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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Immigration in America
Aired November 21, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez.
And welcome to Ellis Island and to this special Thanksgiving holiday edition of OUT IN THE OPEN.
For those of us like myself lucky enough to have this country open its doors and its heart to us, you know, this is truly a special holiday. Imagine Virginia making its own immigration policy, deciding who can stay and who can go, and Massachusetts doing the same. That's right.
Before 1890, the individual states regulated immigration, because the federal government did not. Sound familiar? Finally, the feds took a bigger hand in this. And this is the result, the Ellis Island Immigration Center. Right next to it is the Statue of Liberty. It was opened in 1892.
Who was the first person to come through here? Annie Moore, a little 15-year-old Irish girl. Over the next 62 years, 12 million -- remember that number -- 12 million more immigrants would follow her through these halls and into their new lives as Americans.
Why is that an interesting number? Well, 12 million illegal immigrants are residing now in the United States, according to most estimates. Immigrants don't come through here anymore. But they're still coming into the United States legally or illegally.
Let's start with this. More than 100 immigrants have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for the United States. So, here's the question. What happens if you're a soldier fighting for the United States, but you're not an American citizen? If you're willing to die for the United States, shouldn't you be given the rights of a U.S. citizen?
President Bush has signed an order that gives those men and women something called fast track, which essentially gives them citizenship.
Here's CNN's Ted Rowlands with the story of immigrant soldiers.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 35-year-old U.S. Army Sergeant Darwin Phillips, this is a special Thanksgiving. It is his first as an American citizen.
DARWIN PHILLIPS, NEW U.S. CITIZEN: I believe deeply about this country and what it stands for. I'm willing to put my life to defend this country.
That I will support and defend...
ROWLANDS: Despite the fact he's served in both the Marines and Army and has seen combat in Iraq, until this ceremony three weeks ago, Sergeant Phillips was a citizen of the Philippines.
Sergeant Phillips and other immigrants willing to put their life on the line for America get a fast track to citizenship.
PHILLIPS: ... justice for all.
ROWLANDS: At this ceremony, Sergeant Phillips was one of 36 so- called green card troops representing 17 different countries that became citizens of the country they had already been defending. Darwin Phillips came to the U.S. 15 years ago from the Philippines. His wife, Nicole, who, along with the couple's three sons, is already a U.S. citizen, says America should be thankful for her husband's service.
NICOLE PHILLIPS, WIFE OF DARWIN PHILLIPS: It makes me so proud of him and of all his accomplishments and his dedication to everything that he does every day for our country.
ROWLANDS: Sergeant Phillips was allowed to move through the citizenship process faster than someone not in the military, saving him an estimated year-and-a-half. He also didn't have to pay the $600 plus in filing fees. Immigration officials say these soldiers do get preferential treatment, but they don't get a free ride.
TOM PAAR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: They fill out the same forms. They do everything. But we just -- as we say, we have a special agency and organization in Nebraska that handles these applications and handles them very quickly.
ROWLANDS (on camera): Is it fair for you to get different treatment just because you're in the military?
D. PHILLIPS: We serve the military knowing that this is what we want. So, you know, sacrificing our -- putting our life on the line even before we're citizens, bearing arms.
This is it right here.
ROWLANDS (voice-over): Darwin Phillips says, this Thanksgiving, he's celebrating the fulfillment of a dream he's had since coming to America. He says he's looking forward to voting for president next year and if he's sent into harm's way again, he will be defending a country that is now truly his.
D. PHILLIPS: Now I'm truly part of America. And it's wonderful.
ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Las Vegas.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SANCHEZ: Immigrants have a long history of fighting for this country. Look at the Civil War. Did you know that immigrants made of 25 percent of the Union army?
And this past Veterans Day, almost 200 immigrant soldiers took a break from their duties and gathered in Balad, Iraq so Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff could swear them in as naturalized citizens.
Others, like Marine Private 1st Class Guillermo Paredes-Espinoza are still waiting. He was born in Honduras and spoke with me from his post in Iraq.
SANCHEZ: Boy, you have a great story to tell. I understand that you were 12 years old when you came to the United States by yourself, essentially, from Honduras. What was that like?
PRIVATE 1ST CLASS GUILLERMO PAREDES-ESPINOZA: It was very difficult, because, I mean, I was 12. And I didn't have nobody with me, no relative. So, basically, I was by myself.
