Thousands Flock to Immigrantion Rallies Across U.S.
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
From NPR News in Washington, I'm Michel Martin and this is TALK OF THE NATION. From Atlanta to Seattle, D.C. to L.A., protests for immigration rights are underway. Enhill (ph) Romera, recently from Spain, says its time for immigrants to speak up.
Mr. ENHILL ROMERA (Spanish Émigré): Certain politicians have been talking very loudly about this issue. And I think the peoples have said we've had enough, you know. We're here. We're working. We're contributing to society. We're here for good. We're not criminals, and you're trying to criminalize us. You know? And that's not fair.
MARTIN: We'll get reports from around the country on the demonstrations, how they're playing politically, and an analysis of the impasse on Capitol Hill. Later, it's the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page with Francis Fukuyama on why it's okay to change your mind. It's TALK OF THE NATION. First, this news.
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MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. Neal Conan is away. As many as half a million protestors in Dallas yesterday, hundreds of thousands are expected to march today in cities around the country. They are seeking recognition for the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants believed to be in the United States, more opportunities to obtain citizenship and to reunite families. But even as protestors are becoming more organized, lawmakers are becoming less so. A heavily trumpeted bipartisan compromise bill, being worked on in the Senate, failed to win several test votes at the end of last week and was withdrawn. Lawmakers went home for their spring recess with no sense of when or how the bill might be resurrected. Today, we'll take you to demonstrations around the country. We'll tell you who's there and why. We'll talk about the impasse on Capitol Hill, as well as how the issue cuts politically on both the federal and state level with midterm elections not too far away.
Plus, on our regular Monday feature, the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page, historian Francis Fukuyama talks about why he changed his mind on the Iraq War, and why people on either side of the question can't seem to handle that. But first, immigration. We want to hear from you. What's happening today where you live? Are there protests? Are you going? Are people showing up for work and school? And are the demonstrations affecting your opinion one way or the other? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. But first, we go to San Antonio. Margaret Richardson is a graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She joins us by phone from one of the rallies there. Margaret?
Ms. MARGARET RICHARDSON (Student, University of Texas): Yes.
Ms. RICHARDSON: Thank you.
MARTIN: Set the scene for us. What's it like there? Are there a lot of people? Are people just getting started? What's going on?
Ms. RICHARDSON: Currently we're in transit to the downtown campus for the second leg of our protest, but originally at the main campus there were about a hundred of us. We stood outside the multiple disciplinary building, it has a statue called Border Crossing, and there were some people that did songs about protest, about being against the immigration bill. There were different people that spoke out against the immigration law. There was even a soldier that had recently returned from Iraq, speaking about the differences, and what he thought this county was suppose to be about, and what he actually saw this country doing when he actually returned here. And...
MARTIN: Was this soldier an immigrant, Margaret. Excuse me. Was the soldier, himself, an immigrant?
Ms. RICHARDSON: He was Hispanic, yes. I think his grandparents, or great grandparents were immigrants, yes.
MARTIN: What do you make of the numbers who were joining your demonstration today? Is it about what you expected? Are you disappointed? Are you pleased?
Ms. RICHARDSON: Oh, no...
MARTIN: Seem like a good number?
Ms. RICHARDSON: ...I am extremely pleased. Yes, it's a very positive number. Originally, the group that I came in with that I'm supporting, Sempta (ph) United, they didn't expect so many students to show out, because, I guess, classes, people not generally being knowledgeable about the situation, but there were about a hundred of us out there. And it's going pretty well. I mean, I've seen all the different high schools that have been coming out and I'm proud of them. They're taking a stand, and they are letting people know that, you know, just because we're students, just because, you know, they don't think that students are supposed to be knowledgeable about anything, that they are getting upset about stuff. And you have to start listening to them because the future is no longer tomorrow. The future is today. And if...
MARTIN: Margaret, I'm sorry. Excuse me. Speaking of being knowledgeable about the situation, what got you interested in this issue? I mean, I understand that you're at graduate school. So I'm sure you've got exams and plenty of stuff on your mind. So what got you involved?
