This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," May 23, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: The White House continues to push immigration reform, with the Senate voting Wednesday to slash the proposed guest-worker program in half, and the House continuing to squabble over the requirements for legal permanent residency. The debate has found its way to the campaign trail as leading Republican contenders John McCain and Mitt Romney traded verbal jabs over this landmark legislation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: My fear is that McCain-Kennedy would do to immigration what McCain-Feingold has done to campaign and finance and money and politics. And that's bad.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have kept a consistent position on right to life. And I haven't changed my position on even-numbered years or have changed because of the different offices that I may be running for.
In the case of Governor Romney, you know, maybe I should wait a couple of weeks and see if it changes, because it's changed in less than a year from his position before. And maybe his solution will be to get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn. I don't know.
ROMNEY: I have respect for Senator McCain. And I guess that just shows that, even when he's wrong, he's amusing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Congressman Bilbray, let me start with you. And one of the things you object to is this idea of normalizing 12 million illegal immigrants. What would you do with 12 million people in this country who otherwise will either be driven under ground or would you just ignore them, not do anything about them, round them all up, send them back? What's your solution?
REP. BRIAN BILBRAY (R), CALIFORNIA: Alan, I was at the border in '86 when we did the last amnesty. The first thing I'd do is not invite, you know, millions more to come because we've rewarded them. The first thing you do is you've got to crack down on people who are paying the illegals to stay in this country. And that's the employer enforcement.
COLMES: But what's the plan for the 12 million here? Nobody seems to want — those who object, like you, to this legislation, and there's lots of problems in it for everybody, don't want to address what you do with 12 million people. Do you have a solution?
BILBRAY: Alan, listen again. The issue is, you get the employers to stop paying them to stay here, just like in Washington. There's a lot of members of Congress that wouldn't stay in Washington unless we were paying them.
COLMES: All right, but they're still here.
BILBRAY: Not after they lose their jobs. And the fact is...
COLMES: You think they're all going to just turn tail and automatically go back home and then we'll be illegal immigrant-free in this country and everything will be solved?
BILBRAY: Alan, if you spent half as much time in Latin America as I have, you'd understand. They come here because there are Americans paying them to stay here. The fact is, once we crack down on illegal employers, we have the opportunity of developing a system that allows them to come here legally and go home.
COLMES: But they're already here. Sheila Jackson Lee, they're not going home voluntarily, and you've got to have a comprehensive plan, as you have put out some solutions here, to in fact, clamp down even harder on employers. But you've got to do that while you account for the people already in this country.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Absolutely. Alan, it's good to be with you. What's going on is really a family fight between Republicans. Democrats are prepared to collaborate and provide solutions, a solution that comports with America's values, just, and of course, has real border enforcement.
I ask you the question — I'm on the Homeland Security Committee — if you want security in this country, don't you want to know who's here? You can't deport 12 million people. These people are paying taxes; they're working; they have homes. Their children are in school. What this process is — and it is a process — there are bills in the Senate, there are bills in the House, the final bill will be a composite of that — is to provide an access to legalization, not amnesty, but a long line.
And let it be clear — the line is separate from those who are already in this country. It will cut down the 25 years, for example, that people from the Philippines have been waiting to enter or to access their country through their relatives. It will, in fact, ensure high fee will be paid. There will be no criminal background that we'll allow. If you have a criminal background, you won't be allowed in. You'll have to learn English, community service for some.
This is a way to get your hands around an issue that continues to grow. Why? Because America is the land of opportunity, and there is real border security in here. There's border enforcement. And there's employer verification.
One other point — we have to give the American people something. And I believe that this debate will generate what I've been arguing for, real job training, American retention of jobs. Hire America first, all of these elements can be a part of a compromise, as members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Democratic Caucus, and good-thinking Republicans can forge a solution that will work for America.
MARK STEYN, GUEST CO-HOST: Sheila Jackson Lee, how you can possibly do background checks when these people are required, under the Senate bill, that the president supports, to be given their probationary residency legal status within 24 hours? Millions of people apply for this thing, and they've got to have their papers within 24 hours. Who's going to be doing background checks?
JACKSON LEE: Well, the background checks are going to be ongoing. And I believe that you do a better background check if someone has a piece of paper, a number, a documentation that then you can pursue by then continuing that background check. Background checks are always ongoing. There are many instances where you get an identification as your check is being processed. The idea is that you will have an accounting, you will have a name, you will have a number, you will know where everyone is in this country. I would much rather have that process than not.
STEYN: This is a failed legal immigration service. I know. I went through it. How can you expect it, by tossing another 12 million people into it, to suddenly develop this swift efficiency it hasn't shown now for a couple of generations?
JACKSON LEE: Well, Mark...
STEYN: How can this failed system cope?
JACKSON LEE: I'm enormously sympathetic with you. You're right. The legal system is broken. It's been unfair. And, frankly, much of our legislation has components in there that will, one, add more Border Patrol agents, or more people at the border. It will add more service people, which will help us process. We're going into high technology, as it relates to biometrics.
There are a lot of aspects that will be far different. We're looking forward to add employees into this system so that we can bring down the backlog. The backlog has been shameful.
COLMES: All right, Congresswoman, we...
JACKSON LEE: But you can't fix it or ignore the broken parts of it, and the same time ignore part of the problem, and that is 12 million undocumented individuals.
COLMES: We thank you both very much, Congresswoman Lee and Congressman Bilbray. Thank you very much for a spirited conversation.
JACKSON LEE: Thank you for having us.
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