CNN The Situation Room-Transcript
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's one of the most contentious issues facing the country right now and one creating deep divisions across the political spectrum, especially among conservatives. We're talking about immigration reform and the controversial bipartisan bill now in the Senate.
Joining us now from Capitol Hill to talk about it, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who played a key role in crafting this compromise agreement. And in new York CNN's own Lou Dobbs. He's a very outspoken opponent of this compromise bill. Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us. Carolina who played a key role in crafting this compromise agreement.
And in New York, CNN's own Lou Dobbs. He's a very outspoken opponent of this compromise bill.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.
Senator Dodd, convince Lou Dobbs, if you can -- excuse me. Senator Graham.
Senator Graham -- excuse me.
Convince Lou Dobbs, if you can, that this comprehensive bill is not amnesty for those 12 million or so illegal immigrants here in the United States.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't believe I can. And I like Lou. We agree on China. But if amnesty is that you have to come forward to identify yourself and your family's going to get deported or put in jail, nobody will do that.
Under the bill, you come forward and identify yourself as being here illegally, you get a plea bargain, you pay a fine, you go through a criminal background check, you have to hold a job. That's a plea bargain.
You do get to stay, but you don't get to be a citizen unless you leave the country and start over again. But if amnesty is defined as everybody who came across the border illegally will be deported or put in jail, then I can never get there.
BLITZER: All right.
Lou, did he convince you?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": The senator, as perceptive as he is, of course, realized that I would not be persuaded by that, nor do I believe Senator Graham will -- tens of millions of Americans.
The fact is the so-called Z visa holder, it is really a permanent temporary visa. Under the terms of this legislation, the government has 24 hours in which to do a background check. After that point, that person must be given legal status. And amnesty, in my judgment, means giving legal status to those who are here illegally. And this legislation would do so to anyone who could get a sworn affidavit that they've been in the country before January 1st of 2007.
If that isn't amnesty, I don't know what is. And the fees that have been described as a penalty are less than most illegal aliens pay a coyote to get them across our southern border.
GRAHAM: If I may, he's wrong about how you become a Z visa holder. You have to come out of the shadows, you get a probationary visa, you go through a criminal background check. If you committed a felony or three misdemeanors, you're ineligible. You have to pass two English exams.
But he's right about this: you can have a Z card indefinitely, but if you want to get a green card, which was the problem of last year's bill, you've got to go back to the country from where you came. So that's a dramatic improvement, I believe.
DOBBS: An improvement...
BLITZER: It's going to be an issue, Lou -- Lou, it's going to be a huge issue tonight in the debate. We're a little bit more than an hour -- a little bit less than an hour and a half from that debate starting tonight. And we've already seen strong words exchanged between Senator McCain, who like Senator Lindsey Graham supports this compromise, and Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, who clearly doesn't.
BLITZER: How significant do you think, Lou Dobbs, this issue of immigration reform will be hovering over this Republican contest?
DOBBS: I think it will be an immense issue, because I think the Republican Party has within the context of this legislation the ability to destroy its own viability in 2008. And the reason I say that, today the "USA Today"-Gallup poll reveals that opposition to the legislation in the Senate is running 3-1. More than half of the people surveyed have no opinion on it, don't feel they know enough about it.
That, in and of itself, is difficult for me as a journalist because I believe the Senate is ramming this legislation through. There have been no committee hearings. There is a fight going on at this very moment in the United States Senate to constrain the number of amendments. This bill is literally being processed in the United States Senate.
And Senator Graham, I'd love to hear what you say about this. It's -- I mean, if I've ever seen a railroad, this thing is running. It's off the tracks, but it's a railroad.
GRAHAM: Well, John McCain's going to tell everybody in the field tonight that, if you've got a better idea, come forward. Lou...
DOBBS: I'm here.
GRAHAM: Lou, we're not going to put 12 million people in jail, and we're not going to deport them. I believe that. For me to say otherwise, no matter how pleasing it might be, would be me lying.
I don't believe we're going to put 12 million people in jail, we're not going to deport them. And I do believe the disaster for this country is to leave our borders broken, to not verify who is here. Because if you're here to work, we can get you right with the law, but if you're here to kill us, I want you to stop hiding among the 12 million.
Don't pass this on to the next generation of politicians. Don't expect someone to be braver than we are. We should have done this 20 years ago. We've been debating this far too long.
If you kill this bill, then you're -- then you're the author of chaos, because the current system is chaos.