SANCHEZ: You were an illegal immigrant. You really didn't enter the United States legally. And some people say you should not have done that. What do you say to those people?
PAREDES-ESPINOZA: You shouldn't do it, sir. At that time, like, I didn't know. And all I had in mind was to see my mom, my family.
SANCHEZ: That's certainly understandable, Private.
Why did you join the Marines?
PAREDES-ESPINOZA: Training, education. I know -- I knew, after high school, I wasn't going to be able to pay for my college. So, that's why I joined the Marine Corps, sir.
SANCHEZ: I understand you have your green card, or that you're a legal resident of the United States. When you turned 18, you were able to do that.
You now are going to get an opportunity to perhaps be part of something called fast-tracking, which means you will become a citizen of the United States now as an American Marine, right?
PAREDES-ESPINOZA: Yes, sir.
SANCHEZ: When you actually get that piece of paper that says you're now an American, what's that going to mean to you?
PAREDES-ESPINOZA: Well, sir, it means a lot. I mean, this country, the United States, has given me a lot, not only me, sir, to my family, too. So, I will really be glad if I get it, sir.
SANCHEZ: What do you say to people in the United States who are very critical right now, who are criticizing illegal immigrants?
PAREDES-ESPINOZA: All the people who come from the other countries, they just come for their good, to make a better life, sir, to do better in their life. And they come here and work. They don't do nothing else, just work, sir.
SANCHEZ: Does it bother you a little bit when you hear that criticism?
PAREDES-ESPINOZA: I mean, I'm serving a great country, the United States. So, it really don't bother me, sir, because I'm doing the right thing.
SANCHEZ: What message would you send to your family who is watching this right now? What would you say to your mother?
PAREDES-ESPINOZA: I miss you a lot. I miss you, everybody, my friends. And I'm happy. I'm good.
SANCHEZ: She's proud of you?
PAREDES-ESPINOZA: Yes, sir.
SANCHEZ: We are too, Private.
And we appreciate you taking time to talk to us on this special Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Stay safe.
PAREDES-ESPINOZA: Thank you, sir.
SANCHEZ: Now, not everybody thinks that these soldiers, even after risking their lives, should be fast-tracked to citizenship.
Here now, my important conversation with Michael Cutler, who's a fellow at the Center For Immigration Studies.
SANCHEZ: Michael Cutler, thanks so much for being with us.
MICHAEL CUTLER, FELLOW, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES CENTER: Thanks for having me.
SANCHEZ: Boy, this is a tough question. This is a tough question. I know you're a decent guy. I mean, this soldier that we're referring to, and so many others like him, if they're willing to sacrifice their lives for their country, shouldn't they be allowed to be made Americans?
CUTLER: Well, I have got to tell you the way I feel about this.
Look, my hat is off to those people who come to America and show their dedication and devotion to our nation by being willing to put their lives on the line. SANCHEZ: Right.
CUTLER: No argument.
But what I do worry about, and, as an agent, I have encountered this, is, every now and again, you will get the bad guys who join the military to get tactical and weapons training, and then they go out and rob banks.
SANCHEZ: But I guess the question to me then is, just to be fair, what would make an immigrant more apt to be a criminal than any other person who is screened and joined the military?
CUTLER: Well, it's the -- not more pat, but nevertheless we have to contemplate, why would somebody come to America to do it? And we have to be careful about anybody that we give that kind of training to.
SANCHEZ: Of course.
CUTLER: We just had a case now in Detroit. The woman just pleaded guilty, a woman by the name of Nada Prouty, who was an FBI agent. She acquired residency based on a marriage based, got citizenship based on that fraudulent marriage, and then it turns out that she was involved with Hezbollah and she was accessing computers.
So, I worry about who we give clearances to and so forth.
SANCHEZ: Not to mention we don't have an immigration policy.
SANCHEZ: We haven't decided how we're going to screen people who are in the country or the people who plan to come to the country.
SANCHEZ: If the military doesn't get their screening right, let's fix the military. But don't blame it on the poor soldier who is trying to defend a country he's new to.
CUTLER: Well, wait a moment.
Let's blame where it belongs -- or put the blame where it belongs. And that's on U.S. CIS in the case of the FBI agent who did a lousy job of determining if this woman was even married in the first place.
