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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Examination of Issues Arising from Illegal Aliens in the U.S.; Unprecedented Move by Congress in Terri Schiavo Case; Gasoline Prices Skyrocket; New Health Program for U.S. Veterans

Aired March 21, 2005 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Tonight, illegal alien invasion. Two days before a presidential summit on immigration reform, Mexican President Vicente Fox says he doesn't want to talk immigration. Fox is also calling hundreds of Americans volunteering to monitor or border extremists and immigrant hunters. The head of the volunteer Minutemen organization is our guest tonight.
Also an unprecedented move by Congress and President Bush to keep Terri Schiavo alive. A federal court is now beginning to consider whether her parents can begin feeding her once again. We'll be talking tonight with a medical ethicist about the critical issues involved in this highly controversial and complex case.

And the latest assault on our middle class: gasoline prices have now climbed to the highest level in a generation. We'll have a special report. And I'll be joined by one senator who says the White House should be doing much more to prevent gas prices from rising further.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS, for news debate and opinion, tonight.

DOBBS: Good evening.

Mexican President Vicente Fox says immigration talks between the United States and Mexico are now over, coming just two days before President Fox is scheduled to meet with President Bush in Texas. Their meeting had been billed until today as a summit on immigration reform.

John King reports from the White House -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Lou, White House officials say that if President Fox viewed it that way, he was simply in error. They say this is a trilateral meeting, President Bush inviting President Fox of Mexico, Prime Minister Paul Martin of Canada to come to Waco, Texas, to meet with him to discuss trilateral issues, meaning, the White House says, trade.

The leaders will reaffirm their support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and try to take steps to improve trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

They also will discuss joint steps in the war on terrorism, including border security. And U.S. officials say that is as close -- border security discussions will come as the conversations will come to discussing immigration issues.

Now, it's no secret President Fox has been pushing for some time. He wants the Bush administration to be more aggressive in pushing what the president calls immigration reforms through the Congress.

President Fox, for example, has complained in recent days about a wall built across the U.S./Mexican border south of San Diego. He also, as you just noted, has complained about what he would called vigilante groups that he says are killing, murdering immigrants as they try to come across the border into this country.

Now, the White House says simply that immigration is simply not an issue for these talks, that it is possible that it will come up in some casual conservations between the two leaders but that there are no bilateral sessions scheduled for this brief meeting in Waco, Texas. So, Lou, they will discuss trade, terrorism, and border security, but not immigration.

U.S. officials concede President Fox is not happy about that. They say the president will make clear he hopes Congress passes what he calls that temporary guest worker program sometime this year, but they say it will come up only in passing, to the disappointment, they concede, of the Mexican president -- Lou.

DOBBS: John, this -- this is most peculiar. Both President Fox and President Bush's aides have been talking about immigration reform. This was the focal point. What has happened? Is it simply too hot a political issue now for both men to sustain a summit?

KING: It certainly is too hot of an issue on which there is no progress in the future to come, or no movement. Some would say passing the president's guest worker program would not be progress. They call it amnesty. Mr. Bush says it is not.

But it is not on the congressional agenda any time soon, so they say it is not worthy of discussion at this meeting.

Nor, however, White House officials say, are differences with Canada on the issues of missile defense, and there are some bilateral trade disputes with Canada, as well.

So U.S. officials say the controversial bilateral issues are off the table, at least in any formal way, and these three leaders, Prime Minister Martin, President Bush and President Fox, will discuss issues mostly on which they agree, although there are some disagreements over border security issues -- Lou.

DOBBS: And John, since you pointed out that President Fox refers to the Minutemen, the organization that will be there next month along the Arizona border, he refers to them as vigilantes. We should point out they refer to themselves, and others are beginning to do so, as simply undocumented border patrolmen.

John, thank you very much. John King, our senior White House correspondent. President Fox had plenty to say before he decided to call off the immigration element of talks with President Bush, but not when it came to taking responsibility for the invasion of illegal aliens from Mexico into this country. In fact, President Fox says Mexico has been responsible and very cooperative regarding security along our mutual border.

President Fox says it's impossible for Mexico to set up patrols on their side of the border. He added, "We can't keep them against their will by force."

President Foxes is also convinced that walls don't work, referring to a border fence under construction in the San Diego area, saying, "No country that is proud of itself should build walls."

President Fox also had plenty to say about the Minutemen project, a group of volunteers working to protect our borders. Fox, however, calls the project a migrant-hunting group, saying, "We will use the law, international law and even U.S. law to make sure that these types of groups will not have any opportunity to progress."

President Fox may well consider U.S. laws already on the books, which make those three million so-called migrants crossing into our country each year illegal aliens.

