New Mexico Congressman on Immigration Protests

As boycotts and protests kick off nationwide, NPR's Alex Chadwick talks with Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM), whose Santa Fe, N.M., district is home to thousands of immigrants.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In the Southwest part of the country, border issues are really a part of daily discussions. I'm joined now by Democratic Congressman Tom Udall. He's been tracking the boycott demonstrations with his six district offices in Northern and Eastern New Mexico. He joins us by phone from Washington.

Representative UDALL, welcome.

Representative TOM UDALL (Democrat, New Mexico): Thank you, Alex. Good to be with you today.

CHADWICK: And what have you heard from Santa Fe and other cities around your district about the demonstrations and people coming to work or not coming to work?

Representative UDALL: I think one of the things I've heard is that the boycott really reminds us that we have millions of people, you know, the estimates are up to 11 or 12 million, who are here working and are part of the fabric of American life.

And so the big question in my Congressional district and in the country is what should we do with the 11 or 12 million people, undocumented people, who are here. And that's the question that I think the Congress needs to address.

CHADWICK: Well, there seems to be actually a debate about what the question is because a lot of people think that the question is how do we close off the border to make sure the problem doesn't get any bigger in the coming years?

Representative UDALL: Well, there's no doubt that a crucial element of a comprehensive immigration reform system should be border security. So there's no doubt that should be part of it. This 11 or 12 million undocumented here in the United States, we need to deal with that particular issue. We need to look at our very small guest worker program. And we need to look at employer issues in terms of employers violating the law. So I think that's a part of the big overall comprehensive reform that Congress needs to be looking at. And the Senate is coming the closest to that right now.

CHADWICK: You voted against the Immigration Bill, HR-4437. That was the one back in December that really, I think, sparked all of this debate and a lot of the anger, because it would make felons of illegal immigrants. You're against that. The White House, apparently, thinks that it is going to get some sort of progress, and that Congress is going to help a bit with this. But what about in the House? There's a statement from Roy Blunt, the House majority leader for the Republicans, saying that he doesn't think that the House Republicans are ready to cooperate. What's your sense of the way people are going there?

Rep. UDALL: My sense is that that's correct. The House is stuck on its bill, the majority of the Republican Party is very insistent that their bill that they pass is a good bill, and they want to hang with it. So I think the President has a lot of hard work. Even if he gets a bill out of the Senate, it's more moderate and is along the lines of a comprehensive reform, he has a lot of hard work to bring the House aboard.

CHADWICK: How do you feel? You're really a supporter of President Bush's stance at this point. That's somewhat of an unusual place for you to be.

Rep. UDALL: Well, the interesting thing is, is that the three members of the House, two Republicans and one Democrat from New Mexico, all voted against the House bill. So there is unity in that sense. I don't know that President Bush has gotten into the kind of detail that I've been talking about today. I would say that he is definitely for a more moderate approach to this than some of the inflammatory rhetoric that we're hearing from the other side.

CHADWICK: You know, I began by asking you for a brief report from your district offices of how people are reacting to this, the Day Without Immigrants, in New Mexico. Have you heard from constituents? Do you know what's...

Rep. UDALL: Oh. Yes, I have. And first of all, the thing you should know, that in New Mexico, 98 percent of Hispanics in New Mexico are native-born. So we only have two percent in terms of immigrants. So we may be a little different than country -- than cities and states like California and Los Angeles and some of the other larger entities around the country. But I would call it a mixed bag of what we're hearing.

There are some very mad people out there that call my office. When I'm in town hall meetings and circulating throughout the district, there are others that say, you know, this is a problem. It's a big one and we need to deal with it. And so we get sharp reactions, I think, on both sides.

CHADWICK: Congressman Tom Udall, a Democrat from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Congressman, thank you for being with us on DAY TO DAY.

Rep. UDALL: Alex, it's a real pleasure.

CHADWICK: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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