Immigration benefit fraud is a huge threat to national security.
SANCHEZ: But let me tell you a story now.
I was recently in Phoenix. I was at bomb school meeting with ATF agents. And I asked them what their biggest concerns were. They said one of their biggest concern is white supremacist groups who are coming back or people who come back from the war and join these organizations, and now use these newfound skills that they learned in the military. What do you think of that?
CUTLER: I agree with you.
Look, I'm not saying that terrorists or bad guys are only aliens. I'm not trying to vilify immigrants who legally come to the United States and want to share the American dream. We can't just simply say, only aliens can be involved in terrorism. Absolutely, white supremacists and hate-mongers from within our country is a problem as well.
All I'm saying is that we know that the pattern of the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 was to become sleepers, to come into our country, hide in plain sight, game the immigration system, and then use that ability to game the system to get official identity documents. That's why I came to refer to comprehensive immigration reform as the terrorist assistance and facilitation act. I don't know who we're giving benefits to.
SANCHEZ: You make some good points. And I think most people would agree with you.
But let me get you on this now, if I possibly can.
CUTLER: Sure, Rick.
SANCHEZ: I'm going to try and get you on the record.
More than 100 people who are immigrants have died so far in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Should they be given posthumous citizenship, after they're dead?
CUTLER: Absolutely. I have no problem with that.
But, look, here's the point. It's not such a difficult thing to determine if someone's here legally or illegally. As an immigration agent, I had people who made false claims to being United States citizens. We had aliens who made false claims to being resident aliens.
And, by the way, you sometimes get resident aliens claiming to be here illegally when they're caught with narcotics, for example.
CUTLER: No, they do it for a reason. They tell the judge, Your Honor, I'm sorry; I never should have done it; if you deport me, I will never come back.
SANCHEZ: That's amazing. You know, I have never looked at it that way.
You're a great guest. Always good talking to you on this. We're out of time.
CUTLER: I appreciate the opportunity to be on with you. Thanks for having me, Rick.
SANCHEZ: Thanks. Thank you.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): We're all, in a way, immigrants. But some of us are a little closer to our roots than others. The next story I'm going to share with you is highly personal. It's about a family that left Cuba a half-century ago to escape poverty, tyranny, and communism. You will hear the story of my mom and dad.
Also in this hour, we will be showing you questions on the citizenship test. Do you know this one? You ready? Name two of the rights named in the Declaration of Independence -- the answer after the break.
SANCHEZ: Welcome back to Ellis Island. I'm Rick Sanchez.
I want to show you something. You see this? This is a ship's manifest from the year 1914 with a list of all the passengers who were coming to America.
I know a little bit about coming to America, because I'm an immigrant. Almost half-a-century ago, my family made a decision to come to the United States from Cuba. They tell me that they made this decision for me and for my brothers. I can't even begin to imagine what my life would have been like had they not made that decision to bring us to the United States.
Tonight, if you will indulge me for just a bit, I want to share with you their story, my story.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Meet Adela (ph) and Paco (ph). Theirs is the story of many first-generation immigrants.
(on camera): You were poor, yes, very poor. And you finally had an opportunity to come to this country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: Wow. (SPEAKING SPANISH) Five dollars a week. That's a very difficult and very tough life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH) SANCHEZ (voice-over): It was 1954 when my dad escaped the poverty of his native Cuba. He was the first in our family to arrive in Miami.
SANCHEZ (on camera): (SPEAKING SPANISH) Your life got better, right, better, much better?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: Right away.
You were, my god, the streets are paved with gold. Life as a dishwasher in the United States was better than life as a poor kid without shoes in Cuba.
(voice-over): My older brother came next as part of an operation unofficially known as (SPEAKING SPANISH), or Peter Pan. Some 14,000 Cuban children were put on planes after the Cuban Revolution, for fear Fidel Castro would not let them leave the new Marxist regime.
(on camera): So, my big brother (SPEAKING SPANISH) He came all by himself.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: You guys were -- we were in Cuba.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: That's hard. (SPEAKING SPANISH) To send a kid away. But how old? (SPEAKING SPANISH) How old was he?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: Six years old. And you put him on a plane to come to the United States all by himself.
(voice-over): A half-year later, we were united. But starting a new life in a foreign country was far from easy.
