NPR logo

Senators Grassley, Brownback on Immigration Reform

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Senators Grassley, Brownback on Immigration Reform


Senators Grassley, Brownback on Immigration Reform

Senators Grassley, Brownback on Immigration Reform

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The Republican Party is sharply divided on reforming the nation's immigration policy. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) broke ranks with several members of the GOP to support an immigration reform proposal passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday that included a proposal for a guest worker program and measures some would interpret as amnesty. His colleague, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IW), voted against it. Alex Chadwick speaks with both senators about the challenges of immigration reform.


Earlier today, I spoke with one of the pro-amnesty Republicans, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Senator Brownback, the bill that you voted for in committee has a provision to allow people who are in the U.S. illegally now to apply for citizenship. People call that amnesty. People who are for tougher border enforcement call it rewarding people who are violating immigration law.

How is it not rewarding illegals?

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): Well, it isn't an application for citizenship. It is a chance to stay in the country legally for six years, and then to apply for a green card in one of the categories that currently exist as a skilled or unskilled worker or family member, to get to the back of the line, to pay a fine, to learn English, to pay taxes. And then you may be able to get a green card.

I hardly call that amnesty, which would be where you just say, everybody, okay, you're in and you're U.S. citizens. And the thing about rewarding people is we've got to try to find some system to get the 11 million that we believe are here, people that are in the shadows here undocumented, illegally, to get them into a system.

And this is a way that we feel we could get them into a legalized system. If we say, okay, you've got a report and we're going to deport you, that's just not feasible to work.

CHADWICK: The U.S. Senate--here, I'm just reading from a wire story that's running this morning. This is Reuters. U.S. Senate on Wednesday expected to start a divisive debate that could spell political dangers for the Republican majority.

Senator BROWNBACK: It is a tough issue. There's just no question about it. It's one of the top two or three issues in the country today. It has a visceral reaction to it by many people on both sides of the debate. The Republican Party is somewhat divided on this topic.

And yet, you know, I think people across the country expect us to take on tough topics. And they expect us to try to resolve difficult issues. And this is one of them.

CHADWICK: Isn't the division right through the Republican Party, sir?

Senator BROWNBACK: Well, I think once you get a real debate going, and people say, okay, what are we going to do with the 11 million here presently that are undocumented? But then, a bigger sense of realism and practicality comes forward of what do you do in this present situation that we found ourselves that's built up over 20 years?

CHADWICK: Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. Senator, thank you.

Senator BROWNBACK: Thank you.

CHADWICK: And now to Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, also on the judiciary committee. He voted against the bill that passed out of committee.

Senator Grassley, is enforcement versus amnesty a fair way to describe the debate that's going on in the Senate this week?

Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): It does a good job of summarizing. The only thing that it would leave out would be a lot of people that, including me, that believe in enforcement to a great extent--particularly at the border--would also admit that we need a lot of work, immigrant workers in this country. And we also want to uphold the tradition of our country being a welcoming country to immigrants.

And so I would say that for me, an additional factor would be the legal immigration of a guest worker program, not for people who have been to the country illegally already--unless they want to go home and come back.

I'm for a program for guest workers so that when they cross the line, they have a job and they have the papers to prove that they're legally coming to the country.

CHADWICK: So, you're saying that the people who are here illegally would have to leave, leave the country, go back probably, where they've come from, and...

Senator GRASSLEY: Yeah. And let me tell you why I'm not for amnesty. Because there are six of this on this committee that were there 20 years ago when we voted for amnesty. I supported amnesty. And we had a three million illegal alien problem, and it was supposed to solve that problem. And now we have an 11 million person problem.

CHADWICK: This is the 1986 law?

Senator GRASSLEY: Yeah. You know, I feel like I got burned on that theory that somehow, if you give amnesty to people, it's going to solve the illegal alien problem. It doesn't do it.

And not only that, but it denigrates the value of legal immigration by people that stand in line for years to get to our country legally, you know.

CHADWICK: But doesn't President Bush want something pretty much like what the committee did pass?

Senator GRASSLEY: Yes.

CHADWICK: He wants that provision, this amnesty provision people...

Senator GRASSLEY: Yes, and the extent to which the president wants that, and I've given you my reasons for opposing it, I think the president's wrong. I don't question the president's sincerity. I'm just telling you that I got the benefit of having supported amnesty when we had a three million person problem in 1986. The president wasn't involved in politics in 1986. He doesn't have that memory. I do. And it ended up being 11 million person problem 20 years later. And...

CHADWICK: Let me just ask you, is this an issue--well, I'm going to ask you, is this an issue your party's going to lose on in November?

Senator GRASSLEY: It depends upon how we phrase it and how we're seen, I believe. You want to remember that Hispanic people are very family-oriented. They're very law-abiding. They're very much for law enforcement.

So I don't think that it's fair to assume that just because a lot of Hispanics are in this country illegally that the Hispanic community generally is for not obeying the law. They're very much so.

CHADWICK: Senator, if your idea does pass and become law, that is, if you don't have a kind of an amnesty program for people who are living here, how do you get those 11 million people out of the country?

Senator GRASSLEY: Well, nobody's got an answer to that. If we do have a guest worker program as I've described to you that I support, then I believe you're going to find a lot of the people who are here illegally go home and come back into the country.

CHADWICK: Probably, anyone would prefer to be here legally rather than illegally. But just hypothetically speaking, Senator, if you were here in this country illegally, would you take this deal? Or would you rather stay here?

Senator GRASSLEY: As I see it, if Chuck Grassley were here illegally, let's say I came from Mexico...


Senator GRASSLEY: ...and I've been working here a couple years, and there's really no record of Chuck Grassley being around, and I could go home and with some certainty, whether it be a month, two months, or six months, that I could get the papers to come back here and work legally, I would prefer that.

CHADWICK: Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa. You have residence there, sir, for forever. Thank you so much.

Senator GRASSLEY: Thank you. Good-bye.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.