CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: Aug. 5, 2010
Location: Unknown

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BLITZER: The president of the United States welcoming the Senate confirmation of Elena Kagan to be the 112th United States Supreme Court justice. The final vote, 63 in favor, 37 against. Five republicans voted to confirm; one democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, opposed her confirmation.

The second member of the United States Supreme Court, the second justice that was nominated by President Obama and now the Supreme Court will go forward. Historic moment today here in Washington.

Elsewhere in Washington, as the debate over immigration rages on, a growing number of republican lawmakers are now calling for a review of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. That amendment reads, and let me quote, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."

That provision has the effect of granting citizenship to anyone born in the United States, even if their parents are here illegally.

And joining us now, republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, he's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Glad to be with you. Thank you.

BLITZER: A lot of us were surprised. All of a sudden the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which has been in business for a long, long time, you want to reexamine that amendment, why?

GRAHAM: Well, I think it served us well, but immigration reform is a hot topic. It's dividing the country. The country is really emotionally torn over this, and I've been one of the republicans trying to find a comprehensive solution, and I think momentum is building to come up with a new immigration system that really does work and is fair and humane and welcomes legal immigrants.

But one of the issues that is often talked about but never really seriously discussed is the practice of allowing people to come here legally and have a child and the child automatically given American citizenship. I think we need to look at that in the future as to whether or not we want to change that because I think it's an incentive to break the law in the future, and I don't want the third wave of illegal immigrants coming 20 years from now so I want to put it on the table as part of a comprehensive review of our immigration laws. And secondly, I found out that people in China and throughout the world who are rich get a tourist visa to come to an American resort, have the child at that resort, there's a hospital on the resort grounds, have the baby as an American citizen and turn around and go back to China and that to me cheapens --

BLITZER: How many cases -- that sounds like a pretty extreme case.

GRAHAM: Well, they say there's 7,000, but I don't think that's the way you want to give out citizenship. Citizenship should be earned, it should be respected, and that's what I'm trying to do in the future

BLITZER: I was going to say, for 150 years or so, since the 14th amendment, if you were born in the USA, you're an American citizen. It's been going on like that for a long time, and you were one of those who wanted comprehensive immigration reform --

GRAHAM: I still do.

BLITZER: -- with Senator McCain, Senator Kennedy.

GRAHAM: Right.

BLITZER: Then President Bush.

You never raised this issue then, so I guess the question is why now?

GRAHAM: Well, because what I'm hearing when I go back home and throughout the country is, "Can you assure me we won't have a third wave of illegal immigrants?" And the one thing I can tell you about our immigration laws, that if in the future you're rewarded for breaking the law, and you come across the border just specifically to have a child in America, it's going to entice this perverse incentive for continued illegal immigration. Very few countries do this.

What I want to do is have a system in the future that welcomes people, gives them a path to becoming a citizen, and just ask them to stay on the path. And the question for the country --

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second, Senator. So you want to amend the 14th Amendment, or just have a reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment? If you want an amendment to the Constitution, that could take years.

GRAHAM: Well, it could, but maybe there's a way you can do it by state.

Here's what I want to do. I want people to come to my country, feel welcomed to come. I want to welcome legal immigrants in the future. We need new people.

I just don't want people to continue to break the law and be rewarded when they do. And quite frankly, I don't want to sell American citizenship to rich people throughout the world who can come here at a resort, have a baby, turn around and leave, because a lot of people with green cards are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't want the third wave of illegal immigration.

As to the 12 million, I'm willing to put them on a pathway to citizenship. I don't want to strip anyone's citizenship who is already here. But when we come up with a new system that will break this chain of endless illegal immigration, we need to look at everything, including the incentive to come here illegally to have a child

BLITZER: So I just want to be precise. As far as the 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the country right now, you still want you call a pathway for citizenship for millions of them and what the critics call amnesty?

GRAHAM: Yes. See, what is amnesty? If it's just giving away American citizenship without having to earn it, that would be amnesty.

What I'm saying to the 12 million, practically we're not going to put them in jail and we're not going to deport them all. All of us look the other way. They came here to work and we kind of let it build up.

I'm saying to the 12 million, I will allow you to stay here legally. You have to have a job, learn our language, and pay a fine for the crime you committed. And if you want to be a citizen, get in the back of the legal line and work your way up. I'm willing to do that.

And to the children of the illegal immigrants who are already here, you will be an American citizen. But what I'm trying to say in the future, once we clean this mess up, I don't want to have laws in place that will lead to 12 million 20 years from now, and if you don't change the law in this area, you're going to entice people to continue to break the law.

BLITZER: You're being criticized -- hammered, I should say -- by some Republicans in your home state of South Carolina. The Greenville Republican Party, for example, issued a censure of you this week, saying "The Greenville County Republican Party hereby issues this formal rebuke of Senator Graham for his cooperation and support of President Obama and the Democrat Party's liberal agenda for the United States."

Three counties out of what, 46 counties in South Carolina have passed these resolutions against you?

GRAHAM: Well, all I can tell you, the guy that authored it was the campaign chairman of the opponent I beat in the primary. I think it's pretty clear from my record that I am a conservative, by any reasonable definition -- a lifetime ACU, American Conservative Union, rating of 90.

I vote with the Republican leadership 92 percent of the time I voted against the stimulus and the health care bill. But I don't mind helping President Obama when it comes to the war.

I voted for Justice Kagan and Sotomayor because I thought they were qualified. And as a United States senator, I think elections matter.

I've worked on immigration. I've been in the Gang of 14. So I really do believe in trying to find common ground on solutions to hard problems. And there's people on the right and the left who believe it's a sin to help the other side at all.

I think most Americans appreciate us working together. And it's OK to be liberal and conservative, as long as you can solve the nation's problems.

Liberals and conservatives need to fix immigration. The open border crowd who believes anybody can come to America on any terms they desire, I think is wrong. And to the people on the right who believe that you can make 12 million people go away, deport them, or put them in jail, I don't think that's the right answer.

I think the middle ground is to fix this mess, but make sure you don't have a future mess on your hands by changing your laws in a rational way.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: The international supermodel Naomi Campbell called in to testify in a war crimes trial of a former Liberian leader. We're going to tell you what's going on.

Plus, horror right now in Missouri. At least two people are dead after school buses headed for an amusement park collide with an SUV.

We'll have an update. That's coming up.

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