(on camera): We were broke, right? (SPEAKING SPANISH) We lived in the cockroach house.
SANCHEZ: Yes. It was -- we called it the cockroach house. That's what everybody called it (SPEAKING SPANISH) right?
We used to eat spam every day. (SPEAKING SPANISH)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: Sometimes, you guys didn't eat. (SPEAKING SPANISH)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: And you were busy working, trying to make sure you could get your sisters and your nephews and everybody out of Cuba.
(voice-over): And she did. Mom worked in Miami's garment district as a seamstress and picked up extra hours whenever she could at a local shoe factory. As for dad, he worked enough for several people.
(on camera): (SPEAKING SPANISH) You worked...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: ... three jobs all in one day?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ (voice-over): For first-generation immigrants like my mom and dad, assimilation was a luxury they simply could not afford.
(on camera): There's a lot of people in this country who don't -- and I get mad as your son when I hear people say, oh, these immigrants, they don't want to speak English. (SPEAKING SPANISH)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: So, you're saying, when could I possibly learn English if I'm working two jobs?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ: But everything you did (SPEAKING SPANISH) so that we could learn English, so that we could go to college.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
SANCHEZ (voice-over): That was the plan, that my brothers and I would achieve what they could not. And that would be their success. And that, my mom says, is the American dream.
SANCHEZ: Three generations in the United States. Think about this for a minute. My little blonde kids don't speak Spanish. My Hispanic parents, they don't speak English. How do we make it work? That's still ahead.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Coming up: He was in this country illegally, and he's self-deporting. Too much heat, too much criticism, he says. He's one of many illegal immigrants who left the United States. But his family stayed behind -- next, Thanksgiving without a father and husband.
Here's another question on the citizenship test. You ready? Who was president during World War I, the president during World War I? -- the answer when we come back.
SANCHEZ: Welcome back.
You see that desk right there? That's where the immigration inspector would sit and process lines of people that went all the way to the back of this building.
You know, there's a new term in vogue in the United States. It's called self-deportation, immigrants who are feeling the heat and leaving the country. It's something the millions who came through here at Ellis Island could never have imagined.
Now, we have been reporting to you about local governments who are forcing out illegal immigrants. And many towns are even threatening to arrest people who help illegal immigrants.
We caught up with one self-deporter in Mexico. This is going to be his very first Thanksgiving holiday away from his family.
Here's Harris Whitbeck.
HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Noe Bermuedez does not want to be hanging out here in his grandmother's kitchen in the small Mexican town where he was born. He loves her, but Noe has a wife and four children back in the U.S. They are legal. He is not, and he was scared.
NOE BERMUEDEZ, RETURNED TO MEXICO: They told me that I could face jail time, which I'm not willing to, you know, do jail time. I would rather be free, and plus knowing that I was in that situation at night I couldn't sleep, 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, I couldn't sleep because I would hear little noises. I would think there they are, they're here for me, the ICE police, and I'm like I'm not willing to put my family through this.
WHITBECK: Noe says he left his family back here Irving, Texas, where there has been a major crackdown on illegal immigrants. During the past year alone, Irving police have referred 1,600 people to federal officials for possible deportation.
Noe feared he would be next and broke the news to his family. He could not take the uncertainty any longer.
BERMUEDEZ: I said, you know what? I can't do this anymore. Even though we are going to have to struggle, 20 years I haven't been to Mexico, I would rather do that, you know, when they told me I could face jail time. He decided -- I told my wife and she -- when I left she was crying, and my kids, but I'm like I would rather for me to be over there for you guys to see me behind bars.
WHITBECK (on camera): Noe says he was 9 years old when he was taken as an illegal immigrant to the United States by his mother. He grew up in California, went to high school, and started a family. But he was never able to obtain U.S. citizenship.
(voice-over): He says confusion led him to make mistakes in the application process. He was briefly held in an immigration detention center and released when he told a judge his wife and four children were U.S. citizens. But he gave up on the process of becoming legal.
Now Noe says this Mexican town where he spent his early childhood no longer feels like home.
BERMUEDEZ: Right, here I feel like, you know, kind of dumb when I have to pay with money. I have to take somebody with me to tell me how to pay. That way they won't rip me off with money because they know I don't understand how to manage my money here. So I have to take my cousin, you know somebody so when I go buy even a soda. I feel like so stupid, you know.
