MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The Senate opened debate today on the bipartisan immigration reform plan backed by President Bush. Opponents immediately vowed to change it.
NORRIS: But supporters said amendments could threaten the delicately negotiated measure even before it gets to the House. In a minute, we'll talk to freshmen House members about their views.
SIEGEL: First, in the Senate, the immigration bill drew a steady stream of objections from the left and the right.
Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): I would ask why it is that we don't take out those things that are not good.
SIEGEL: That's Alabama's Republican Senator Jeff Sessions. He says there is much to strike from the plan.
Sen. SESSIONS: Like jumping across a 10-foot cabin, jumping nine feet is not good enough. You jump nine feet, you still fall to your doom.
NORRIS: North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, spoke against the provision to bring in some 400,000 temporary guest workers each year.
Senator BYRON DORGAN (Democrat, North Dakota): The issue of temporary workers is an important one because we live at a time in this country where there is downward pressure on income for American families.
SIEGEL: And Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe promised again to try and make English the official U.S. language.
Senator JAMES INHOFE (Republican, Okalahoma): My amendment simply is a very simple thing, in it says, you are - there is not an entitlement for language other than the English language to be given to people who want government services.
NORRIS: Senate debate is expected to continue for the next several weeks.
SIEGEL: Assuming that an immigration bill passes this Senate, it would face an even more daunting debate in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she would need 60 to 70 Republican votes to get the bill passed there.
Well, joining us are the two freshmen House members we've been following since the day they were sworn in, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and Republican Peter Roskam of Illinois.
Welcome back to both of you.
Representative PETER ROSKAM (Republican, Illinois): Thank you.
Representative GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (Democrat, Arizona): Great to be here.
SIEGEL: First, Representative Giffords, you tell me back on January 4th, that immigration's a top priority for you. I mean, you represent a border district. Does the White House - Senate bill that we're hearing about - does it likely to get you a vote?
Rep. GIFFORDS: Well, they always say the devil is in the details and that's absolutely the case with the Senate bill. I do believe it's an excellent first step. As I've talked about earlier, my district has 120 miles that I share with Mexico, and what I like about the Senate bill is that it puts an emphasis on security. So security measures are mandated before any other provision of the bill moves forward and I think that's important.
SIEGEL: However, as many as 12 million people would get at least probationary visas to stay here and work, even before all of the security provisions were in effect. Is that for you something you might vote for if need be or is it a deal breaker?
Rep. GIFFORDS: Well, my priority is to make sure that we beef up the enforcement on the border first; otherwise people are going to continue to come. The Senate bill talks about increasing border patrols to 18,000 agents, the use of UAVs, the end of the catch-and-release system, the construction of additional fencing, for example - that is a priority. And until those measures are accounted for, it's going to be difficult for me to vote on passage. But like I said, the Senate has taken, I think, historic steps to see Senators Kyl with - and McCain, with Senator Kennedy, for example, really shows that this is a compromise and it's just the first step.
SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. And to the extent that this is or is not arguably an amnesty, whatever it is - if it follows all those security measures, it's okay with you.
Rep. GIFFORDS: Well, amnesty is what President Ronald Reagan granted back in 1986, where blanket citizenship was given to millions and millions of people -this bill was very, very different. For example, there's fees, there's fines, there has to be a proof of employment, there has to be proficiency in English, civics, backgrounds checks, and going to the back of the line, not to the front of the line like they did back in 1986.
SIEGEL: Well, Representative Roskam, you campaigned against the idea of an amnesty, against the kind of bill that the White House approved of last year; same position now or might you be one of those 60 to 70 GOP votes in favor of this bill?
Rep. ROSKAM: No, I don't think I would be one of those 60 to 70 based on what I've seen - the characterizations that have come out of the Senate and the talking points and analysis and so forth and the press articles that we've seen. You know, I think that there's a false premise here that the Senate has fallen into an illusion on. And that is, that this has to be fixed all at once, and that there is an all-or-nothing solution that's going to get us there. I don't buy that. I think that over a period of time, we have gotten into a dangerous position in the United States but it's happened over decades of atrophy by the federal government where they have failed to secure the border.
Now, we're being told, well, we're not kidding. Now, we're really serious about the border control component. You know, there's a so-called trigger mechanism in this bill that says that the amnesty provisions and so forth don't move forward until there's 370 miles of fencing in place. Well, that's actually a step back. The House and Senate who had signed the law last year, 700 miles of required fences. I think that we need to take an incremental approach and the district that I represent - based on the calls that are coming in - 10 to one, overwhelmingly against this bill. The district that I represent, I think, really wants to get control of the border.
SIEGEL: This is in suburban Chicago you are talking about?
Rep. ROSKAM: That's right.
SIEGEL: On the other hand, in various districts all around the United States of America, millions and millions of jobs are being filled by people who come into the country illegally and there don't seem to be any Americans competing with them for those jobs. How do you address the problem if you were to stop all of this migration? Who would be doing the work?
Rep. ROSKAM: Well, I think, well, you would see an increase in labor cost; there's no question about it. And there's a social cost to immigration no matter what we do. But I think, the notion of bringing in folks and give them the imprimatur of citizenship and saying, you're going to be here legally now and those households cost $19,000 a year I think is foolish.
SIEGEL: I'd like to ask this question to both of you, starting with Representative Giffords. There's a problem here - more people, it seems, enter the country illegally to work than enter it legally to become part of the labor force. Many of our employers hire illegally. The issue is before the Congress and the administration. How important the task is it of our federal government that it should do something right now to solve this problem? Gabrielle Giffords?
Rep. GIFFORDS: Well, I think, it's absolutely imperative and I say that because my district, Southern Arizona and other bordering states, are shouldering the burden of what is a national crisis. The federal government has decided not to respond year after year after year, and a consensus here in Washington is if we do not act by August, we would have missed our window of opportunity; it will have slammed shut until after the presidential election.
SIEGEL: But Peter Roskam, if I heard what you said, it's wrong to think that the Congress has to solve the problem in a big way right now.
Rep. ROSKAM: I agree with that. The - you know, this is as if, take the heart patient that comes into the emergency room and then they do a heart procedure and open them up and you learn that this person has been smoking three packs a day for the past 30 years and eaten rib eyes breakfast, lunch and dinner. When you open them up and you say, you know what, you're a mess. We're not going to be able to fix you all right now. We're going to do our best to help you and so forth and get on a trajectory of good health, but we're not going to get this done in a twinkling of an eye. And I think the Senate bill - listen, God bless the Senators, they're doing their best - but if this is the best that the Senate has to offer, I hope that this bill is completely different when it comes out of the House.
SIEGEL: Well, thanks to both of you for talking with us, once again, about what's going on in the House. Republican Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois and Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
Thanks to both of you.
Rep. GIFFORDS: Thank you.
Rep. ROSKAM: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.