Rep. Maxine Waters on Blacks and Immigration

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Where do black lawmakers stand on the issue of undocumented workers? U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), discusses the issue with Ed Gordon. Waters' district includes Los Angeles and surrounding cities, one of the hotbeds of protests against an immigration crackdown.

ED GORDON, host:

There is of course a lot at stake in the fight over immigration reform. We just heard about the economic implications. But there's also the question of political clout. This is especially pertinent to African Americans, who until recently were the largest minority in the country. But some say African Americans have been virtually watching from the sidelines as the debate plays itself out.

Joining us now, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Her congressional district includes Los Angeles, one of the hotbeds of immigration protest; and she's pushing what she call's a bipartisan solution to a bipartisan problem. Representative Waters, thanks for joining us. Always good to have you.

Representative MAXINE WATERS (Democrat, California): Good to be with you. How are you doing?

GORDON: Good, thank you. You just heard what Mr. Katz suggested. I'm curious whether you believe that these undocumented workers are taking jobs away from Americans. We hear the debate that they're taking only jobs that Americans don't want.

Rep. WATERS: Well, first let me say this before I go directly to that. We have a huge problem. This immigration problem is big. It's a crisis. And we can't get around it anymore. It's got to be dealt with. We're going to come out of this Congress with immigration reform, and it's going to have several components.

One is there's going to be more border security to stop the influx of immigrants from coming in. Number two, there is going to be some kind of a guest worker program. It may not be the same guest worker program that the President is advocating at this time, but there will be some kind of guest worker program. And the third component will be a way by which undocumented immigrants can earn legalization.

The 11 million that are here without documents will, without documents, will be able to earn. We'll set the criteria, it will include paying taxes and some other kinds of things, but that will happen.

Now, as for the jobs. It is important that we fight for livable wages for all workers. Yes, Mexican immigrants, for example, take jobs where they're exploited and their employers are paying lower than minimum wage. African American do want jobs. It is not that immigrants are taking jobs that African American don't want. But African American know what is a fair wage, what is minimum wage. They know the law.

And so they want these jobs to pay a decent wage, a livable wage, and, you know, comply with minimum wage laws and all of that. It's not that they don't want the jobs, they just want what they have, what they should have coming to them.

GORDON: Maxine Waters, are you concerned that some of the misinformation, if you will, that's being put out there will cause a riff between communities and cause more tension than need be?

Rep. WATERS: Well, I want to tell you, there are misunderstandings and there are people who think that, you know, immigrants are taking jobs or that they're getting favored. But there are a lot of people who have been living door by door, side by side with immigrants for the last forty years in South Los Angeles. If you go deep into our neighborhoods, you will find that Latinos, some of them undocumented, got into the United States, never got their documentation, but they've been living in these neighborhoods, and they get along very well with African Americans.

Some of the younger people have competition problems and it spills over into the gangs, but we have to work through that. I mean, these are problems that America, you know, must understand, and they're not foreign to us. I mean, we had the same kind of problem with African American moving into neighborhoods that were predominately white.

So yeah, we've got problems, but the fact of the matter is our undocumented immigrants are not going to go away. Eleven mil1ion people are not going to be deported. We're not going to be able to detain them or ship them out as some of these Republicans would have you believe. We've got to solve the problem.

GORDON: How realistic is it to believe that we're going to see a bipartisan effort to really close this out? We had Harry Reid on the program earlier this week, and he made it clear in no uncertain terms that the President is really going to have to look at this guest worker program and really be realistic about what it takes to make this real.

Rep. WATERS: Yeah. Well, I think it's inevitable that we come to -- we will come to some agreement. There will be a compromise. It's going to be bitter, and you have, you know, some right-wing conservatives who are digging in at this time with crazy bills like the Sensenbrenner bill that literally talks about making felons out of all of the undocumented. That is not realistic. That's not going to happen. We don't have the money, the jails, the personnel, none of that to deal with it that way. And then they talk kind of, you know, about somehow just punishing the employers and the jobs will dry up. Many of these jobs are in the underground economy. You have Mexican workers and other immigrant workers who don't go to, you know, the traditional places to find jobs.

They clean out yards. They paint for, you know, Miss Jones down the street. They put up fences. They do all kind of work, and a lot of that money is in the underground economy. So when you talk about you're going to dry up the jobs from the employers, you know, they're thinking about the traditional employers. But many of the employers are, you know, the lady down the street, the man -- the church around the corner. So you know, immigrants learn how to survive and they earn money doing all kinds of jobs, and that's not going to go away, and they're not going to go back because somehow you're going to fine Wal-Mart for hiring immigrants. They're going to still be here.

GORDON: How much of this is fair to say, Maxine Waters, that this is a problem that continued to grow, continued to grow, continued to grow, and frankly, both sides of the aisle on Washington put it on the backburner and now the chickens have come home to roost?

Rep. WATERS: Well, I think we have not done what we should have done, number one, to secure the border. It takes a lot of money, but you know, we are fighting a war where we're spending darn near 300 billion dollars, so you know, we have the resources to secure the border if we really, you know, had the will to do so. And you're right, we have needed immigration reform. We have had a schizophrenic policy. You've had part of the business community and the agriculture community that want these people coming in, working for them. They exploited many of them, work and sleep in the fields at night without decent housing. That's been all right. You know, we've turned a blind eye to that kind of exploitation.

And you will find the Chamber of Commerce and others fighting now to see how they can hold on to this cheap, cheap labor.

GORDON: All right. Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. Always good to have you with us, Congresswoman. Thanks.

Rep. WATERS: Thank you very much. Bye.

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