Later in this broadcast I'll be joined by one of the founders of the Minutemen Project and will be talking about President Fox's projects and his group's intentions along the border next month.

A new study shows more than half of the illegal aliens in this country originate from Mexico. In addition, there are far more Mexicans living in the country illegally than legally now.

Lisa Sylvester has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 2004 there were 11 million Mexicans living in the United States, and more than half, six million of them, were living here illegally, according to a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

They found the percentage of illegal Mexican aliens increased dramatically.

JEFFREY PASSEL, PEW HISPANIC CENTER: The vast majority of the new immigrants arriving from Mexico arrive as undocumented immigrants, and by vast majority I mean 80 percent to 85 percent of the immigrants that have been in the country 10 years or less from Mexico are undocumented.

SYLVESTER: Illegal aliens as a group have been branching out to states that in the past did not have a substantial immigrant population, including North Carolina and Colorado.

Most of the illegal aliens have arrived since 1990. In the 1980s, the number of new rivals averaged 130,000 a year; 1990 to '94, 450,000 per year; 1995 to 1999, 750,000 per year; and 2000 to 2004, 700,000 a year.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform says the increase has put a strain on city and state budgets.

IRA MEHLMAN, FEDERATION FOR AMERICAN IMMIGRATION REFORM: Suddenly the school systems have to educate large numbers of kids who don't speak English. The public health care system becomes the family doctor for most of these people, and there's a variety of other social costs that then have to be picked up by the taxpayers.

SYLVESTER: And the makeup of the illegal population is changing to include more women and children. Now one in six of the illegal population is under the age of 18.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: The Pew Hispanic Center acknowledges estimating the illegal population is difficult by definition. The group's methodology was to take the totals foreign-born population, based on census figures, and subtract the number of legal immigrants, leaving the total for the illegal population -- Lou.

DOBBS: And we should point out, as you suggest, Lisa, that other estimates range as high as 20 million, most recently a Bear Stearns study showing 20 million illegal aliens in this country, and the most recent and widely reported estimate of those crossing our borders each year illegally, three million a year.

Lisa, thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester reporting from Washington.

Those millions of illegal aliens are fleeing the dire economic conditions that do exist in Mexico. According to the World Bank, more than half of all Mexican citizens live in poverty. One in five live in extreme poverty. Eighty percent of the agricultural regions of Mexico, in poverty.

The Mexican citizens cross our border illegally. Some of them find work, and many of them send their earnings back to Mexico. Those earnings have added up to nearly $17 billion in the past year. Remittances, as they're called, are expected to become Mexico's primary source of income this year, surpassing the amount of money that Mexico makes on oil exports for the first time ever.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Trade deficit with Mexico for the last year surpassed $45 billion.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens are using bank accounts in this country to send those remittances home, and many U.S. banks are now aggressively helping illegal aliens open those accounts. Those banks refer to the practice in the political correct vernacular as banking the unbanked.

Christine Romans has the story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wells Fargo is opening 700 new accounts every day for illegal aliens. Since November 2001, it's helped more than half a million people to, as it says, come out from the shadows.

LILIANA SALAS-GRIP, WELLS FARGO: We are not if the business of immigration. We don't question any customer, Latin, American, or any other customer that comes into our financial institution in their legal or illegal status.

And our responsibility as a financial services company is to make sure that all our products and services are available for all customers that come in.

ROMANS: It began with Wells Fargo working closely with the Mexican government. But now almost 200 U.S. banks accept the Mexican I.D. card, the matricula consular, as I.D.

MATT HAYES, FRIENDS OF IMMIGRATION LAW ENFORCEMENT: On the one hand you have the Border Patrol, whose job it is to intercept illegal aliens as they enter the country. And on the other hand you have the Treasury Department, which is encouraging exactly those illegal aliens if they're able to evade the Border Patrol, to open a bank account once they're here.

ROMANS: Indeed, a senior official said, "It is the policy of the United States that we want people in the formal financial system. It is good for the economy and good for our ability to enforce our laws."

But it is clear the U.S. government is, in fact, making it easier to break U.S. immigration laws. Despite the protests of the IRS and anti-terrorism agencies, the Department of Treasury last year allowed banks to accept the matricula consular and to use tax I.D. numbers to open accounts for illegal aliens.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is encouraging banks to sign up illegal aliens in the banking system, calling the growth of the market "a compelling incentive for U.S. banks to enter this largely untapped market." And the FDIC program demonstrates that unbanked Latin American immigrants can be brought into the financial mainstream.

