Could 'Day Without Immigrants' Protests Backfire?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 1, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Our next guest has led the effort to crack down on illegal immigrants and says the protests just help get voters on his side. He is Congressman Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado and chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus.

So, Congressman, thanks very much. I mean, looking at these protests Monday, is it big or a bust?

REP. TOM TANCREDO, R-COLO.: Well, in some places I guess they are very large. But I think overall in terms of the effect that they want to have, it's a bust. And I say that simply because, you know, when the average American looks out on the street and sees people demanding that they have rights, that they should be entitled to things that other people who have done it the right way, have gone through a lot of work and effort to try to get here the right way, they have got some benefits.

These people are demanding those benefits even though they snuck into the country. I just don't think it plays well in Peoria as they say. So I hope they do it all over. I hope they keep this up because I guarantee you every single poll that we have seen afterwards shows that they are not being accepted or well accepted by the American public. So I'm all for them.

GIBSON: Congressman, do you believe the actual message that Americans are getting here is that the country does not have the right to control its own borders?

TANCREDO: Yes, well, of course, that's the message I think they are trying to send. And also, it is a very confusing thing, the whole deal. I mean, what is this? Is this a boycott today? Is it a demonstration for illegal immigration? Is it just about immigration?

Well, you know what? The fact is that we bring in a little over a million and a quarter legal immigrants every single year into this country. We're the most liberal nation in the world with legal immigration.

So they keep trying to confuse the idea. They keep trying to title these things immigrant protests. It's not a protest primarily by immigrants. It's a protest primarily by people who are here illegally. Big difference. They don't want to see it though.

GIBSON: Congressman, you say that this backfires, but what happens among your colleagues in Congress?

TANCREDO: Well, I think some of my colleagues, probably from New York and from California, where it's big and, you know, they are pretty much on the edge anyway, they may be influenced by them — I mean, influenced in their direction.

But I think generally speaking most of the people I talk to here say that their constituents are calling them telling them don't give in to them. Don't give in to the mobs. Do not do anything that smacks of amnesty. Stick with the House bill, which is enforcement only.

I mean, I guarantee that's what I hear in my office. And most of the people I talk to here have been hearing exactly the same thing, John.

GIBSON: Congressman, are you sticking with the House bill that requires that illegals be considered felons?

TANCREDO: No. We actually tried in the House — I mean, this is one of the strangest set of circumstances. But in the House, there was an amendment, which I supported and was actually offered by the author of the bill, Mr. Sensenbrenner, to strike that provision, to take out the provision that makes entry into this country illegally a felony.

All of the Democrats voted against it and a few Republicans so that we ended up losing the amendment, and the felony provision stayed in the bill. Why did they vote against it? They voted against it because they wanted to keep it a poison pill. But if it ever gets to a conference committee, I assure you it's coming out.

GIBSON: All right. Congressman Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado, thanks very much.

TANCREDO: You bet.

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