Want to know what President Bush is thinking about illegal immigration these days? Well, here's what White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said on Hugh Hewitt's show yesterday:
HH: All right, now, I want to talk about immigration, as obviously, the
President is a pro-regularization Republican, as I am, once the fence got passed. Now, it's all about regularization for me. However, a lot of conservatives are worried that he's just waiting to do the deal with Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi, that is an amnesty deal, and that the fence will never get built. So question number one...
TS: No, the fence is going to be built. I mean, we've already made a committment to that.
When...that's...I wanted to bore in on that. Who's going to be the point person
on that? Because if it is not built in two years, Tony Snow, we'll get wiped
TS: Well, it's Michael Chertoff, and no...look, it's...some of these are going to take more than two years to build when you're talking about 700 miles of fence. I think, Hugh, when people start seeing A) fences going up, and B) guess what? We're going to provide plenty of metrics in terms of arrests, deportations, the kinds of legal activities that are going on, because we know a lot of people are watching.
HH: Tony, I'm going to bet you right now that it will be less than a hundred miles of fencing constructed by the time...
TS: No, I think...I don't have the charts in front of me, but they've laid out what is sort of their ambitions on this, and you're going to have, certainly, more than a hundred miles.
HH: Okay, well, we'll look for that. Now the second thing is, though, what about regularization? And will the President abandon the conservative concern over things like social security benefits for years worked here illegally, a path for citizenship in voting, as opposed to just permanent resident status? Who's going to protect the right flank on that?
TS: Well, look, the President's been pretty clear about this, and I think...let's walk through...let me reframe the issues, because you sort of spun it up in a way that makes it hard to answer. Let's look practically what we have in the United States. First, you want to deal with the border problems. Second, there are concerns in this country about people who are here illegally, or those who are here legally taking jobs from Americans. Well, how do you solve that? The thing the President's talked about is tamper-proof I.D. cards. Why? Because you have biometric I.D. there. You can't fake it. You can't go to your local convenience store, go in the back room, and have somebody cut a fake driver's license that will provide deniability on the part of an employer. So the first thing you need to do is to figure out ways to identify who's here, to have a way of tracking them, and having a way of knowing A) are they stealing a job from an American, B) have they broken the law, because as you know, under proposals that have been considered, and certainly we support, you've got people who are criminals, they get sent away. Bye. C-ya. Gone. Continuous employment,
rather than living strictly off of benefits. That has been proposed. You've got
a whole series of things where people can certainly work through and provide a
system that is going to make sure that of the 11 or 12 million people who are
here illegally, the question is how do you deal with it. And certainly, people
are going to agree if somebody's breaking the law, they should go. And if
somebody's not working, they should go. And if they don't learn English, they
should go. And if they've broken the law, they ought to be punished in terms of
taxes and fines, and so special consideration when it comes to citizenship. And
they shouldn't be taking jobs from Americans. And people who are employing them
ought to be subject to criminal sanctions and asset forfeiture, which is the
term we have made. It's no longer a...simply a fine. So you see, Hugh, you deal
with the issues in a series of ways. First, you deal with the border. Then you
deal with the taking jobs from Americans. Third, at the same time, you're also
trying to identify those who are criminals and committing crimes. You get rid of
those. And so, you want to weed out as many bad actors, and get them out of here
as quickly as possible.
HH: Okay, two follow-ups right there. One, is there a timetable for the border fence construction?
TS: No, I think you're going to have to take a look at what's in the budget. That's a technical budget issue.
HH: You see, that...but it really isn't, because that's...
TS: No, it really is, Hugh. I mean, that's the way it works, and don't...
HH: No, people...
TS: What you want to do is you want to have the fence spring up overnight, and guess what? And you can ask this...I mean, Republicans are signing off on these budgets, and they're the ones that signed the bill...
HH: No, people want to know that the President has eyeballed...
TS: ...that there is nothing...Hugh,
HH: The people want to know the President has eyeballed a schedule that has a metric on it, and a plan, and they expect him to see through it.
TS: Yeah, I mean, there is, because the Department of Homeland Security's putting together...as a matter of fact, that the President is asking. It's not merely for the fence...you see, you're focusing on the fence, and guess what? There's still going to be hundreds of miles that are not going to be fenceable.
HH: Oh, I know that. I know that.
TS: And it won't...but let's deal with the whole problem, because also, you have an aggressive effort to go on, in terms of electronic surveillance, and also an aggressive program to get Border Patrol agents, and an aggressive program to make it impossible to get vehicles over the border in wild areas where you might be able to have all-terrain vehicles, or other such things getting across. So the point is not merely fence, because that's not good enough. You also have to have the ability to provide security in places that may be remote, and may not be fenceable, but still have to be defensible, and the President's working on that as well. So you've got us credit for a whole range of things.
HH: But Tony Snow, when people hear you say that, they think to themselves a walkaway. They're walking the dog back. They don't...
TS: No, they don't. No, you're saying that, because you apparently don't like the answer, but that's total spin, Hugh.
HH: No, it's not.
TS: Sure it is.
HH: Because you did what I do right now, and you got the e-mails that I'm going to get, and they're going to say you're not going to build the fence. I'm just saying, because I want regularization...
TS: Well, I'm telling you. You know what? Let me put it this way, Hugh. Then they are calling their advocates of the fence, the people who put that legislation in, they're calling Senator Sessions a liar. And they're calling Tom Tancredo a liar. And I don't think they want to say that.
HH: Did you see Mickey Kaus...Yeah, but no, the legislation is passed. It is up to the executive branch to get it built, and they're not trusting the idea that it will
show up. I want to move on, though, to the...
TS: Whoa, whoa, wait. I'm not letting you leave it at that, because what you do is you part by saying you guys are a bunch of liars, but I want to leave it at that.
HH: No, I'm not.
TS: Well, I'm not going to let you leave it at that. We're going to get the fence built.
HH: I'm not calling you a liar at all. I'm saying that the public does not believe the fence is going to happen. In fact, the doubt is...
TS: Well, wait. Let me tell you something. The public needs to know, I'm telling you right now, the fence is going to be built. But I'm also telling you if you take a look, because we did a lot of work on this, too, the public also expects the rest of the stuff to get done.
HH: I agree. I agree.
TS: Well, okay, because guess what? That's part of the problem here, is that you've got to take a look...the idea that everybody talks about a fence, and then turns a blind eye to 11 or 12 million, seems to me to be sort of missing the point here, and so...
HH: No, I think the first...
TS: ...what we're starting to do is to deal with all of them.
HH: I think the first allows the second to happen, and it should.
HH: But you said in the course of an earlier answer, no special consideration when it comes to citizenship. Does the President believe that someone who entered the country illegally ought to be able to eventually vote in elections?
TS: Well, it depends if they have citizenship.
HH: But does he believe that someone who entered the country illegally should be able to get citizenship, without having returned to their home country first?
TS: Well, that's something that's been under discussion. And frankly, you know, there were conversations...for instance, Representative Pence had put together a bill. So there are a number of ways to deal with that, and we're perfectly willing to talk about it.