New Immigration Bill Comes Under Fire

This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, March 20, 2002 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

Other guests and topics for March 20, 2002 included:
• Bret Baier: Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters are desperately trying to regroup after the completion of Operation Anaconda
• Todd Connor: Hours before the start of U.S.-led talks aimed at getting
Israelis and Palestinians to agree to a cease-fire, a suicide bomber blows himself up
• Catherine Herridge: John Ashcroft says thousands of foreign nationals will be questioned on a voluntary basis
• Carl Cameron: Campaign finance reform passes the Senate and is on its way to the president
• Jeff Goldblatt: The Illinois Republican and Democratic gubernatorial nominees emerge from some bruising primary battles
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For answers, we turn to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who represents the heavily Cuban-American neighborhoods in Miami, Florida.


HUME: Welcome. Nice to have you.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I appreciate it.

HUME: All right, tell me what this bill does.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Now I'll tell you what this bill doesn't do. It is not an amnesty program. It is not a bill to make illegal immigrants stay here illegally. It is a bill that will reunify families. It's simply trying to undo a mistake really that was an immigration provision. That's why it's called 245-I.

HUME: 245-I is a...

ROS-LEHTINEN: It just means a section in the law.

HUME: ... section in the immigration law. 245-I provides what?

ROS-LEHTINEN: And it only says where you need to apply to become a legal resident. It means that only — the only people who can take advantage of 245-I are people who have already been deemed as eligible for legal residency by the immigration service.

HUME: All right, let's do an example.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Their fingerprints have been checked by the FBI. They've been checked by the CIA. There's been a database already checked. They are not terrorists. None of this 9-11 catastrophe, none of these people would have been provided for under 245-I.

HUME: Now 245-I allows people to get legal residency status. What kind of people? Aliens who were here?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, they're the people — aliens who were here. And then because of the backlog of immigration, that is such a totally inefficient agency. Sometimes it takes them three to 10 years to process these forms. So meanwhile, the person is told, "You've got to go back to your home country, lose your job." Most often, it's the breadwinner, it's the husband and the father who has to go back to Guatemala.

HUME: Why do they have to go back?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Because the law says that to become a resident under 245-I, you have to leave the United States, apply in the councilor office of that country and then come back.

HUME: And then wait?

ROS-LEHTINEN: So all 245-I, all this change does, is change the place in which you can apply. That's all it does. And all of the anti-immigrant advocates are saying that it's amnesty for illegal immigrants. Robert Byrd is holding it up in the Senate. It says that it's going to be a haven for criminals.

HUME: And what's you're telling me is...

ROS-LEHTINEN: That's absolutely untrue.

HUME: ... that this addresses people who are here legally, right, but their current visas are about to expire, and they want legal residency. And this would mean that they wouldn't have to go back to their country to apply for...

ROS-LEHTINEN: And that's all it is. And that's why President Bush is for it, because he's for family reunification, and he's for people not losing their jobs.

HUME: Let me stop you for a second. Here's a lead of a story from the Orlando Sentinel. The House approved the bill. This is a story on the bill passing, a bill of which you're a sponsor. "To seek legal residency in the United States for thousands of foreigners, even though they're in the country illegally." What does that mean?

ROS-LEHTINEN: If they had been in the country illegally, it is because immigration has been slow and dragging its feet in processing these applications, because only people who have been deemed by Immigration to be eligible to become legal residents can be in this law.

HUME: Now wait a minute, the same story also says, "The core of the House bill would allow thousands of potential immigrants, most of whom entered the country illegally or over stayed visas." Does this apply to people who entered the country illegally?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Only if in this case, if they've entered the country illegally but have since been married to an American citizen or who have been provided with a type of employment that would give them a special category, would enable them to stay. That means that if they are eligible to become legal residents. Not everyone who comes here illegally can become legal residents. That is an amnesty program. This applies to just a few select individuals who are law-abiding individuals, and they should not be the ones to blame because immigration is an efficient bureaucracy.

HUME: Tell me now roughly how many people this would apply to.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, this will apply mostly — you know, we would say 100,000, 50,000. We do not know, because so many people are afraid to apply for 245-I, because they fear deportation, because what Immigration has been doing is that once they come and they try to do the right thing, when you try to do the right thing, if you're building a house and you apply for, you know, a contract or a permit to build an addition, you get turned down so much. Then people start doing it illegally. Immigrants are starting to say, "If I apply for 245-I, oh, my golly, if they don't process my form quickly enough, I will become illegal, and they will deport me." So it really is difficult, Brit, for us to say how many people are eligible.

But President Bush is for it. And that's why corporations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce want it, Xerox wants it, Ford Motor Company wants it, corporations want their employers to stay here.

HUME: So you're telling me that this would — that if this pasts, this would only apply to people who either got into the country illegally and who stayed here legally, and who are about to become illegal because of these expirations or to...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Or here illegally but then have been married to U.S. citizens...

HUME: ... and became legal.

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... and have applied to become — and have applied to become legal. See, 245 gives them the vehicle to become legal. But now the law says, sure, you can become a legal resident, but you've got to go back to Guatemala. That makes no sense.

HUME: Now question about this. The bill passed the House. That's done. The bill, in an earlier form, did pass the Senate but it's now being held up. If it comes to a vote in the Senate, are the votes there to pass it?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Absolutely, because we actually passed this bill. This exact bill passed the Senate before. Robert Byrd wants another federal building in West Virginia. He's holding it up. Let's give it to him.

HUME: We'll ask him.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I don't know what he wants.

HUME: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, nice to have you.

ROS-LEHTINEN: There's nothing wrong with this bill.

HUME: Thanks for coming…

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