Immigration Issues Compete For Obama's Attention During the presidential election, Latino voters provided strong support to then-candidate Barack Obama as he promised immigration reform. But the nation's economic crisis has now taken center stage, with many Latinos wondering if he can deliver on his campaign promise. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat from California, talks about immigration, the current money crisis and the role of Latinos in the news Congress.
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Immigration Issues Compete For Obama's Attention

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Immigration Issues Compete For Obama's Attention

Immigration Issues Compete For Obama's Attention

Immigration Issues Compete For Obama's Attention

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During the presidential election, Latino voters provided strong support to then-candidate Barack Obama as he promised immigration reform. But the nation's economic crisis has now taken center stage, with many Latinos wondering if he can deliver on his campaign promise. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat from California, talks about immigration, the current money crisis and the role of Latinos in the news Congress.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Just ahead, when much of the country was swept up in election-year excitement, we found three guys who were not feeling it. They told us they were not going to vote. But with the inauguration just days away, we decided to check back with them to see if they've gotten caught up in the moment now. That's in just a few minutes.

But first, we have another in our series of newsmaker conversations as the new administration and the new Congress take their places - today, Congressman Loretta Sanchez. She is a Democrat representing California's 47th district. She was first elected to Congress in 1996. She's a member of the Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Joint Economic Committees, and she's with us now in our studio in Washington, D.C. Congresswoman, welcome. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Representative LORETTA SANCHEZ (Democrat, California): Thank you. It's always great to be with you and with your listeners.

MARTIN: Now, of course, congresswoman, one of the reasons we called you is that you have a deep background in both economics - you have an MBA - and security issues. We want to talk about both. First, President-elect Obama has made it clear the economy is his top priority. He's urging Congress to permit him to spend the remaining $350 billion of the bailout money Congress already approved. But Congress could block him from doing this. What's your take on this? Should the money be released or not? ..TEXT: Rep. SANCHEZ: Well, first of all, it would be very difficult for the Congress to block President Obama at the point if that's who's going to submit this. He is hoping, I think, that we get this done in the next few days under President Bush. But I think it will fall to President Obama.

And the reason is that we actually have to override a veto in - as a Congress ultimately in order to keep that second tranche of money away from any administration. One of the reasons I didn't vote for that bailout was because I understood that. The Congress has very little oversight and very little real direct ability to direct that money.

Now, we're trying to change that. We're trying to pass some new legislation that would put some administrative pieces onto any more money spent out of that. But you know, we don't know. We don't have a good accounting on what happened to the first tranche of money that went out.

MARTIN: Do you think it's been useful so far? Do you think it's had any beneficial effect on the current situation?

Rep. SANCHEZ: I believe that many of my colleagues who voted for that are very upset that they voted for it without having more accountability. When you have somebody from a major bank who got a good chunk of money saying to you, well, we'd lend some out. We didn't lend some out, and that's all we have to tell you. That's not good accountability. So, I believe that many people are really taking a look at it this time and trying to figure out how do we - how do we really have some direct control on this?

Because the - I believe - it's my belief that the problem, the basic issue problem began and still exists with the foreclosure of homes and the whole mortgage-lending industry, and this money has not gotten to that point where we can find the bottom in the housing market, bring confidence back to what is critical homeownership and what the value of real estate is, and therefore begin to build up instead of continuing to see the slide going down.

MARTIN: Yeah, well, among the criticisms of the bailout so far is along with the accountability and transparency issues that you already cited is that there is not enough direct aid for homeowners who are directly facing foreclosure. But there's a lot of disagreement about how you can actually do this, how you we're rewarding bad decision making and so forth. Is that one of the reforms or improvements you'll be looking for, you know, more aid directly to homeowners facing foreclosure, and can you really do that?

Rep. SANCHEZ: Well, it certainly is one of the big issues on Capitol Hill as we take a look at this $350 billion new tranche. Can we? That's the question everybody is trying to assess. I remember that a few days before we voted on the bailout, many of my friends have lost - remember, I have 14 years of financial Wall Street investment banking, financial advising experience before I got to the Congress. I consider myself very lucky because I actually understand most of this stuff.

And I remember receiving a call about two in the morning from friends from Wall Street, 40 of them who've got - who had gotten together, had discussed this for hours, and one of them called me and said, OK, we're all sitting in this room. We're on a conference call with you, and we want to tell you something.

They said - and these are people in Wall Street. These are actual bankers, and they said to me, we would be better off if every person who had a primary loan on a home who had a primary home - if you decided to give them $100,000 towards bringing down their mortgage, then you would - if you agreed to spend this at that time, $750 billion bailout to Paulson.

And I, quite frankly, was blown away when my friends said that to me. So there's a lot - you know, we really are in unchartered territory, but when you look at what brought the entire system to its knees, you will see that at the base of it is the confidence of America's people and the confidence in the American home. So, we've got to do something about that.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. And we're speaking with Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez who represents California's 47th district about the issues confronting the new Congress and the new administration.

On the other hand, at President Bush's final press conference this week, he warned the president-elect and presumably the country that the - that in his words, a terrorist attack is still the, quote, "most urgent threat to the United States." Now, with your - you chair the Sub-Committee on Border, Maritime, and Global Terrorism, what about that? You think that's true?

