Tancredo on the Presidency, and Immigration

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who is hoping to secure his party's nomination for the presidency, has built a reputation on his tough stances on illegal immigration. Melissa Block talks with Tancredo.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

If you go to Tom Tancredo's Web site, you'll read that he considers his quest to become the Republican presidential nominee an undeniably uphill battle. Tancredo is a congressman from Colorado, a conservative Republican who gets A or A+ ratings from the National Right to Life Committee, the National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union.

He's best known for his hard line positions on immigration, and he's formed an exploratory committee for a presidential run in 2008. We've been talking with some of those running for president and today I spoke with Tom Tancredo about immigration.

Representative TOM TANCREDO (Republican, Colorado): If we could stop the practice of hiring illegal aliens, we would solve so much of the problem, because, of course, you'd reduce the flow across the border because the jobs are the magnet. And you would reverse the flow, because people who are here would return home. And then the people that don't, then you have to deport, because that's the law.

BLOCK: Deport them, so what would that be? Would you be rounding up illegal aliens?

Representative TANCREDO: No, I don't - I think for the first step if you just do this by attrition, you would see a really significant change in the number of people who are here illegally. If you come here for a job and you're not able to obtain a job or obtain social services, then what are your options?

BLOCK: Well, there's an underground economy that would probably take a lot of people in, right?

Representative TANCREDO: Well, that's true and you'd have to aggressively go after people. But I'm saying enforce the law. If you enforce the law against people who hire people who are here illegally, whether they're doing it underground or above board, then that's the way you attack the issue. And if you do that, you reduce the opportunity. And if you reduce the opportunity and the reason people came, people go home.

BLOCK: And I'm still curious about the ones who do not go home. What would you do?

Representative TANCREDO: Well, then if you don't go home and you're here illegally, it's the same thing you do right now. If you find people who are here illegally, you're supposed to deport them. We don't do it very often, but that's the law.

BLOCK: And would you seek them out somehow?

Representative TANCREDO: Well, I think you wouldn't probably even have to do that. You would - if they come in contact with law enforcement agents at any level of government, which often is the case in the way that people are identified as being here illegally, you would run into - or you'd be able to identify most of the people who are here under those circumstances in that way.

But it really isn't necessary. I don't think we have to even think about the difficulty to do that, because I think for the most part we would have solved the problem.

BLOCK: The president on Tuesday in his State of the Union address spoke about immigration reform and he called, as he has before, for a guest worker program. What was your reaction when you heard those words?

Representative TANCREDO: It's the same song, second or third, fourth verse. I don't know how many times we've heard it, but what the president is saying is I want a guest worker plan and I want amnesty for the people who are here.

BLOCK: He would not call it amnesty.

Representative TANCREDO: No, he doesn't call it amnesty, but he's president so he gets to redefine words. You can say, well, we're going to fine them or whatever, that doesn't matter. The reality is that you have just broken trust, among other things, with the people who are still waiting out there.

There are millions of people waiting in line to come into this country, waiting to do it the right way. And when you tell people who have broken the law to come here that they can stay here, then you are simply slapping all of the folks in the face who have done it the right way or who are waiting to.

BLOCK: You know, Congressman, if you look at the results of the midterm elections that just past, for most voters immigration was not a big issue. There were a number of congressmen who held positions on immigration very similar to your own who were defeated.

Representative TANCREDO: Yeah. You're right. Immigration was swamped by other issues. I absolutely admit that. The interesting aspect of the immigration debate, though, is where people were able to discreetly vote on the issue of immigration -

BLOCK: On a ballot issue.

Representative TANCREDO: - not connected. Yeah, on ballot issues. They voted our way in huge numbers.

BLOCK: But if this issue isn't the key issue for voters, it's hard to see how you and your campaign would get much traction.

Representative TANCREDO: Well, you're right. If I only run on this issue, but there are other issues that I care about and will certainly discuss. This is a big one. It does touch a lot of different parts of our life, but it is not the only one.

BLOCK: Congressman Tancredo, you have said that a presidential run for you would be both audacious and idiotic. I don't know if you were joking when you said that. Do you actually, though, want to be president or do you want just to run for president to inject specifically immigration into the debate?

Representative TANCREDO: Well, once I see the degree to which my exploratory committee has any degree of success, once I see that, then I'll be able to know a lot more about whether my earlier statement was accurate.

And if it is, then I won't run.

BLOCK: Congressman Tancredo, thanks for coming in.

Representative TANCREDO: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Congressman Tom Tancredo is a Republican from Colorado. He's formed an exploratory committee for a run for the presidency.

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