Ms. RICHARDSON: Well, basically it's the group that I'm working with now. We recently started a group called Students United For the Millions More movement. And it's a part of the greater Millions More movement that start from the Million Man March in 1995. And it's basically about people of color, of any color, coming together and agreeing that we have different racial ethnicities, different religions, different backgrounds, and understanding that we are different, but at the same time, we each share common ground, and that we have to start listening to what everyone else is talking about. We have to start understanding that we all have common problems. And if we start coming together, then we can truly start giving attention, giving focus, and maybe doing something about these problems that face all of us.
MARTIN: Tell me about this immigration bill and what about it -- have you followed the bill, itself, the legislation that is being debated?
Ms. RICHARDSON: Yes, I have.
MARTIN: And tell me what about it. What message do you want to send with your presence today?
Ms. RICHARDSON: If I was to tell this president something, I will let him know that first off, these are directly, or remotely, we are also immigrants here. And you can't pedal a message of democracy to a country like Iraq when you deny it to the people that are at your next door. You know, you cannot talk about how we're supposed to bringing in a better life, better opportunities to people who really don't give a crap about us, when basically you're denying it to the people that are helping you. You know, it's not about them coming in and stealing jobs. It's not about Hispanics coming over and being criminals. These people are looking for better opportunities and trying to take care of their families. And you have to understand that they're not coming over here taking our jobs. Now, if they want to talk about someone taking jobs then, you know, why are all these bigger companies outsourcing, you know? Why is Wal-Mart outsourcing so much of what they do? And Dell, and all these different car manufacturers? They're stripping us thousand of jobs every month, it seems, and they're taking them to other countries when the people here need that.
MARTIN: Okay, Margaret. Margaret Richardson, tell me what you're studying again.
Ms. RICHARDSON: Political science. My graduate -- my masters will be in political science. My bachelor's is in criminal justice.
MARTIN: Okay. Margaret Richardson, graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, thank you so much for joining us. And thank you for telling us about what's going on in San Antonio.
Ms. RICHARDSON: You're welcome.
MARTIN: And joining us all also is John Kamman. He's a reporter for the Arizona Republic. And he joins us from the studios of KJZZ in Tempe, Arizona. John, welcome.
Mr. JOHN KAMMAN (Correspondent, Arizona Republic): Thank you.
MARTIN: And would you please pronounce your name again for me, just to make sure I have it right?
Mr. KAMMAN: Yes, it's Kamman.
MARTIN: It is Kamman. Okay.
Mr. KAMMAN: You got it right. Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: And are there any demonstrations in your city today?
Mr. KAMMAN: Yes, there's supposed to be a very huge one. It is mobilizing right now across town. And they will start marching in another hour, couple of hours. We're expecting 50,000 to 100,000 people and some estimates go higher than that.
MARTIN: And is that considered remarkable for a demonstration where you live?
Mr. KAMMAN: It's phenomenal. There was a fairly spontaneous march a few weeks ago that no one expected to be terribly large. And 20,000 people showed up, unfortunately blocking traffic over a long stretch for quite some time.
MARTIN: What do you -- how do you read these demonstrations as a political reporter? How do you assess the impact of these demonstrations, first on public opinion, and secondly on the political leadership?
Mr. KAMMAN: I think public opinion, it draws an awful lot of attention to the issue. And although it's one of the top issues in Arizona, I think people have not understood the choices terribly well. It also, what the reaction is going to be is anyone's guess. There is and will be a considerable backlash of people who say what are these people who are not legally in the country doing marching through our streets, and demanding the rights that they essentially don't deserve because they didn't get here legally?
MARTIN: I'm sorry, John. How do you -- you're saying there already is such a backlash, you are anticipating that this will happen?
Mr. KAMMAN: Well, I anticipate more. But there was that backlash to the earlier demonstration, in which a number of people were carrying Mexican flags. And that rankled a number of people. Since then, there have been a number of student protests, and I think there's a backlash because people are not going to school. If you come here for the benefits of the American economy and the American society, go get an education. And those are maybe knee jerk reactions but I think there's an awful lot of thought in that wait a minute, this has gone too far. On the other hand, an awful lot of people do endorse the idea that these people are here, they are helping the economy keep going. Phoenix would be paralyzed, I believe, maybe that's too strong a word, but it would be very difficult for people to replace an awful lot of the workers who are here illegally.