But there are clear laws on the books for the integrity of the immigration system. United States criminal code, "It is a crime punishable by 10 years in jail for aiding and abetting someone in this country illegally for commercial gain." And the Bank Secrecy Act of 1972 makes it clear banks must know their customer, and any illegal activity must be reported to the government.

Banks and federal regulators all say enforcing immigration laws not their problem. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it focusing on networks smuggling illegal aliens, not the aliens themselves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: So once an illegal alien is in this country, it's now the policy of the U.S. government to get them integrated into legitimate daily life. Terrorism experts say it's not safe. Legal immigrants say it's just not fair.

DOBBS: And it's utter madness. I mean, this is Orwellian, the suggestion by the FDIC that this is tapping into a market that's important and describing this as -- I mean, this is incomprehensible, Christine.

ROMANS: And every one of these agencies says, "We recognize the fact that the laws are important, but it's not our job. We are just dealing with reality."

DOBBS: The fact that the spokeswoman for Wells Fargo could -- and we should not just simply say -- this is about 200 U.S. banks -- saying that it's not their jobs to enforce immigration laws or to follow other laws, the 9/11 Commission recommendation on identification, the FBI saying clearly, unequivocally that the matricula consular should not be accepted, nor should tax I.D. numbers be accepted as identification. And the banker has the temerity to say it's not their job to be good corporate citizens, not to exercise corporate responsibility, it's just their job to grow the business?

ROMANS: And the Treasury Department says it's very important that the banks take responsibility for knowing who their customer is and they're going to trust the banks that they do.

DOBBS: It sort of leaves one wondering what in the world are we thinking about in this country. Christine, thank you. Christine Romans.

That brings us to the subject of our poll tonight. Do you believe U.S. banks should be permitted to give illegal aliens bank accounts and loans, yes or no? Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll have the results for you later in the broadcast.

Tonight we have a follow-up to our report last week on a major protest outside a California Home Depot store. Several dozen people protesting the company's funding for day labor centers where illegal aliens are known to gather. Tonight, Home Depot says local government and law enforcement officials in many cases have forced to support those centers which are often, often attended by illegal aliens.

Casey Wian has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Home Depot's future site in Burbank, California. The city is requiring Home Depot to pay $94,000 a year for a day laborer center on the property. Burbank's mayor wouldn't talk to us about the deal, citing an upcoming election and the sensitive nature of the issue, cities providing illegal aliens with day laborer gathering sites on Home Depot property. In nearby El Monte, the police department asked Home Depot to allow them to gather in the company's parking lot and park to reduce petty crime. Home Depot donated material for the facility. The day laborers pay to maintain it. One police official says illegal aliens have a right to work.

DET. RICHARD LUNA, EL MONTE, CALIFORNIA POLICE DEPARTMENT: We respect that right. And essentially these are our citizens who we represent and work for daily.

WIAN: We asked Detective Luna about his references to illegal aliens as "citizens."

LUNA: We're not involved in immigration. That's not our responsibility.

So we're respecting the rights of all persons here. As much as they could be a victim, they're also a citizen, too. They're contributing to our community, they're working, they're working hard. And as long as they're complying with the rules, we have no problem with them.

WIAN: This Home Depot is a site of a different kind of day laborer center. It only finds jobs for documented workers, such as Joseph Corralejo.

JOSEPH CORRALEJO, DAY LABORER: You know, you've got so many people waiting on the corner that, you know, it's a small percentage that get a job. And here you're guaranteed.

WIAN: The day laborers who gather just outside make about $4 an hour more than Corralejo, partly because his employers must pay taxes and insurance.

Home Depot does not operate any of the six day laborer centers it has helped set up. In a statement, the company added, "We have a no solicitation policy, support day laborer centers only at the insistence of local municipalities and as a means to address community concerns. And we do not support illegal immigration."

While cities have required Home Depot to take several different approaches to day laborers, there's little the company can do to keep illegal aliens from gathering near its stores.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: The city of Rialto, California, says there was a memorandum of understanding with Home Depot to open a day laborer center inside its parking lot. But the city says Home Depot changed its minds two months ago, saying it didn't want day laborers on its property -- Lou.

DOBBS: Do we know if there is a company-wide policy? Because, as you point out, in that instance Home Depot resisting the demands of municipality. Is there a broad company policy on this that would shut this down? WIAN: There is not a broad company policy that would shut it down, because in the Burbank situation it's a condition of doing business for the company. If the company wants to open a new store in Burbank, it had to agree to fund this day laborer center. It's a thorny problem for Home Depot, and, you know, evidence of how our borders are porous.