WHITBECK: But this, he says, is better than the threat of jail back in the States, even if it means being separated from his family.
Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Michoacan, Mexico.
SANCHEZ: Using phones and satellites, we're now able to bring Noe together with Leandy, the wife that he left behind in Texas, to talk about the hardships of this particular Thanksgiving.
Here now, our conversation.
SANCHEZ: Leandy, this is going to be a bit of a tough Thanksgiving for you, isn't it, without your husband?
LEANDY GARCIA, HUSBAND SELF-DEPORTED: Yes, for my boys especially.
SANCHEZ: Misses his dad, does he?
GARCIA: Yes, my 2-year-old, that's all he says.
And you feel like your husband made the right decision?
GARCIA: No. No, because -- I don't know. There's so many people who are living here like that. It's -- I understand, you know, he's abiding by the law. He's leaving. But it's not fair. It's not fair.
SANCHEZ: I think we have him on the phone as well. Noe, you are in Mexico, right?
BERMUEDEZ: Yes, I am.
SANCHEZ: What are you doing in Mexico right now?
BERMUEDEZ: I can't find a job. I mean, I'm just out here where I'm in -- the city where I'm at, where I'm staying at my grandma's, they pay you $10 for eight hours.
BERMUEDEZ: A whole day for $10, sometimes $6. You know, I can't live off that, you know?
SANCHEZ: Do you still believe you made the right decision? Your wife says you didn't.
BERMUEDEZ: Yes, well, I feel I made the right decision, because I'm not going to face -- I mean, I'm not going to be in jail because just for the hell of it.
SANCHEZ: Hey, let's talk about your kids for just a moment. You're going to be spending Thanksgiving and Christmas for the very first time without them. Is that...
BERMUEDEZ: That's right.
SANCHEZ: What's that going to be like?
BERMUEDEZ: I mean, well, it's going to be horrible. But, I mean, what can I do? You know, I can't do nothing about it, you know?
SANCHEZ: You miss your kids, do you?
BERMUEDEZ: Yes, I do.
SANCHEZ: Leandy, what do you say to him? Go ahead.
GARCIA: It's going to be hard. We miss him.
It's -- my 2-year-old, I can't explain how horrible it feels when you can't explain very much, first of all, because he's 2. But all he does is ask for his dad. And then his family's going to be here, but his dad's going to be missing for Christmas and Thanksgiving? It's not fair.
SANCHEZ: Have you guys thought about what your next step will be? Because, obviously, there's really no legal recourse for you now. But you're still a family. How do you get together? What do you do? Should you go down there?
GARCIA: That's what we're thinking about. But it's just tough, because I'm settled here. I have a great job. And moving down to the border is different. He would be there. I would have to cross every day to go to work. And that's where we're at. We're trying to think, would the kids go to school in Mexico? Would they go to school in the U.S.? What's going to happen?
SANCHEZ: Noe, given what you hear your wife say about your son saying, "Papi, papi," What's your reaction?
BERMUEDEZ: Well, I mean, what can I say? You know, I feel bad and everything. I wish I could be with them and everything. But it can't happen, you know?
Like I said, I would rather be here -- I mean, be over here free, you know, than let them see me behind bars, which I never -- I would never want nobody to see -- you know, go through things like that with their kids, you know? And I'm not going to let that happen with my kids.
SANCHEZ: Well, I know it's going to be a tough Thanksgiving for you guys, and we appreciate you taking time to talk to us. Have a happy holiday, both of you.
GARCIA: Thank you, you too.
SANCHEZ: Coming up, on what he thought would be his last day in the United States. The government took away his life savings. On what may be his last thanksgiving in the United States, he's fighting to get it back. That's next.
Also, here's another question on the citizenship test. Are you ready? The House of Representatives has how many voting members? How many voting members in the House. Do you know the answer? We'll give to you in just a minute.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm John King OUT IN THE OPEN. "My First Thanksgiving" continues after we checked what's happening now in the news.
Surprising development in the case of American teenager, Natalee Holloway. Citing new material in the investigation of her 2005 disappearance in Aruba, authorities have rearrested three men. Here are Van Der Sloot and brothers Satish and Deepak Kalpoe were with Holloway the night she disappeared. Prosecutors charged them with involuntary manslaughter.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today said she's hoping for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians before President Bush leaves office. An international peace conference begins next week in Maryland.