MARTIN: I'm going to actually go to a caller in San Antonio, Texas, John, if you don't mind.
Mr. KAMMAN: Sure.
MARTIN: And that is Gabriel in San Antonio. Gabriel, what's on your mind?
GABRIEL (Caller): Well, I wanted to just clarify maybe a few things, one of which would be that some of the press has reported that young people that have been interviewed are not necessarily aware of what it is that they're acting against or marching for or doing walkouts in the schools, which is predicted to be quite large walkouts today. And across the board, the majority of people that we've been working with, and I've worked with the organizers and have been, in large part, involved in San Antonio in these efforts, and these young people do know what they are walking out of school for. This is an active protest on their part and they're aware of why they are doing it during school hours.
MARTIN: What age group are we talking about here, Gabriel? You're talking about high school?
GABRIEL: ...high school students. Say 14 to 18.
MARTIN: Okay. And so you feel that they're making a conscious, sort of political act, that this is not just that they're having fun because it's spring and they would like to not be in class.
GABRIEL: Exactly. And it's important to understand the history of San Antonio. I mean, we're here with a constant memory of the history of say, the Battle of the Alamo, and things that really do promote the colonization or the colonialism, but for large part, the INS has always had a real strong presence here in San Antonio and San Antonio's always been aware of this influx. People's families from the historic background of the Mexican American experience have always crossed these borders, and have not necessarily done it to stay in San Antonio, but because they visit family, or because it's part of a historic business trade route. So, we don't necessarily look at, or teach, immigration here as an illegal or legal issue, we treat it as a migratory issue.
MARTIN: Okay, Gabriel, thank you so much for calling.
GABRIEL: Oh, thank you.
MARTIN: And I think that -- I want to talk with Jon Kamman about the political situation in Arizona. But before we do that, we're going to take a short break. We're talking about immigration. Hundreds of thousands of protestors are expected to march today in support of new immigration rules. Will you be marching yourself? What's your opinion of the protests? We're taking your calls at 800-989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail. The address is email@example.com. I'm Michelle Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michelle Martin in Washington. We're talking about immigration this hour. Even though Congress has left town, protestors are still gathering in Washington and across the country today in a push for changes in immigration law. But the Senate couldn't agree on a compromise. What happened? We'll talk about that in a moment. And you can read what NPR's Washington editor, Ron Elving, has to say about the potential political fallout at our website npr.org. But we're speaking now with Jon Kamman. He's a reporter for The Arizona Republic. He's speaking to us from member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Arizona. And Jon, I wanted to ask -- but is there a sense that these protests will have a permanent effect on the political landscape in Arizona?
Mr. KAMMAN: Well, yes, indeed. I talked to a long term pollster the other day and he says this is going to change the complexion of Arizona politics forever, and profoundly. No one knows exactly how it's going to change it, but the most important thing is that the Hispanic community and their supporters can and do and will in the future mobilize. That's phenomenal because it hasn't been since the Cesar Chavez farm workers movement that an issue has caused this community to coalesce that much. We talked a little bit ago about backlash, but I think the effect of the demonstrations also could be that people are going to understand that there are many, many people here and they are established non-citizens in the community, and you can't declare them felons or ship them back to the countries of origin. Some of the younger people have been here, you know, virtually all their lives, they have nowhere to go to.
MARTIN: Very briefly, Jon, before I let you go, how is the news that the immigration bill fell apart in Congress last week being received back in Arizona?
Mr. KAMMAN: Well, I think there was a lot of disappointment. The idea was that some sort of a compromise was worked out and the difficulty then was going to be trying to reconcile it with the House bill that is much more onerous. But, it seems...
MARTIN: And you've got people on both sides of the question in Arizona. People before...
Mr. KAMMAN: Oh, yes, indeed.
MARTIN: ...the compromise and people who are very much in favor of the House position. So what's the sense of it? Is there relief that there's more time to work on the issue? Or is there angst that there's more steam yet building up about this issue as we head into midterms?
