Trying to get immigration bill moving again

U.S. Commerce Secy. Carlos Gutierrez

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: The White House has launched a full-on press to get the immigration bill back on track. The president took a swing up to Capitol Hill yesterday for lunch with Republican senators. And the Adminstration has dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez to lobby for the bill.

Secretary Gutierrez says he's calling businesses, Latino groups, anybody he can to try to get their support. When we spoke earlier today, I asked him to give me the sales pitch.

Carlos Gutierrez: Well, it depends. You know, if we're talking to business groups, what we're saying is, if we don't get this through, you're not gonna have legal labor. And we're gonna have a hard time finding enough workers for our economy.

That's something that a lot of poeple have not wanted to recognize, but our estimate is that unemployment among the legal population is actually below the average of the unemployment of the whole country. So what that says is that the reason they're here is 'cause they have a job. And if they weren't here, that job would still be here.

Ryssdal: You and Secretary Chertoff from Homeland Security spent months up on Capitol Hill working on this bill. Did you miscalculate when you came down with it and its reception was not what you'd expected?

Gutierrez: We always knew that this is a kind of bill that no one got everything, everyone got a little bit. So no one was going to be totally happy. But that is the nature of finding a bipartisan compromise. So we knew it would be very controversial.

Ryssdal: Speaking of bipartisan, sir, it's not only Republicans who have had some problems with this bill, it's been Democrats as well. They've complained about the guest worker program. Where do you think that might wind up?

Gutierrez: Well, we need a guest worker program. You know, if you go back and look at one of the mistakes of the 1986 bill, we did not have a guest worker program. So what happened is that those jobs, instead of being filled through a guest worker program, that void was filled through illegal immigration. So we need a way to be able to bring in people on a temporary basis.

Ryssdal: You know, you can go down the list of items in this bill and it's tough to find something that somebody didn't object to. The next one that comes to my mind is the move away from family-based immigration toward a point system, rewarding people with skills and marketable opportunities here. Is there talk in the White House of perhaps changing that dynamic?

Gutierrez: No. We think that that's important. I mean, we've had this chain migration for awhile now. Today, about 65 percent of the green cards that we give out are family-based. Part of the bill includes getting rid of the green card backlog, the family backlog in eight years. So during that eight-year time, about 74 percent of the green cards that we give out will be family-based. Seventy-four percent.

So the first eight years of this bill, there'll be a surge in family unification. After that, after we get to this policy that we're talking about, it'll be about 51 percent. You know we're not moving away from family, we're just balancing it out. And we believe that the economy deserves to have a higher portion that is employment-based that is based on the skills that our country needs.

Ryssdal: Something's gonna have to give though, sir, to get this bill back on the floor and eventually passed. What's it gonna be? What's the sticking point that you're gonna have to get by?

Gutierrez: Well, first of all people need to get more comfortable with it. And what's been happening is, I don't know how many people have read the bill, it's a 380-page bill, but a lot of it has been one-liners and rhetoric, and you can't really get to know what this bill is all about without really understanding it. And if somebody says, "Well, this is amnesty," then that's all people need to hear. So I think there's been a lot of work and a lot of education work to insure that people understand the bill.

In terms of the amendments, we have some amendments left to go. I hope that those amendments are enough to get it thorugh the Senate. And then the House will be, you know, we'll start over with the House, and that will be anohter major ordeal. But I'm sure we'll get it there as well.

Ryssdal: Carlos Gutierrez, the Secretary of Commerce. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for your time.

Gutierrez: Thank you very much, sir.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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