MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
In January, we met two freshmen members of the House of Representatives on their way to Congress - Republican Peter Roskam from Illinois and Democrat Gabrielle Giffords from Arizona. We last spoke with them in February as they started making their way in in the House debate over Iraq. The House is in its second week of spring recess and while some members have made headlines trotting around the globe, many including Roskam and Giffords have been back in their home districts, hearing from their constituents on what matters to them. We thought we'd give each of them a call today and see what they're hearing. And first, we're going to hear from Congressman Roskam in Illinois. So glad you're with us, sir.
PETER ROSKAM: Thank you. Good to be here.
NORRIS: First, tell us a little bit about your district. It's very divided politically, as you learned in your election. Could you describe for us what kind of place it is?
ROSKAM: The Sixth Congressional District of Illinois is the west and northwest suburbs of Chicago. Folks from all over the world end up wanting to come and live into this district. But there's some anchored old communities that are very popular and very attractive places to live.
NORRIS: Now you said that folks from all over the world are now making a home in your district. We just heard in the program about the president's trip to Arizona to renew his efforts on immigration reform. Is that something that you're hearing about from your constituents? I understand you held a town hall meeting there on Saturday.
ROSKAM: Right. We had a town hall meeting and about a hundred folks came out, talking a lot about immigration, talking about health care - sort of typical bread and butter issues, as it relates particularly to immigration. This is not a constituency that is in favor of really any sort of amnesty program, no matter how you package it up. They would be far more inclined to support a very strong border effort before any subsequent legislative effort were to be addressed.
NORRIS: What do you hear, hearing from your constituents who are employers - both large employers and small businesses on the issue of trying to balance the call for tougher enforcement of immigration laws with the potential worker shortages if you start enforcing those laws?
ROSKAM: They feel like they're in the classic catch-22. The Sixth District has historically had a lot of employers; small manufacturing companies and so forth, that has been the beneficiary of a lot of immigrant labor. When you talk to the company leadership, the owners and so forth, and asking them candidly, tell me about your immigration problems, their level of frustration bubbles up when they say, look, someone comes in with a document that purports to be legal. We're not forensic scientists, we're not law enforcement, so we call the appropriate agency, in this case, the Social Security Administration to find out if this document is true in fact. And they're really not given any satisfactory answers. And yet, they're being held accountable for the decisions about whether or not someone is there legally.
If they ask too many questions, their attorneys will tell them you ought not do that because then you just subject yourself to potential liability along racial lines and so forth. And so they're in a place that really nobody wants to be, and that is being asked to be held accountable for something over which they have very little power.
NORRIS: Well, Congressman Roskam, thanks so much for talking to us.
ROSKAM: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was Republican Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois. Now to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She's a Democrat and she joins us from her office in Tucson, Arizona. So glad you're with us.
GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: Thanks for having me.
NORRIS: Now, we asked your colleague Congressman Roskam to tell us a bit about his district. We'd like you to do the same. Could you give us a quick snapshot of your district?
GIFFORDS: My district is one of 10 U.S.-Mexico border districts. The largest city in my district is Tucson and I represent about half the city. But my district is truly diverse. It's over 9,000 square miles.
NORRIS: And since you're right down there near the border, I imagine that immigration tops the agenda whenever you meet with your constituents. What are you hearing on this?
GIFFORDS: Immigration continues to be a top priority for southern Arizona, and frankly, I believe the nation is in a crisis. And southern Arizona is on the front line to that crisis. The federal government needs to step up and take responsibility.
Every single day, we have over 2,000 people that are apprehended, crossing into our country, here illegally. Of course the majority are coming for economic reasons, but the amount of drugs that are being smuggled into the country are real concerns and it's a federal issue.
NORRIS: While you're in your home district, you get a chance to take the temperature. Is there something that you witness just in everyday life, something that might live in your mind, resonate when you return back here to Washington to take up this debate?
GIFFORDS: I was looking at the new VACA(ph) system, which is essentially an X-ray of cargo. One vehicle that passed the inspection at the port of entry, completely fine, was pulled over at a secondary checkpoint. And in an X-ray, we were able to see humans crammed into the windjammer of trucks, crammed into the fuel storage areas, crammed into compartments of vehicles laid on top of each other like sardines, trying to get into this country.
Again, the majority are coming here for economic reasons, but God forbid there's a terrorist or someone that wants to do us harm that are being smuggled in the United States, and we absolutely cannot permit that to happen.
NORRIS: And when you think about that image that you saw, what is the best way to address that in terms of trying to find that balance between meeting the need for workers on the U.S. side and making sure that people aren't entering this country illegally and putting themselves at harm when they do so?
GIFFORDS: Well, a comprehensive immigration reform bill will do just that. We will put more resources on the border, but it'll also allow for a real guest worker program. And the employer sanction piece is also really critical, and the window we have for this is closing rapidly.
NORRIS: Congresswoman Giffords, thanks so much.
GIFFORDS: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She's a Democrat from Arizona. We also heard from Republican Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois.