Lou Dobbs Tonight - CNN
U.S. Withdraws Ambassador to Syria; Illegal Immigrants Key Issue to L.A. Mayoral Race; Wal-Mart Fined for Violating Child Labor Laws
Aired February 15, 2005 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
One of the key issues facing the new homeland security secretary is the rising concern over border security and the invasion of illegal aliens into this country. Those concerns have become a top issue in a mayoral election in one of this country's largest cities. The candidates in the Los Angeles mayoral race today faced tough and persistent questions about their policies on illegal aliens.
Casey Wian reports from Los Angeles.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was billed as a conversation with the candidates for L.A. mayor. Illegal immigration dominated the debate. Host Doug McIntyre's (ph) opening question was about L.A.'s decision to recognize more foreign consular I.D. cards.
DOUG MCINTYRE, KABC RADIO: Knowing that Los Angeles is a target city for terror groups, why should the city of Los Angeles make a document that is only needed by illegal immigrants available so people can move freely about the city?
BERNARD PARKS, L.A. MAYORAL CANDIDATE: We voted for it, because it provides identification primary to people to open up savings accounts, bank accounts so they won't carry their money in a pocket, become victims of crime.
MAYOR JAMES HAHN, LOS ANGELES: It's the idea of having some form of identification. I wish the federal government did a better job of, you know, enforcing our borders. I wish that they would reimburse us for the costs of not doing that.
WIAN: Most candidates agreed and said illegal immigration is not a city issue, except Walter Moore, a virtual unknown challenging five seasoned politicians.
WALTER MOORE, L.A. MAYORAL CANDIDATE: Our city is aiding and abetting a large-scale violation of federal immigration laws. We need to let our police investigate, enforce and cooperate with federal immigration.
WIAN: Moore was the only candidate favoring police enforcement of immigration laws. City councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, leading in one poll, suggested giving money to Mexico and other countries as a way to reduce illegal immigration.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, L.A. MAYORAL CANDIDATE: These people come for a job. They come for a better life. When you invest in those other countries, they stay there. It's not rocket science.
WIAN: After the debate, McIntyre took calls from listeners.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the exception of this fellow Moore, every other man I heard today sounds like they are on the payroll of Vicente Fox. It's outrageous.
WIAN: Perhaps one reason no candidate has anywhere near majority support.
WIAN: Election day in Los Angeles is March 8. If no one wins a majority, there will be a runoff between the two top vote getters in May -- Lou.
DOBBS: Casey, thank you very much. Casey Wian from Los Angeles.
President Bush supports a plan to legalize millions of illegal aliens in the country. Now two leading members of Congress want to grant legal status to at least half a million illegal farm workers.
The Ag Jobs Bill was first introduced in the Senate in 2003, placed on the calendar in 2004, but last year's Senate vote was delayed until after the presidential election.
Now, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho has reintroduced the bill in the Senate. Congressman Howard Berman of California will reintroduce the measure in the House. They join us tonight from Capitol Hill.
Gentlemen, good to have you with us.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: Lou, good to be here.
REP. HOWARD BERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Same.
DOBBS: Let me begin with you, if I may, Senator. Half a million undocumented workers, illegal aliens, migrant workers in this country. Why in the world should they be given legal status, move to the front of any line?
CRAIG: Well, Lou, there are between eight and 12 million undocumented illegal workers in this country. And I think it's incumbent upon us to reform the immigration laws and to try to identify who those people are and determine whether they should be here, whether they're felons or all of that, and to recognize that in agriculture there could be well more than a half a million.
And we would want them to come forward, and for coming forward, we would give them an opportunity to earn a legal status. Not give it to them, not grant it to them automatically, but ask them to toil for five or six years in the fields of America, or 360-plus days, if you will, to gain a status so they could continue to work.
DOBBS: Five or six years or how many days?
CRAIG: About 360 days is what it would represent. What we recognize is that is very important is that about 72 to 78 percent of the work force in American agriculture today that picks your food and brings it out of the field and processes it and takes it to your retail shelves are undocumented workers. It's a tragedy, and it is a bad law that has driven this.