DOBBS: Indeed, as you say, Casey, a thorny problem for all of us in this country. The idea that a police officer would be saying to both us, to our audience, and to Home Depot, deciding unilaterally that Home Depot must provide a day laborer center, because, in his judgment, an illegal alien is a citizen, that's remarkable, remarkable logic.

WIAN: Absolutely. And he said the word "citizen," referring to illegal aliens and day laborers three times within a minute -- Lou.

DOBBS: Casey, thank you very much. Casey Wian, from Los Angeles.

Coming up here next, Terri Schiavo's fate now rests with a federal judge in Florida after Congress passed emergency legislation to move that case back into the court. A decision could come at any time. We'll have that for you. And I'll be talking with one of the country's leading medical ethicists about the issues involved in this case.

And record-high gasoline prices putting further pressure on middle class families, but who, who, will step forward to deal with the issue? Who should be trying to stop these skyrocketing prices?

Those stories are next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: A federal judge in Florida tonight could decide the fate of Terri Schiavo at any time. We will be of course bringing you that decision, should it be made.

Judge James Whittemore today heard arguments from both sides after President Bush signed historic legislation that would move that case into federal court. Now Judge Whittemore must decide whether or not to issue a temporary restraining order that would restore Schiavo's feeding tube.

Elizabeth Cohen is in Tampa, Florida, with the story tonight -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, Judge Whittemore was very specific. After hearing from both sides, 45 minutes each, he said, "I will be issuing a decision, but I am not going to tell you when."

So it could be in five minutes, it could be in five hours. It could be in any amount of time. We just don't know. These were basically the arguments that he heard from both sides. David Gibbs, who is the lawyers for the Schindlers, for the parents of Terri Schiavo, he said that her religious rights, her constitutional religious rights were being -- were being against, because they said -- because they said that -- well, I think we should go back to you -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much. Obviously Elizabeth Cohen is being interrupted there. And we apologize for that, and we will be going back to Elizabeth as soon as circumstances warrant.

We thank you for that, Elizabeth.

Dr. Joseph Fins is the director of medical ethics at Weill Cornell Medical Center and New York Presbyterian who says Congress overstepped its bounds when it intervened in the Schiavo case. Dr. Fins says this is a private matter and joins us here tonight.

Doctor, good to have you with us.

DR. JOSEPH FINS, DIRECTOR OF MEDICAL ETHICS: Good to be here.

DOBBS: One cannot imagine a more private matter. You say Congress overstepped its bounds. How so?

FINS: Well, this has traditionally been the prerogative of the states to adjudicate these issues. And I think we have to respect the rule of law and clinical integrity.

This is a diagnosis that is complicated, there are a lot of terms that float around. And I think Congress, you know, in trying to decide in three hours what it took hundreds of hours for the courts to adjudicate in Florida, have really misstepped.

DOBBS: The historic over-the-weekend vote, the signature by the president on this legislation, at the same time saying that it is not a precedent, which is remarkable in and of itself, that Congress would see fit to intervene on an ad hoc basis like this, what does it do to advance the reason, the philosophy and the elemental comprehension of this complex case?

FINS: Well, I think it's remarkable. It's a threat to federalism, it's a threat to how we normally decide these cases. It puts a lot of our traditions in limbo.

I hope it's not precedent-setting, but, you know, the -- you know, the cow is out of the barn, as it were. And I think that people depend on the rule of law to feel that their wishes are going to be respected.

I mean, the courts heard in multiple levels what Terri Schiavo would have wanted and adjudicated that. The diagnosis was adjudicated in the courts. And it's not for Congress in a three-hour session to determine that it's something different.

DOBBS: I don't -- our audience here, Dr. Fins, is a very, very intelligent audience. And I can't tell you how many viewers wrote in to say how could Congress act without having an independent medical examination and diagnosis?

FINS: Well, I mean, I think there was independent evidentiary evidence from doctors in the courts. That's what the courts are for. And when Senator Frist and some of the other doctors in Congress, in confusion of their roles as legislators and doctors, begin to opine medically, I think it's really unfortunate.

DOBBS: It's unfortunate. The circumstances of this case are tragic in every way.

The victim in this case, Terri Schiavo, 15 years ago with an eating disorder, the diagnosis that a potassium deficiency led to a heart attack. Her condition the direct result of her own action. How does all of this weigh into the ethical considerations that you would bring to consideration on the case?

FINS: Well, I think it's so important at the beginning that when you have a case that's so complicated, a state of wakeful response, your eyes are open, but you're not processing your environment, you have no internal evidence of yourself, that when you have a case that's so complicated, it's so counterintuitive that you speak to families early on and clarify what the diagnosis and prognosis really is. What you're seeing on the videotape right now appears to be signs of cognitive awareness, but it's really consistent with a persistent vegetative state as adjudicated by the courts and as expert witnesses have stated in those courts.