Millions of Americans got a pleasant surprise at airports today, relatively short lines and slight delays. Some 31 million drivers, though, are getting less welcome news. The average price of gas is $3.09 at 85 cents a gallon higher than last year. Not much to be thankful for on Wall Street. The Dow Industrial tumbled more than 200 points. I'm John King. Have a great Thanksgiving, and now back to Rick Sanchez and "My First Thanksgiving."
SANCHEZ: This is the luggage of many of the people who came to Ellis Island. Many of them lost their luggage here. Welcome back.
The story now of somebody who lost his on the way out. Pedro Zapeta, dishwasher, whose story has received so much attention all over the country. Here's the controversy in a nutshell. He washed more than 10 years' worth of dishes, saved close to $60,000. But he was in the country illegally and at the airport, government agents, thinking that he might be a drug dealer, took it all away. Should he get it back?
Here's John Zarrella with Pedro's story.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On this Thanksgiving, likely the last Pedro Zapeta will ever spend in this country, the illegal immigrant says he has very little to be thankful for. In two months, Pedro will go back to his home after years of being away. But he says he can't even be grateful for that.
TRANSLATOR OF PEDRO ZAPETA: I will be happy when I get to see my family, but there's pain in my heart.
ZARRELLA: To understand Pedro's pain, you have to know where he comes from. This small town in the mountains of Guatemala. He left, he says, because there was no opportunity there for him to earn a living or improve life for his mother and two sisters. He traveled overland, through Mexico, and crossed the border illegally into the United States. He made his way to Stuart, Florida, near Palm Beach. He says he came with only one purpose.
TRANSLATOR: I came here to make something of life. Not to fail.
ZARRELLA: He says he never had any interest in staying, so he didn't learn English and spent most American holidays, like Thanksgiving, working. Working is mainly what Pedro did for the next nine years, odd jobs like washing dishes. Saving every spare nickel he could. By 2005, that added up to $59,000. Enough money for him, he says, to buy some land and build a house in Guatemala.
So Pedro packed his suitcase and arrived at Fort Lauderdale Airport with a one-way ticket home and a bag full of cash. His entire savings. But Pedro didn't get very far.
TRANSLATOR: They asked me how much money I had. The security people came. There were a lot of people around me. They counted the money -- $59,000. They called immigration, and then they took me away.
ZARRELLA: It turns out Pedro broke the law by trying to leave the country with more than $10,000 in cash and not declaring it on this one-page form that the federal government requires. If he just had filled out the form, Pedro and his money may very well have been allowed to go home. Instead, the government kept it.
A judge ordered that Pedro could get $10,000 back, but would have to forfeit the rest. Pedro says he didn't know the law and his attorneys have appealed the decision, saying he's being punished too harshly for being an illegal immigrant.
MARISOL ZEQUEIRA, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY FOR ZAPETA: So we're making an example out of Pedro for no good reason.
ZARRELLA: The U.S. Attorney's Office which prosecuted the case would not talk to us about Pedro. But former U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis said the government could have been much tougher.
GUY LEWIS, FORMER US ATTORNEY: The man's clearly violated the law. Do you cease the money and let him go? Do you prosecute? Or you just -- do you walk away from the thing? I actually think the government took the middle ground here.
ZARRELLA: An immigration judge ordered Pedro to buy a ticket and leave the country by the end of January. He expects to return to Guatemala, he says, with little to show except health problems from years of labor. And yet he says if there is something he can be thankful for, it's the hope he still has that one day he will receive justice.
TRANSLATOR: I believe in God's will and that I will get the money back. I will get it back because I earned it.
ZARRELLA: John Zarrella, CNN, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
SANCHEZ: Michael Cutler of the Center for Immigration Studies says, look, Pedro should not get his money back. Here's another important conversation for all of us about America's immigration crisis.
SANCHEZ: So Michael, Pedro Zapeta works in the United States for something like 10 years, while he's here seems to mind his own business, not a criminal, works hard, saves something like $59,000, almost $60,000. On his way out, he fails to declare or sign a paper that he should have signed saying he was leaving the country with more than $10,000.
And as a result, they confiscate the money, take it away from him, and it appears right now that he's not going to get it back. In fact, they want him to pay taxes on that money on top of it and the kid's broke. Is that fair?