DOBBS: Congressman Berman is one of those fellows who, in his youth, worked alongside those workers, actually in Senator Craig's home state. I know how hard these people work. I know the sacrifices they make, and I understand their motivation.
But at the same time how can you justify changing immigration law for one group of people within this country illegally?
BERMAN: Because, as a result of miserable wages, terrible conditions, back-breaking work, and a pattern of recruitment by growers and farm labor contractors over the past 30 years, the U.S. workers and the U.S. citizens have left the field of agricultural work. And I believe that you and your listeners all know that the notion that we're going to get U.S. workers back into agricultural labor is a myth.
The present situation is intolerable. It's exploitation. We don't know who's here. They're using false identification. And a system that has them come forward, requires them to continue to work in seasonal agriculture as a condition of getting their status adjusted, and preserves a food security, a food and agricultural industry in this country which would disappear if you could somehow deport those people, is in the public interest.
DOBBS: Congressman, Senator Craig, let me ask you. I mean, because you all talk as if this world is just one little fine strip at a time.
The fact is that American agriculture was supposed to industrialize and mechanize its crop-gathering and harvesting 35 years ago. There's nothing that Congress has done to incentivize it.
We provide $20 billion a year in agricultural subsidies, and you're going to say to us that that money should be used to support the granting of legal status to illegal aliens without an entire reform of the immigration law in this country and to move half a million people ahead so you can drive the interest of the very people, Congressman Berman, that you said have been effectively exploiting these people and not paying fair wages.
We have a system in this country, gentlemen, that I think you need -- I would just love to hear you rationalize agriculture in this country. Hard working men and women, U.S. citizens as well as migrant workers, many of whom, as you suggest, are illegal.
How the world can you justify this system? How can you continue to tinker with only an element of it?
CRAIG: Lou, it's interesting that you demonstrate by that statement you know very little about American agriculture. Have you ever picked apples out of a tree or cherries out of a tree? Or crops out of...
DOBBS: Congressman Craig, since you said it that way, let me tell you exactly what I've done. I've picked beets. I have carried potatoes. I've sacked them. I've stacked them. I have cut hay. I have stacked it, and I have carried it.
CRAIG: Then Lou...
DOBBS: And Congressman, I -- and I've harvested beans.
CRAIG: Lou, why would you suggest that we can mechanize all of that?
DOBBS: Now wait a minute. Congressman, you just made a statement rather accusatory. Now would you like to share with us your agricultural experience?
CRAIG: I think it was not accusatory and I think you deserve a response.
DOBBS: It was not accusatory, Senator. I asked you a simple question.
CRAIG: Well, the AFL-CIO and United Farm Workers and about 400 agricultural organizations came together to create what Howard Berman and I have introduced. We have a bipartisan and a very broad cross- section of American interest involved in this.
Why? Because we have a broken law. You can condemn agriculture if you want to.
DOBBS: I don't condemn it, Senator. As a matter of fact, I think you're condemning it.
CRAIG: No, I don't think I'm accusing anybody of anything.
DOBBS: Yes you are. You're condemning it, because you're not willing to answer a simple question. Why aren't you approaching agriculture in this country holistically? Take care of the farmer. Take care of the laborer. Take care of the consumer.
CRAIG: I'll let Howard talk to you about that.
DOBBS: I'm sorry? I'm sorry?
CRAIG: Howard, try him on.
BERMAN: Lou, I'm a city boy, but I think ...
DOBBS: Well, sir, apparently is Senator Craig.
CRAIG: No, I've farmed and ranched most of my life, Lou.
BERMAN: Your calculation is wrong.
DOBBS: Well, then give us -- give us your experience.
BERMAN: Let me just finish the sentence. The subsidies, by and large, don't go to perishable fruit and vegetables, labor-intensive agricultural industries. They go to the highly mechanized grains. That's where the huge -- and cotton that doesn't use a lot of labor and is not labor-intensive.
The people who are working in perishable fruits and vegetables are, as Senator Craig said, 70 percent to 80 percent undocumented.
The present situation, as you have just said, is intolerable. We have to do something. Give me a better solution and I'll take a look at it, but the present situation cannot stand.
DOBBS: Well, I just find it extraordinary. Senator Craig, let me give you...
DOBBS: ... in all openness and warmth and humility an opportunity to tell us your experience in agriculture, because I think it's important.
CRAIG: Well, I appreciate that. First of all, I farmed and ranched all of my life up until about 1985. I was born and raised on a farm and ranch. We didn't hire Hispanic workers. We did the work ourselves.
Just below us in the row-crop industry and the kind of agriculture industry that Howard has so clearly explained to you, that is still a hand, backbreaking, intensive kind of agriculture that employs about 1.6 million of the work force.
DOBBS: You've picked beans. You have picked potatoes and sacked them, I'm sure.
CRAIG: No, I've not. No, I have not.
DOBBS: Because that's really backbreaking. The apple picking -- you're a cowboy, so I'll tell you what. There are not many migrant workers working in the cattle business.
CRAIG: You're right. There are not.
DOBBS: And I worked for a fellow there in your state by the name of Jack Simplot (ph).
CRAIG: I know Jack well.
DOBBS: At the Peco (ph) Ranch, running about 10,000 head of cattle. We didn't have many migrant workers there. They're in the field.
CRAIG: Not on that particular industry.
CRAIG: But on the potato side of the Simplot (ph) operation, there were a good many.
DOBBS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Now my question is this: with $20 billion in subsidies to the agriculture industry in this country, why would you continue to perpetuate the fiction that the poor farmer, the poor rancher, is totally dependent on migrants labor? The fact -- let me finish.
The consumer in this country gets the best bargain in the world for our food, on every level.
CRAIG: That they do. That they do.
DOBBS: Now, you're going to make a decision about one element of it. Why not start looking at agriculture honestly? Why do we have to continue to hear this stuff out of Washington with one element after another?
Talk about border security, talk about identification, talk about immigration reform, but supporting further support by the taxpayer of the agriculture industry is just wrong-headed.
CRAIG: OK, Lou, you've made your political statement.
DOBBS: It's not a political statement. It's neither Republican nor Democrat.
CRAIG: Now wait a moment. My turn, Lou, my turn. My turn.
DOBBS: Well, it's your turn.
CRAIG: It's a very accusatory statement. I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll get out the militia. We'll get out the National Guard. We'll round up all 1.6 million ag workers and take them out of the country.
And then we'll go to New York City, and we'll say to the poor and the downtrodden there, you come work for agriculture for $8, $10, $12 an hour. Leave your children home. Travel the migrant circuit for the year and harvest the crops of American agriculture and see what happens to the supermarket shelves.
My guess is you'll not buy a fresh piece of fruit after that scenario. That's a reality we deal with here. Lou, I'm not saying it's right or wrong. I'm saying...
DOBBS: Let's talk about right or wrong.
CRAIG: I'm saying -- I'm saying...
DOBBS: That's precisely the issue here, right or wrong.
CRAIG: I'm saying -- well, Lou, you can be accusatory and you can make your political statements. Find us a solution.
Howard and I have offered up a solution. We're asking our colleagues to take a look at it. We've got broad-based support from American agriculture and from American farm workers.
I agree with Howard. It has been not a process that we were proud of. And now we're trying to correct it. You're talking in a condemning way. I think that is grossly unfair. Come work with us to solve a problem, not to condemn it.
DOBBS¨ Congressman, you get the last word.
BERMAN: I agree with Senator Craig.
DOBBS: I thought you might.
CRAIG: Thank you, Howard.
DOBBS: Well, I disagree with you both on it. Because -- I think your heart's in the right place.
BERMAN: Do you have a better idea, though, Lou? Do you have a better idea?
DOBBS: I've got a couple, but you know what, the folks aren't going to listen to this one right now, because we're out of time. I'm going to share it with you, and then we'll talk about it in the days ahead, if you want to hear it.
DOBBS: You've got to be sincere. You really want to hear it, don't you, Senator?
BERMAN: I really want to -- I want the best idea.
DOBBS: You got it.
CRAIG: Lou, we would come back on and give you the last word, how's that?
DOBBS: You've got a deal.
CRAIG: All right.
DOBBS: Thank you both for being here.
We want to hear from you on this important issue. Do you support legislation that would grant illegal farm workers in this country legal status? Yes or no? Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll have the results later.