DOBBS: And always in these instances, as I'm sure you're accustomed to in your practice, but here tonight, I would ask you to do this, take all of that complicated language and the understanding that is the foundation behind that language and if you would put it into terms that each of us can understand. Does this woman in a persistent vegetative state, as you put it, have any hope of recovery?

FINS: No. I mean, she's permanently vegetative 15 years after her brain being deprived of oxygen. And what you're seeing here is it.

DOBBS: And if this were your decision at Cornell Medical Center, whose judgment would you repair to? Would it be the husband, although is life has progressed beyond and some would suggest there's a conflict of interest? Would it be the parents, whose objectivity certainly has to be questioned?

FINS: Well, I'd try to early on heal the family.

DOBBS: Right.

FINS: I think the one thing that Terri Schiavo wouldn't want, you know, would be her loved ones fighting it out in this horrible way.

DOBBS: Right. FINS: And then ultimately it would be what Terri said and what she -- what she wanted for herself. And the courts heard evidence and determined there was credible evidence that she would not want to be in this state. That would be how we would decide it.

DOBBS: Doctor Fins, we thank you for being with us.

FINS: Thank you very much.

DOBBS: Appreciate it. We appreciate your analysis and your insight.

Coming up next here, a new high for gasoline prices in this country. The assault on the middle class has not ended. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee will be here to tell us why he says the White House should be doing far more.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Gasoline prices all across this country are hitting new records, today hitting new record highs. The average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline reaching $2.13 a gallon. That's an increase of 13 cents on average over the past two weeks. One reason for this rampant rise in gasoline prices is that a handful of the world's largest oil companies now control the retail gas market in this country.

Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): $2-plus national, to California, where prices closed in on $3 per gallon. And no price break in sight.

Analysts say given the current price of a barrel of oil in the mid $50s, a gallon of gasoline should continue to rise to an average of $2.30 per gallon. They also see crude oil continuing to rise in price.

GEORGE ORWELL, ENERGY INTELLIGENCE RESEARCH: A lot of people that I've talked to currently are talking about a $60 oil in the horizon, and I don't, I can't say that they're wrong on that.

TUCKER: Public Citizen argues that, in addition to market forces, consumers are looking at the effects of unfettered consolidation over the past decade. They point out that the top five oil companies now control almost one half of domestic production, one half of all domestic refining, and nearly two thirds of the retail gasoline market. Just a decade ago, they only had about a third of production and refining, and just over a quarter of retail. It's a classic recipe for higher prices.

JOAN CLAYBROOK, PUBLIC CITIZEN: The Federal Trade Commission did a study in 2001, in which they said that there was manipulation of the oil market, yet there's been no investigation of the oil manipulation. There's been no requirement for having product on hand.

TUCKER: If there were reserve requirements, oil companies would be better prepared to meet demand and prices wouldn't come under immediate pressure. Exxon-Mobil earned $25 billion last year, and other oil companies racked up massive earnings as well. Earnings which come at a cost to the broader economy. The Department of Energy estimates that for every penny in the rise of a gallon of gas, $4 million is drained from the economy daily.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: That means that the 13 cent increase that we've seen over the past few weeks has taken out about $850 million from the economy, money that is coming out of the pockets of the transportation companies, Lou, as well as commuters, as well as soccer moms who are driving their kids around and doing errands at home.

DOBBS: And in one way or another, all the rest of us. Bill Tucker, thank you very much.

Joining me now is Senator Jeff Bingaman. He is the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Committee of the U.S. Senate. The Senator says, the Bush administration, in his judgment, isn't doing what's necessary to reduce our demand for oil.

Senator Bingaman is in Santa Fe, Mexico tonight. His home state of course. Senator, good to have you with us.

SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN (D), NEW MEXICO: Good to be with you, Lou.

DOBBS: This is an unpleasant increase, to put it mildly, for all of us in this country, but particularly a tough blow to working men and women in this country, their families. We've seen a 50 percent increase here in energy prices in the past year. That's intolerable, isn't it?

BINGAMAN: Well, it's something we're obviously tolerating. It's a terrible burden on our economy and on a lot of families, you're exactly right about that.

DOBBS: And as we look at what's happening, as Bill Tucker just reported, the consolidation in this country of oil companies and the energy companies has now reached a point where we're talking about controlling two third of the market, a handful of companies, an oligopoly by any definition.

How has it that we've come to this point where we've got this kind of concentration on the part of these companies?

BINGAMAN: Well, I think that the concentration has occurred over a long period of time. And I'm not -- I don't think that there's evidence that I've seen, at least, that the concentration is in the cause of the high prices. I do think there are steps we could be taking both in the short term and in the long term to try to deal with the situation.

