Bill Richardson on Immigration
Democratic Governor (NM); Secretary of Commerce-Designee
A: My answer is yes, and I did it. Because the Congress and Bush failed miserably to pass comprehensive immigration. My legislature sent me a bill. I signed it. My enforcement people said itís a matter of public safety. What we need is public safety, a reduction in traffic fatalities. When we started with this program, 33% of all New Mexicans were uninsured. Today, itís 11%.
A: Four years ago, the legislature sent a bill to me and, at the request of my law enforcement leaders, I signed it, which allows licenses for undocumented workers. The reason I did this is because thereís a failure of an immigration law in the Congress and the president. Itís a matter for us in New Mexico of public safety on the roads. At the time that I signed the bill, 33% of drivers were uninsured. Today itís 11% uninsured. This law has helped.
Q: Is there any security provision in the law, anything, that prevents illegals from using these driverís licenses that you give them to get on airplanes, like many of the 9/11 terrorists did?
A: There are valid certificates of identification that they have to provide to the motor vehicles department of New Mexico. I believe itís the right decision for my people. What we need is comprehensive immigration
In 2007, he first supported Bushís compromise plan, which calls for a fence on the Mexican border & a controversial guest worker program, plus a plan that allows illegal immigrants living here to buy their way to citizenship. Then he reversed himself and took a stand against the fence.
In general, he argued that whatever happens on the border should be aimed at keeping families together and not breaking them apart. But he also seeks to show that he is tough on illegal immigration, highlighting ďsecuring the borderĒ as the first point in his immigration plan and pushing for increase enforcement on the Mexican as well as the US side. In 2005, Richardson declared a state of emergency in New Mexicoís four border counties, which released $1.75 million in state funds for overtime pay to local forces to fight illegal immigration.
A: Well, today, weíre already paying for undocumented workers when they go into emergency rooms. Itís the law. Under my plan, what you would do is everybody that pays into the system would be covered. Now, what we need is comprehensive immigration reform, which the Congress and the president refuse to do, which would set the appropriate standards for health care. On immigration, what we need to do is secure the border, & secondly, those that knowingly hire illegal workers should be punished. Third, there has got to be a stronger relationship with Mexico so that they donít send their poor to our country. And lastly, an earned legalization process where you establish those standards. Like, you donít give them amnesty, you donít give them automatic citizenship, but if they learn English, if they pay back taxes, embrace American values, pass a background check, they can stay and eventually apply for citizenship.
A: Yes. That means H-1B visas, that means looking for workers in this country that we need in certain sectors. This mean focusing not just on illegal immigration, but legal immigration. Thereís a huge backlog of enormously talented people and workers that, because of red tape and bureaucracy, canít get in, especially in the computer sector, especially in health-care areas. Yes, I would. Those H-1B visas, I believe, need to be increased to permit more skilled workers to come into our work force. This enhances our competitiveness.
Q: What have you learned about education as governor?
A: What Iíve learned is that I am hands-on. I have hands-on experiences that a lot of these other candidates donít. They all have their 10-point plans. Iíve actually done a lot of good things in education that involves helping a child and making us more competitive.
A: Yes, I would do it my first year. I want everybody to look at the Statue of Liberty. This symbolizes freedom, diversity, and that weíre a nation of immigrants. This is what we need to do in immigration my first year.
A: Yes, I would, because it shows that a dysfunctional relationship between the Congress and the president caused the breakdown of a potential compromise. Now we have to wait till 2008 and 2009, and these raids are ineffective, theyíre a symbol of whatís wrong with a broken immigration policy. I also object to the fact of dehumanizing immigrants. You know, when the media pictures them crossing the border, swimming across a river, doing something like jumping a fence--why donít they depict the Latinos that today are fighting for America in Iraq and are dying for this country, or the Congressional Medal of Honor winners? And I object to the dehumanizing of people that are part and that want to be part of an American dream.
A: The answer is yes. The problem we have is the lack of a comprehensive immigration policy. This is a federal responsibility. We need to fix the immigration system that is broken. We need to first find ways to increase security at the border with more detection equipment, more border patrol, not this silly wall.
A: I believe that when you have expansion of domestic partnership, of civil unions, it should be to all people, regardless of where you are -- overseas, underseas, anywhere. Thereís a bill [proposing this] in Congress, which I have already said I would support.
A: No, Iím not happy, because I wanted them to push comprehensive legislation and fix the main problems. And the main problems were a fence between Mexico and the US, which I think is not sustainable. Secondly, they had an amendment that broke up families; third, a lack of labor protections when it came to the guest worker program. It makes sense to have comprehensive legislation, but they have to fix that main provision, the flaw in the bill that breaks up families. Thatís not been the standards in our immigration laws in the past.
Q: And if they revise that, would you support this compromise?
A: Yes, I would. If they take care of the not dividing up families, if they get rid of some of those provisions relating to the wall, look at this wall, dividing two countries up.
But right now, this is one of the most pressing domestic issues because it divides this country. It has 12 million people living under the shadows.
A: I saw a summary that contained essential elements: 1) Tougher border security. Thatís good. 2) A legalization program for the 12 million that are here. 3) It also contained penalties for employers that knowingly hired illegal workers. I thought that was all good. The bill is then presented & I read it the next day, and it contained those problems.
A: No, it hasnít worked. This wall is a terrible symbol between two countries that are friends. If we have a 10-foot wall, thereíll be 11-foot ladders going over that wall.
Q: Anywhere along the border, the fence hasnít worked?
A: It hasnít worked. What has worked is more border patrols. What has worked is some National Guardsmen. What has worked is some technology. Itís made the program better. But weíve got to talk to Mexico, our friend, get them to do more. In fact, get them to stop giving maps to illegal workers on the most porous areas. And we also need to raise the legal immigration limits, the backlogs of workers that we need--H1B visas for job competitiveness skills.
Q: In New Mexico, you declared a border emergency, and yet youíre against the fence. It seems as if youíre on both sides of the issue.
A: Iím a governor. I have to deal with this issue every day.
A: A driverís license helps with traffic safety; they all get insured; they donít leave the scene. On education: yes, if they fulfill the same academic requirements, to be eligible for a scholarship. I believe we have to bring the 12 million undocumented workers out of the shadows, set up a standard where they speak English, if they pass background checks, pay back taxes, obey the laws, embrace American values, give them a chance, a path to citizenship, not amnesty.
Q: That is amnesty.
A: No, it isnít amnesty.
Q: Would you send them back?
A: They have to go back, under the law, to reapply.
Q: But you would want people who came here illegally to be able to stay here with their legally-born children?
A: Yes, over a 12-year period.
Q: Is that rewarding breaking the law?
A: They have to pay a fine for breaking the law.
A: We should cover children, as long as [their parents] pay their fair share with everybody else. An essential component of my plan is that we all pay: Employers, employees, the government. But we help each other pay the fair share. The way you deal with immigration, one, yes we have to secure our borders, no question about it. Not with this stupid wall that is being proposed. But you also set up a legalization plan for the 12 million undocumented workers that are in this country. Maybe itís not very popular, but it makes sense based on setting a path to legalization that involves dealing with issues like health care that involves if they learn English, if they pay back taxes, if they pass a background check. They donít get ahead of the line of those that are trying to get here legally.
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