Mr. KAMMAN: I think people are holding their breath and they don't know any better than anyone else across the country exactly what's going to come of the impasse. I think the general sentiment among those who really know what the situation is, is that the impasse is going to continue, and even if something comes out of the Senate, it's going to be a long time and a hard slog to try to reconcile it with the House.
MARTIN: Okay. Jon Kamman, reporter for The Arizona Republic. He joins us from the studios of KJZZ in Tempe, Arizona. Jon, thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. KAMMAN: Thank you.
MARTIN: I hope we'll speak again. And we're going now to Meridian Hill Park, known locally here in Washington as Malcolm X Park, where protestors are gathering to begin their march to the Washington Monument. And joining us now is producer, Sarah Handel. Sarah?
Ms. SARAH HANDEL (Producer): Hi Michelle, how are you doing?
MARTIN: I'm great. Describe the scene for us there.
Ms. HANDEL: We've got a lot of people in a big, long line. Everybody's shouting and waving flags. And people are still pouring into the park. So, I'd say, looks like a good number for them today.
MARTIN: And please, this is not meant to be offensive, but it's a lovely day here in Washington, we haven't had very many good weather days, and is your sense there that people are there for the demonstration or are they just there because it's a lovely day?
HANDEL: They're absolutely here for the demonstration. I spoke to quite a few people already today and everybody was here, they knew why they were here, they were here specifically for the demonstration. A lot of people's employers gave them the day off of work so that they could be here today. So I think, rain or shine, this would still be happening.
MARTIN: And you have somebody for us to talk with?
HANDEL: I do. This is Pastor Sedios(ph). He's from Woodbridge, Virginia.
MARTIN: Well, welcome.
PASTOR SEDIOS (Woodbridge, Virginia): Hello?
Mr. SEDIOS: Yeah, this is me, Pastor Sedios.
MARTIN: Well, welcome. Thank you for speaking with us.
Mr. SEDIOS: Yes, thank you. I...
MARTIN: And why did you join the demonstration? What brought you out today?
Mr. SEDIOS: Well, you know, I just wanted to be here with everybody over here. I have a lot of work today, but I decided, you know, to come because we want to demonstrate the immigration, you know. The only thing we want is the, you know, become legal over here, and so in that way we can have more opportunities. We just want, you know, to help our family and become part of this country. And I am from El Salvador. I love my country, but I also love, you know, the United States.
MARTIN: How old were you when you came here?
Mr. SEDIOS: I was 24, because the first time I came was in 1995. I did college in Massachusetts, I won a scholarship like 1995 to 1997. But then, I went back to my country and I was working there in a tourist office. But then, I decided to come here, you know, and I got a tourist visa. But now I am working...
MARTIN: So, you're working in violation of your visa. So you really are out of status?
Mr. SEDIOS: Yeah, that's right.
MARTIN: Do you feel that you're taking a risk by being so -- by publicly joining your presence to this demonstration?
Mr. SEDIOS: Not really.
MARTIN: Was it a difficult decision?
Mr. SEDIOS: You know we are here and we are not doing nothing bad. We just, you know, a specific protest, you know. And everybody, and we just want, we're just asking, you know, please to give us a chance, you know, to become legal, everybody here.
MARTIN: What is your hope for what will happen with this issue? What would your wish be? If you could speak to the lawmakers directly, what would you ask of them?
Mr. SEDIOS: To whom do you say?
MARTIN: To the people who are making the decision about what should happen to the immigration law. What would you ask of them?
Mr. SEDIOS: Well, as I say, you know, we just say please give us the opportunity. And we just want to demonstrate that we are not doing nothing bad, you know being in this country. We just want to work and, you know, do a lot of things. And I love this country and I want to be here.
MARTIN: Do you still have family in El Salvador?
Mr. SEDIOS: Yes, I do. My parents are over there, but I brought my wife and my son, I am going to have another baby too, and I want to give a better life to them, you know. So and that way my son, my children, can start here and be part of this country.