Unfortunately...

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: Lets go -- senator, let's go to the short term then, because the problem right now is quickly reaching the short-term critical stage.

BINGAMAN: Well, one step that I've been urging on the administration for well over a year and others have too, is that the federal government ought to quit taking the oil that's produced off federal lands and putting it into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We ought to suspend those -- those decisions or those taking of that oil, so that oil would be on the market.

We're, this month, taking about $7 million barrels of oil out of the market and putting it into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at a time that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is 98 percent full. It's the fullest it's ever been in it's history. So, that is unwise in my view. Today, on an average day this month, we're taking 225,000 barrels of oil a day off the market. And that's bound to be contributing to the fact that prices are as high as they are.

DOBBS: But, really, just about as 225,000, that's just about 1 percent of the demands in this country a day. Can it have really such a significant impact?

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: Weigh for us that impact vs. that of speculation, if you would, senator.

BINGAMAN: Well, you're right, that it is not -- is not the only factor, but it is a factor. And I think if the government were to suspend taking oil and putting it in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, instead make that oil available on the market, that would be a good signal to the market and to the speculators that the government was at least beginning to do some of the things that it could do to deal with the situation.

DOBBS: Is Congress going to take this issue up, in your opinion, senator, critically, importantly and as you put it, in the short term so that as much relief as possible can be brought to bare here?

BINGAMAN: Well, I think it's unrealistic, frankly, to think that Congress can pass some legislation here in the very short term that is going to affect the price in the short term. There's -- over the long term, I would hope that some of the provisions in this new energy bill that we're trying to now put together in the Senate, would -- would help with the situation.

But even there, we've had great difficulty getting agreement with the administration. They have, of course, refused to do anything to improve corporate average fuel efficiency. That's of course one of the main ways in which we would reduce demand for oil in our economy. So it's hard to identify precisely what steps we could take that would have a major impact, other than increases those fuel efficiency standards.

DOBBS: Senator Bingaman, as always, good to have you with us. We appreciate it.

BINGAMAN: Good talking to you.

DOBBS: Let's take a look now at some of "Your Thoughts"

Mike in Amarillo, Texas wrote in to say, "How does my government find time to meddle in states rights and pass a law to feed a woman, but can't find time to deal with illegal immigrants or rising gas prices?"

Dick McLemore of Fall City, Washington, "Why does Martha Stewart have a tracking bracelet on her ankle, but sexual predators, at least in Florida, don't? Rocket science?"

And Harry Williamson in Oakland, Maryland, "It is depressing the way Congress choose priorities. Rather than concern themselves with our porous borders, the budget deficit, the outsourcing of jobs, the trade deficit and the decline value of the dollar, they expend time, energy and money on steroid misuse and the federalization of personal issues."

Joanne Mulvaney, of Stockbridge, Georgia, "Many veterans are denied care by our V.A. due to a lack of funding yet illegal aliens are given a handout of over $68 billion dollars per year in free medical and educational assistance all on the backs of our veterans and senior citizens."

Betty Munoz of Kalispell, Montana, "Why has no member of Congress expressed any outrage at the actions of Vicente Fox? The private border patrols should be a wake up call that people are tired of seeing no action by our elected officials."

We love hearing "Your Thoughts." Send them to us at loudobbs.com. Each of you who's e-mail is read on the broadcast receives a copy of my book "Exporting American." Also, if you would like to receive our e-mail newsletters sign up on our Web site, loudobbs.com.

Next, securing our border, citizens taking action where the federal government has refused, defending the country from what has become an invasion of illegal aliens.

And coming home to a new career, a new program to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Turning back now to our top story, the invasion of illegal aliens into this country. The federal government's failure to enforce immigration laws has led a group of citizens to take action, trying to help secure our nation's border. The Minuteman Project is a group of about 1,000 American citizens from all over the country, mostly from Arizona, who have come together to patrol the most porous stretch of the Arizona border.

James Gilchrist is the co-founder of the Minuteman Project, and joins us tonight from Irvine, California.

Good to have you with us.

JAMES GILCHRIST, MINUTEMAN PROJECT CO-FOUNDER: Thank you, Lou. It's good to be here.

DOBBS: Today, as John King reported from the White House with Cynthia Fox, the president of Mexico is referring to your group as basically vigilantes, and he's very concerned, calling you migrant hunters.

How would you style yourself?

GILCHRIST: The definition of vigilante is guardian. We're no different than the guardian angels from New York City.