DOBBS: OK. Then let me take on the role of being the author of chaos, because I've said for some time that neither you nor any of the other 99 senators, nor the 435 members of this Congress, or this president can positively substantially and substantively reform immigration law unless you control immigration. And you cannot control immigration into this country if you do not have control of our borders and our ports.
GRAHAM: I hear that.
DOBBS: And this legislation talks about triggers but does not secure a single border or port.
In point of fact, this Z visa program, the probationary Z visa program, is, in point of fact, an amnesty that proceeds from enactment or within 18 months of enactment, depending on which way the final wording comes out.
BLITZER: All right.
DOBBS: And does not have our border secured. And that is -- that is a fundamental weakness of this legislation.
GRAHAM: I think it's the fundamental strength.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, I want you to respond, but I also want you to respond in the context of what Lou was suggesting, that this issue of immigration is going to split the GOP at a critical moment.
GRAHAM: It's split -- it's split the Democratic Party.
GRAHAM: We have people on the Democratic Party going crazy because we're going to have merit-based immigration. In the future, you have to get points to come into this country. The more points you get is based on your education level, your ability to learn English and to hold a job.
We're going to have a competitive immigration system. We're going to break chain migration.
Both sides are upset. The AFL-CIO doesn't like the bill, Lou doesn't like the bill. "The New York Times" calls it repugnant. Pat Buchanan says it's a sellout. Sounds pretty good to me.
The bottom line, is we are going to secure the borders before we let the 12 million people have legal status. We're going to verify employment.
And Lou, this is one think I really agree with you on -- if you are trying to find out who is here and how they get a job, the Social Security card can be faked by midnight. I can get a Social Security card printed up by midnight. We're going to replace that card with a tamper-proof identification system.
The reason they come is to work. And if you can control who gets jobs, then you've really solved the immigration problem.
Forty-five percent never came across the border. They overstayed their visa. We need to know who's here, why they're here, and if they want to work, they're going to work on our terms, not theirs.
DOBBS: That sounds good, Senator, and were it only the case. The fact is that you and I, as much as you and I have studied this issue, we do not know how many illegal aliens or illegal immigrants or undocumented workers, if you prefer, are in this country.
GRAHAM: Illegal immigrants.
DOBBS: There is no cap on the number of illegal aliens in this country who will receive the opportunity for immediate amnesty. In point of fact, Social Security cards will be issued to Z visa holders, correct?
GRAHAM: No, no. They would get a tamper-proof identification card that will be...
DOBBS: And we'll be paying -- and will be paying, as with legal status, into the Social Security system.
GRAHAM: Absolutely. Finally. Finally, they will be paying taxes. They will be paying into the system.
They get no benefits for their illegal behavior before, but if they are here in a legal status, they will be paying taxes, they will be paying into Social Security. And I want to know who they are. I don't want them to be here among us.
DOBBS: I understand. But Senator, the fact is, and you know that the Heritage Foundation, but not the Congressional Budget Office nor the General Accountability Office, even though this legislation has been in front (ph) of the Congress and the president has been advocating it for two years, has run a complete fiscal impact statement or analysis on the impact of this legislation.
The Heritage Foundation has on one part of it. And that is what happens when these illegal aliens who have become U.S. citizens -- and the estimate is anywhere from 11 million to 12 million -- the impact on our retirement system alone, along with Medicaid and Medicare, will be $2.6 trillion over a 30-year period.
The fact is...
BLITZER: All right. I want Senator Graham -- Senator Graham, I need you to respond, but very quickly because we're out of time. Lou has got to get ready for his own show that's beginning at the top of the hour.
GRAHAM: And I recommend you listen, because it's a good show.
CBO says it's a net plus because you'll be collecting taxes and fines. But at the end of the day, people that came here came here with nothing. And some of them today are some of the most successful people in the world.
It's never a drain on your country to have hard-working people. What's a threat to your country is to have criminals roaming around you don't know about. We're going to keep the hard-working people and we're going to put the criminals in jail.
BLITZER: A preview of what we can expect tonight...
GRAHAM: Bye, Lou.
BLITZER: ... a little more than an hour so from now at this Republican debate. Senator Lindsey Graham, Lou Dobbs.
Good of both of you to join us. Obviously both of you know a lot about this subject. You've been studying it at a great, great length.
DOBBS: Wolf, I can't tell you how I hate giving Senator Graham the last word, but we'll be glad to defer after all those kind words he said about our broadcast.
Thank you all.
GRAHAM: Well, he's a good guy.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.
GRAHAM: And he's right on China.
BLITZER: And we'll be watching Lou's program right at the top of the hour.
Lou, thanks very much.