MARTIN: Thank you so much for speaking with us Mr. Dios(ph) and thanks Sarah Handel for bringing you to us. And good luck today and thank you so much.
Mr. SEDIOS: Thank you very much too, thank you.
MARTIN: And joining us now is Michael Sandler. He's legal affairs writer for Congressional Quarterly. His primary beat is immigration and he joins us here in studio 3A. Welcome Michael, thank you for coming in.
Mr. MICHAEL SANDLER (Writer, Congressional Quarterly): Thank you.
MARTIN: Now I think that the Senate's failure to vote on this bill, or to bring this bill to fruition, was a great surprise to people, given that the compromise was announced with all this fanfare, you had some of the big, you know, heavyweights attached to this bill. What happened?
Mr. SANDLER: Well, that's a question a lot of people would like to know the answer to. I think what happened was, as Ted Kennedy said, politics got in the way of policy here. And we had an issue where both leaders wanted to control the outcome of the bill. And Harry Reid, the Minority Leader, wanted a commitment from the Majority Leader that the deal they had in place was going to stay intact through the negotiations with the House. And that's not what he asked for. What he asked for was to know who would be negotiating, which is something that is, as Bill Frist put it, absurd and laughable. So you had a breakdown in communications after this very brief, but surreal, moment where we saw the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader on stage together celebrating an impasse that had been broken. It was quite an interesting thing to see, and then ten hours later, see it all fall apart.
MARTIN: Was it politics or was it personality?
Mr. SANDLER: I think it's politics here. Although, quietly a lot of Democrats are not sure why this had to fall apart, and a lot of Republicans who are supportive of the deal, were very vocal about being disappointed in Harry Reid, specifically John McCain. He pointed fingers at Harry Reid. And I think the Democrats were afraid that Bill Frist couldn't control his conservative wing of his party.
MARTIN: Were these substantive differences that kept the two sides together? Or were there procedural questions, like how the compromise with the House would be handled, and things of that nature?
Mr. SANDLER: Well, you had two issues that really broke down the talks. You have amendments which can change a bill. And then you have, what we call, conferees, which are the negotiators from each side that get together once each side produces a bill to work out a final product. And what we found, what we saw, was that there was a disagreement over the number of amendments that would be allowed. And then there was also the issue that Harry Reid wanted to know ahead of time who would be negotiating for the Senate. And so those two issues were probably what broke this deal down. The amendments, it's hard to say how much of the issue that was because John McCain and other Republicans gave Democrats assurances that they would vote those amendments down. So, I think the issue at the conference was a bigger issue with Harry Reid, but that's just an observation.
MARTIN: I know that this is all very new, but what are the members hearing from their constituents about this? What was it like up there all week with these demonstrations that started over a week ago? There was a huge demonstration in Los Angeles that got a lot of people's attention, of subsequent demonstrations in cities that people don't normally think of as having large numbers of immigrants like Atlanta, today, for example. What impact is all that having on the members, and what were they hearing over the course of the week?
Mr. SANDLER: I think that had a great impact on the members, specifically I talked with Mel Martinez and John McCain about this. And they were very concerned about the tone that was coming out of Congress. The tone that came out of the House of Representatives, which a lot of the protests have been targeted toward, this punitive bill that focuses on enforcement and border security, but doesn't deal with the estimated 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants that are here. A lot of the protestors see that as a bit harsh. And I think that the Senate was hoping to try to produce something that would be a little more acceptable to those protestors.
MARTIN: Let's go to a caller in Las Vegas, Nevada. And Tara, and what's on your mind?
TARA (Caller): Hi. Yeah, I was just calling because I used to support the immigrants who are here now becoming legalized. After these demonstrations that they want to flash, carry Mexican flags, flash gang signs, they can take the proper steps to become legal immigrants. I am a third generation family, my family came here from Ireland. They didn't wrap themselves in the Irish flag. You know, our government and the corporations have allowed them to be here for the last 25 years without taking action. And if they want to be Americans, fine. It was the American constitution that gives them the right to protest. Their act is so disrespectful, and I'm not alone. A lot of folks, I told my Senator Reid, yeah, I want the tough restrictions. I want them to be sent back and if they kind of keep doing it without becoming legal, they can go to jail.