As far as being migrant hunters or hunters of any kind? No, we're a giant neighborhood watch. We have a strict no-contact, no- confrontation policy. As a matter of fact, we will join our adversaries in prosecuting anyone from the Minuteman Project who attempts to harm or even so much as point a finger at an illegal alien. We're there to strictly, Lou, to observe and report that observation to law enforcement, to let law enforcement do its job. That's it.

DOBBS: As you know, there have been those who have suggested there will be hate groups that will take advantage of your organization, that will infiltrate and seek to carry out a hate agenda. What are you doing to prevent that? How concerned are you, and what assurances can you give that that simply will not happen?

GILCHRIST: Lou, there's no 100 percent ironclad insurance that you can stop anyone from doing whatever they want. I give you 9/11. There's nothing we probably could have done to stop that except not have porous borders.

We vet our volunteers as best we can. We have dismissed 1 percent of them because they had bad attitudes, mood swings, road rage. These people will present themselves in a matter of time and we will immediately extricate them from our ranks. We have a number -- almost 80 members of law enforcement among us that know how to do that better than I personally would know how to do it, and they are charged with that responsibility.

DOBBS: There's also concern, as you know, about sidearms, some of the volunteers, they are planning to carry sidearms. I know you yourself do not. How concerned are you about that?

GILCHRIST: Actually, I encourage any law enforcement officer, who, with a concealed weapons permit, to carry. Like you said, personally, I'm discouraging the carry. I don't see the need for it. I don't see the imminent danger that some of the people have put out there as boogiemen to scare us away and intimidate us.

There is one area, Douglas, Arizona, where I would feel a lot differently. I feel that's a very dangerous community.

DOBBS: Why?

GILCHRIST: Just the message board innuendoes, the threats of, if any Minutemen come down there, they will be executed gangland-style.

DOBBS: By who?

GILCHRIST: It started with Mara Salvatrucha; the FBI took them out very swiftly. We were very impressed with their response to their death threats.

DOBBS: Ms-13?

GILCHRIST: Yes.

Other innuendoes coming to me from phone calls of people that I know, who we call our intelligence people, that there are some very sinister people of all races, color and creeds, Lou -- this is this is look like Aryan racist, this is -- they're all races, colors and creeds, who wish us some harm. They want violence.

DOBBS: They want violence, it's going to be, obviously, as you know, incumbent upon you to make sure that that does not happen. I know you're keenly aware of that.

Give us the basis by which you'll judge whether or not the Minuteman Project is a success?

GILCHRIST: The number of volunteers who actually show up. We have 1,022 actively volunteering. We have another 200 in reserve that we haven't activated yet.

DOBBS: Right, but how will you judge whether it's a success? We've got to run, Jim.

GILCHRIST: Oh -- no incident of violence that was caused on our part. And effectively to send the message to Washington, we want our borders sealed, the U.S. immigration laws enforced, and tripling of the budget for U.S. border patrol.

DOBBS: Jim Gilchrist...

GILCHRIST: Thank you.

DOBBS: ...The Minuteman Project. Good to have you with us.

A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll. Earlier in the broadcast we told you about U.S. banks that have decided to help illegal aliens open bank accounts, and that is the subject of our poll tonight. The question: do you believe U.S. banks should be permitted to give illegal aliens bank accounts and, of course, loans, yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com; we'll have the results coming up in just a matter of moments.

Coming up next, providing the best care possible for our nation's veterans. I'll be talking with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs about a new program that is encouraging other veterans to help in that effort. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: This word just in from Minnesota tonight. As many as 14 people have been shot at a high school on a Indian reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota. The FBI now says some of those people have been killed, but the FBI is not saying how many have died. Local news organization reporting six dead. Students, teachers, and a school guard are reported to be among the injured. The Associated Press is also reporting that a suspect is in custody. We will of course continue to bring you the latest on this story throughout the evening here on CNN as details and the facts become available. Again, as many as 14 people have been shot at a high school on an Indian reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota.

My guest tonight is working to put our veterans back to work with a new program aimed at training and placement. But some critics say the administration isn't doing enough for those who fought for our country, especially in the budget for next year.

Joining me now is the man responsible to veterans affairs, he's the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs, Jim Nicholson.

Good to have you with us.

JIM NICHOLSON, SECRETARY OF VETERANS' AFFAIRS: Good to be with you, Lou.

DOBBS: Let's start with the program to put veterans back to work, very important?

NICHOLSON: Extremely important, and working pretty well. I mean, we have a priority of these young people that are coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq right now, number one to give them the care and treatment that they deserve, and then help them in that transition. We're striving to have it be a seamless transition back into civilian life.

