hurt our standing in the world community," Reid says. "I'm so, so disappointed in what I think could have been."