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Loosening U.S. Immigration Policy

This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, January 6, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: In the next few days President Bush will reportedly propose drastic changes to U.S. immigration policy that will, in fact, allow millions of illegal aliens to gain some type of legal status and also allow some entry of temporary workers into the U.S. under a new visa system.

Does the president's new open borders policy open the door for a potential flood of dangerous individuals onto our shores?

Joining us now is an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (search), Katherine Culliton, and also the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, Mark Krikorian.

Mark, first of all, there is some ambiguity as to whether or not what the president is expected to announce tomorrow will ostensibly be some type of amnesty for illegals that are here. Are you convinced that's the case?

MARK KRIKORIAN, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: It's going to be amnesty, Sean. Yes, it's definitely going to be an amnesty, because illegal immigrants will get legal status, and that's what an amnesty is. And that is what the White House is going to propose.

I just got off a conference call with the White House earlier tonight, and they're going to propose an amnesty for the illegal aliens who are here so that they will be relabeled as guest workers.

Then, they will, under this guest worker program, a potentially unlimited number of new guest workers from overseas will be able to come in. And on top of that the president is going to ask Congress to increase the number of green cards issued each year. The 1.1 million that we issued last year was not enough.

HANNITY: You know, I've got to be honest. You know, given we're at war, we're using this increasing percentage of our GDP on security issues all across the board. I, for the life of me, considering this is our No. 1 vulnerability, why would the president do this? Is it for votes?

KRIKORIAN: It's a good question. I'm not really sure. I think they imagined this is going to somehow get more Hispanic voters to vote for them. But, in fact, the Hispanics who already vote Republican are God and country, law and order traditionalists who don't want to have anything to do with an illegal alien amnesty.

HANNITY: Yes. You know, Katherine, what is the point? We did this in '86 when Ronald Reagan (search) was president. What's the point of having laws on the books if we're never going to enforce them and that we're going to allow people to break the law and then get rewarded with coveted citizen status?

KATHERINE CULLITON, MEXICAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND: Well, all President Bush is doing is clarifying that he's still in favor of immigration reform, because the current system is very, very bad.

HANNITY: No, he's not. He's going to offer amnesty.

CULLITON: It doesn't serve the needs of America, and it doesn't serve the needs of American business. Alan Greenspan (search) has made clear that we're going to need even more immigrant labor in the future ...

HANNITY: That's not the point. Wait a minute; wait a minute. Kathy, if he's offering amnesty -- forget the speech for a second.

CULLITON: It's not an amnesty.

HANNITY: If he's going to offer amnesty or allow illegals to get legal status, isn't that rewarding illegal behavior?

CULLITON: No, he's not talking about an amnesty, and we're not talking about an amnesty, the broad-based coalition that's in favor of immigration reform.

Tom Ridge (search) is not talking ... amnesty. We're talking about the U.S. national interests. Tom Ridge is in favor of legalization of immigrants, because it's good for U.S. national security. Alan Greenspan's in favor of it because major sectors of the U.S. economy would collapse without the current immigrant labor.

And we're talking about earned legalization, showing that you have a job. Of course that doesn't displace the U.S. worker. Pay taxes and pass a security check.

This is completely in the U.S. national interest, and it's a form of earned legalization, not an amnesty.

PAT HALPIN, GUEST CO-HOST: Katherine, Pat Halpin here.

Let me talk about a comment that the president of Mexico, President Fox, made. He sees this as critical to the relations between the United States and Mexico. And he says that it will actually ease the burdens on Mexican workers, because they'll be able to go back home and not be stuck here after they come in here illegally but are working.

Is that true?

CULLITON: Well, I'm not sure what the interests of the Mexican government is. I'm from the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund and we represent Mexican-Americans.

President Bush is talking about a program that would let people come back and forth. And of course being checked by the new U.S. Visit (search) system across the borders.

But immigration reform is very much in the interests of the United States of America. We're part of a broad-based coalition that includes all the major labor unions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, national religious groups across the board and nonpartisan Latino groups that are very much in favor of immigration reform because it's good for America.

HALPIN: Mark, you seem to have implied that maybe the president is more concerned about securing the electoral votes in places like Florida, where he won narrowly or for that matter New Mexico.

How do you think this helps the president in those crucial battleground states?

KRIKORIAN: Well, frankly, I don't think it does help him. There is this idea that promoting open borders and loose enforcement of the immigration laws is something that Hispanics want.

And the fact is that we polled people on amnesty right before 9/11, before the security issue became important. And Hispanics were split half and half about whether they thought amnesty was a good idea.

And then we asked them would supporting amnesty make you more or less likely to support the president or to support Republicans in Congress, and overwhelmingly the Hispanic who is said it would make a difference to their vote said it would make them less likely to vote Republican.

So quite frankly, I don't think there's any angle.

CULLITON: We have some differing polls. We have some completely differing polls, and we represent a Latino civil rights group.

And people who are immigrants are frankly part of our communities. They're not illegal aliens from another planet. They're people who are business owners, teachers, doctors, people who are working very, very hard and contributing to the U.S. economy.

And, again, we're not talking about an amnesty here. We're talking about an earned legalization. And all that we're talking about is giving the current generation of immigrants, many of whom are Latino, the same chance as all the previous generations of immigrants that made America great, that make America strong, that keep us secure.

KRIKORIAN: Katherine is using the same euphemisms that the White House and other people are using, earned legalization. Phased-in access to earned normalization. It's all a lot of semantics.

(CROSSTALK)

HANNITY: Thank you both.

Appreciate your time. Thank you for being with us.

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