MARTIN: Was it the, Tara, was it the demonstrations themselves or was it what you saw at the demonstrations? I mean, was it the inherent act of folk who are undocumented demonstrating that you found offensive, or was it what they did at the demonstrations with the flag and the gang signs?
TARA: I found both of those offensive, but I found it even more offensive, if they want to be citizens of the United States, I would've respected them more if they had burned the American flag.
TARA: Cause at least they're exercising their right of free speech.
MARTIN: Do you mean that?
TARA: The fact that, you know, they allow treaties to be signed that don't sure worker rights, CAFTA, NAFTA, No Child labor laws, no wage guarantees. So they need to go, if they want to carry the Mexican flag, let them march on their own president.
MARTIN: Okay. Tara, thank you so much for calling.
TARA: Thank you. Have a good...
MARTIN: Is that, Michael Sandler, do you think that that's a common sentiment that members will be hearing when they go home?
Mr. SANDLER: The issue of the Mexican flags?
MARTIN: Yeah. That there was kind of, that that tapped into a set of resentment that that created a kind of backlash, something we've been talking about this hour?
Mr. SANDLER: I think there was an answer to that question yesterday, when we saw the marches in Dallas. We saw a lot of American flags. I think there was feedback to organizers that seemed to, that the general public was, I think, offended by seeing some of those flags. And I think we saw a lot of American flags out at yesterday's march in Dallas. So, I think, that to some degree, was, that kind of hit home with people.
MARTIN: Let me just take a break to say you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Michael Sandler, what is likely to happen when members go home for their spring recess? Will they be confronting voters over this issue? What are they likely to hear? And I'm assuming that's gonna be different depending on what part of the country they're from.
SANDLER: Well, and that is a key point. I think it's also a question of, when polls are done right now, it seems the country is split on this issue of immigration. Depending on the poll you look at, some people wanna see people not have a path to permanent residence here, but they don't want people to go home. Some polls show that Americans are not in favor of a wall along the border, some do. I think what a lot of these members are gonna be doing is trying to find out what people really do want. And I think there'll be polls. I think they'll look at the numbers. I think they'll look at the demonstrations, and to some degree they'll talk to constituents. When they get back, they're going to send this bill back to committee, and they're going to start essentially all over.
MARTIN: I'm gonna bring in a caller from the middle of the country in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Here's Terrie. Terrie, what's on your mind?
TERRIE (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I am an immigrant to the United States. And I became a U.S. citizen maybe five years ago.
MARTIN: From where? Terrie, from where?
TERRIE: From Canada.
TERRIE: And I'm not participating. We had a big rally yesterday in St. Paul. It was, I think, the largest immigration rally that we've ever had. And I mean, I'm kind of torn and I hear what you folks are saying, but I think both sides are too extreme. I feel, as someone who lives in the middle of the country, that we should allow people to come here and work on a guest worker status, but to give them full rights, deprives, I think, other eligible people from around the world, simply because of proximity. For example, there are many countries, people in Africa, or Asia, who would be equally qualified, or equally deserving, or under equal economic pressure, or maybe even worse political pressure, but they don't have the physical proximity that the Mexicans and the Canadians do to the United States. So, they don't have the access, and by allowing them to take advantage of that access, I think it limits the ability of others to move here. On the other hand, it's crazy to put up a wall. And I think that we have to give them some rights. And I'm also an attorney, and I find that it is very difficult in dealing with the problems that arise for corporations with these immigrant workers, because when we try to put them back to work, when we find out they're undocumented, it's against the law for us to put them back to work.
MARTIN: Okay. All right, Terrie. Thank you so much for your interesting comments, and welcome, from Canada.
TERRIE: Thank you.
MARTIN: And thank you for joining us.
TERRIE: Thank you.
MARTIN: Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for this topic. I wanna thank our guest. Michael Sandler is legal affairs writer for Congressional Quarterly. He joined us in Studio 3A. And when we come back from a short break, Francis Fukuyama joins us to talk about why people have such a hard time when you change your mind. It's the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page, next. I'm Michele Martin, TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.