Rep. SANCHEZ: We're still at risk as a nation. We have to be very careful about whether we run in fear of - or at risk, or whether we do a good job at mitigating as much as we can that risk. It's like anything else.

You leave your home every morning, and you're worried that, you know - I remember my father told me, showed me in the newspaper one day when I was very young that there was a woman who was afraid to fly. And so - and she was afraid she was going to be hit by a car, and so she never left her home. She never left her home because she was afraid she was going to die if she left her home. And one day, a plane crashed and fell into her home and killed her.

So, you know, the answer is, how far do you mitigate and how do you live in fear. And this is actually what - when I view terrorism, this is how I think about it. What do we need to do to assess the high threat and the high risk and with the limited resources that we have because resources are always limited. How do we put them in play so that we mitigate that risk, so that people, you know, feel comfortable.

The number one issue for government is security of its people. We see that in war zones. People don't go out. People don't make an economy. They don't send kids to their school. You don't go to the mall if you think the mall is going to blow up on you. You don't want it to be doing that. So, of course, security is the number-one issue the government has.

MARTIN: I want to move through a couple more issues in the time we have. But where should immigration reform fit into this? This is one of the issues that was such a big and intense and hard-fought issue at the beginning of last year. And then, of course, as the campaign went on, it seemed to fall by the wayside for a number of reasons.

In fact, President Bush said, in hindsight, he should have used whatever political capital he had after the 2004 election to push for immigration reform. But the fact is the president can't have but so many top priorities. So, when do you think the Obama administration should start making another effort on this?

Rep. SANCHEZ: Well I would give advice to the president-elect that he either - he's either serious about this issue, or he lets it go for a while. Serious means use your political capital. People love you right now. You have a lot of ability to move people in places - in ways that they may still feel uncomfortable about, but that's what a leader does.

So, if you're going to do it, if you're going to do immigration, I would say, do it within the first three months. Tell people where you are, be strong about it, get your surrogates out there, work with the Congress. We have new members who don't really understand the nuances of everything, and this issue's an important one from a homeland security issue. It is important from an economic issue.

Is this important from a values issue? I mean, how do we continue to divide families? That's not what America is about, and it is an issue where what we do in a leadership role about our own immigration issue is something that the Europeans will look at and others who face the same types of issues.

MARTIN: Could I ask you also about this question of the representation of persons of Latino heritage in the president's cabinet, that some have complained that he's taking the Latino community for granted, that - of course, you were a Clinton supporter initially - I do want to point that out - but what do you think about that?

Rep. SANCHEZ: Well, let's face it. President-elect Obama has put a lot of Clinton supporters and a lot of the Clinton team into his cabinet. So, I don't think that, you know, that that's any type of an issue, but let's talk about the Latino representation. It's definitely not as high as most Latino groups and people in the Latino community would like to see.

But, you know, I believe that President-elect Obama won, and he won overwhelmingly because the Latino community did support him across the nation, and more and more people are beginning to understand that in the key swing states in particular, that's where Latinos are, and that's where we're going to have the impact. So, I think more or less we will select the next presidents for the future for a while.

So, he knows that. He should know that. There are a lot of ways to work with the Latino community. It's not just about putting a Latino face in the cabinet position. There are many sub-positions that have incredible impact for the Latino community. There are policy issues, not just the immigration issue. Are you really going to step up to the plate and do this? And...

MARTIN: So that's not the only standard?

Rep. SANCHEZ: It's not the only...

MARTIN: That's not the only standard...

Rep. SANCHEZ: That's not...

MARTIN: In which he should be going, OK, what's good grade - we only have about a minute left and I have one more question to ask you. But so, grade that you give him on this outreach to this community so far, what's the grade you give him?

Rep. SANCHEZ: Well, I would say at this point it's a B, which, you know, is a good grade but...

MARTIN: (Laughing) Tough.

Rep. SANCHEZ: I was always an A student, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK, A student, one more question. Rumors that you are planning on running for governor of California in 2010. I understand that you've put together an exploratory committee. Anything to announce to our listeners today?

Rep. SANCHEZ: I would just say that I love the job I have right now. I'm really anxious to see what it's going to look like with a President Obama and a large Democratic- controlled House, with a California speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and a better mix in the Senate. There are proposals and issues that I'm very passionate about that for once, over 12 years, having been most of the time in minority and having been really delegated as, you know, nothing with the Sanchez name will get through here because the Republicans were so angry when I won in 1996.

I'm really looking forward to trying to do something. On the other hand, my State of California is facing many problems. I am a Californian. If anybody ever asks me, I always tell them first and foremost, I'm a Californian. I love it. There are issues there. We'll take a look at them.

MARTIN: OK. Well, I hope you'll come back if you do have something else to announce. Loretta Sanchez is a member of Congress representing California's 47th district. She was kind enough to stop in to our Washington, D.C. studios. Congresswoman, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Rep. SANCHEZ: Thank you always.

MARTIN: And happy New Year.

Rep. SANCHEZ: Happy New Year to you.

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