We have tremendous programs and vocational rehabilitation, job training, education, home mortgages. Last year, for example, the V.A. funded $44 billion worth of loan guarantees for our veterans. They deserve it. I have one of the best jobs in the government, because it's the noble work of trying to help veterans. That's all we do, and I think we're doing a tremendous job. I can say that, because I'm only seven weeks in the job. My predecessor has put it in place, but the American people value veterans. I just came from Italy, and they didn't know what veterans affairs meant, the ambassadors of the other countries. The American people, we have a record budget, spending $70 billion for veterans.

DOBBS: Let me turn to -- in terms of valuing our veterans, which of course we all do, Senator Diane Feinstein says this budget, the president's budget for next year, assumes savings of over $1 billion by doubling prescription co-payments, including a quarter of a billion dollar -- $250 enrollment fee, suggesting that many of our veterans will be struggling to make ends meet on that. 200,000 veterans adversely affected. What's your reaction?

NICHOLSON: First, let me say, the record is clear: the president made a commitment to veterans. He's increased spending, and the Congress has helped him, up 47 percent in the last four years. This budget -- this year is a record, a record to be approximately $71 billion.

What we have asked for is are those veterans who are fully able- bodied, who are working, to pay a modest enrollment fee to be in the system, and a modest co-payment for their pharmaceutical drugs.

Now, there's inequity there. People who have served 30 years in armed services and retire are on a good system called Tricare insurance. They have to pay a co-pay, they have to pay a deductible, so the able-bodied veteran we're asking -- but someone who is down and out, or who is ill or injured as a result of their service, they have to pay no co-payment, no enrollment fee.

DOBBS: Secretary Jim Nicholson, Veterans' Affairs, we appreciate you being here. We'll continue this conversation over time. I hope you'll be back soon.

NICHOLSON: Will be happy to. Thank you.

DOBBS: Thank you.

Why more and more Americans are now being forced to work well into retirement. Next, the assault on this country's middle class is continuing. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Our continuing "Special Report: Assault on the Middle Class" -- many Americans are working longer than every these days to deal with rising costs, specifically health care costs in many instances. In a recent poll, the AARP found nearly 70 percent of its members plan on working past the traditional retirement age of 65.

Kitty Pilgrim reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEUMAN WOOD, BORDERS EMPLOYEE: How are you today?

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Neuman Wood is now working at Borders bookstore after a long career as an insurance broker. It's not the golden retirement he planned. He tries to make the best of it, saying he does love books.

WOOD: Social Security is not something that is going to fix your problems at all early on. It maybe should get later as you get older. I.R.A.s and that sort of things -- I can tell you many things happen in life.

PILGRIM: A study by Merrill-Lynch found 45 percent of people say they will work past retirement age, especially to keep health insurance, something that is important to Wood whose wife died after a long-term illness.

Seniors are more prevalent in the work force. At least 13 companies, including Kelly Services, Manpower, Metlife and Walgreen's have special programs to recruit seniors. Another is Pitney-Bowes. Teri Cusano is in her mid-70s, and started there at age 62.

TERI CUSANO, PITNEY-BOWES EMPLOYEE: I'm going to work until they don't want me anymore. I manage to do OK by working. If I did not work, then it would have been harder for me to keep going.

PILGRIM: Home Depot contacted the AARP to partner with job listings on a website. The company needed large quantities of people to work flexible hours or part time. They hit gold.

DEBORAH RUSSELL, AARP: The most amazing phenomenon took place, in that the day after the announcement, Home Depot had over 1 million hits from their website.

PILGRIM: Some seniors say they would work anyway to keep busy. Some do it to afford little luxuries, keep up a nice lifestyle, get out of the house, seniors like John Bonnette, age 71.

JOHN BONNETTE, BORDERS EMPLOYEE: I would like to travel, I like to go to the theater, you know, do little extra things, treat yourself to dinner and things like that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, those seniors who work to afford luxuries are a smaller percentage. Most work because they have to, and Lou, fewer than 10 percent of eligible workers contributed to their 401(k) and about a quarter contribute nothing at all.

DOBBS: There's unfortunately a lesson there, and the great news at least for those people you talked with is that they are still able to work.

Kitty, thank you. Kitty Pilgrim.

Still ahead, here are the results of tonight's poll and a preview of what's ahead tomorrow. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The results of our poll tonight: 91% of you say U.S. banks should not be allowed, should not be permitted to give illegal aliens bank accounts and loans. 9% obviously disagree.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow -- the invasion of illegal aliens into this country, our special reports continue. We'll be reporting on the government's failure to enforce our immigration laws, and how that led to a state of emergency in one county. Please be with us.

For all of us here, good night from New York. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is next.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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