MICHAEL CUTLER, FELLOW, CTR. FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: Yes, I think it is and I'll tell you why. First of all, increasingly law enforcement on all levels -- local, state, federal -- are resorting to asset forfeiture to take ill-gotten gains from those people who acquire assets or resources by violating the law.
CUTLER: What you've left out is that is Pedro was an illegal alien.
CUTLER: The work that he did was done illegally.
SANCHEZ: It goes back to the thing you and I are always talking about on this issue. There is no process in this country. It's willy-nilly. We're less -- essentially, you know, the big companies in this country, the big corporations, are essentially recruiting these people from down south of the border.
SANCHEZ: The United States is all but turning its back at the border and allowing them in. And then we got guys like you and I arguing over people like Pedro. I don't think it's Pedro's fault. I don't think it's our fault. It's the government and big business, isn't it?
CUTLER: Well, part of the problem is that government is inseparable from big business these days. We're allowing corporations to make national security and diplomatic decisions for the United States because of campaign finance and other considerations. But the bottom line is really this. If somebody is illegally present in our country, you know, the term that I love to use the (INAUDIBLE) is to say, I'm not going to pay taxes, I shouldn't have to. I just want to take my money and go home.
CUTLER: Well, if you got that job and you earned the money by working illegally, it's still illegal.
SANCHEZ: But, Michael, look, man. Something like 12,000 to 30,000 are here depending -- pardon me, million.
CUTLER: Million, right.
SANCHEZ: Depending whose numbers you go by.
SANCHEZ: You know, the cost of getting them out, to hit on the economy, I mean, is --
CUTLER: Here's the deal. Wait a moment.
SANCHEZ: You've got to come up with a compromise, don't we?
CUTLER: Wait a moment. Let me tell you why I disagree with your reasoning.
SANCHEZ: All right.
CUTLER: Last year, $45 billion was wired from the United States to Mexico and Latin America -- sorry, to the Caribbean and Latin America.
SANCHEZ: Right. Right. Right.
CUTLER: That doesn't include the money that went covertly. It doesn't include the hospitalization costs and the educational costs. So it would really pay for itself not to go out and try to deport 30 million people, but turn off the ability that they have to function, "normally within our borders" and make it clear that if we catch you, you will be barred from ever becoming a resident of the United States.
Go home. Get a passport. Go through the process.
SANCHEZ: I get it. I get it.
CULTER: I believe a lot of people believe.
SANCHEZ: Listen. But on the other side of that, you're also then getting rid of all the taxes that they pay, the sales taxes --
CUTLER: What taxes?
SANCHEZ: The sales taxes that they pay every time they buy something.
CUTLER: Wait. Wait. All right.
SANCHEZ: The property taxes they pay on the rental property that they're at. I mean, you know, they are paying taxes. In fact, we just had the comptroller of Texas on, and she said, actually, we make money on illegal immigrants in the state of Texas.
CUTLER: Well, she does, but the federal government is subsidizing it. You know, I've heard the arguments. Well, we get money from the federal government to pay for health care. We get money from the federal government to pay for the education. That money is still coming out of our economy, and it's coming out of taxpayers' pockets.
The bottom line is, if you're here illegally, if a guy breaks into your house you're not going to say to the guy, would you like a job? You're going to call the police and say, this guy broke into my house.
SANCHEZ: Yes. But if you leave the door wide open, invite them in and then get mad at them for sitting on your couch, then it gets a little strange.
CUTLER: Well, that's the fault -- that's the fault of the politicians because both political parties are exploiting these people. SANCHEZ: Hey, we get to finish on something we both agree on.
CUTLER: Absolutely, Rick.
SANCHEZ: Good to see you, Michael.
CUTLER: Thanks for having me.
SANCHEZ: Have a happy holiday. Take care.
CUTLER: Have a happy thanksgiving.
SANCHEZ: Still ahead. You met my parents. What about my kids? What's their story? What does immigration mean to them?
Here's another question. Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States. Just one of the two longest rivers. We'll have it for you. Stay with us.
SANCHEZ: Welcome back to this special edition of OUT IN THE OPEN. I'm Rick Sanchez. We are spending this Thanksgiving on Ellis Island where 12 million immigrants first came to the United States. Many of them lining up behind this inspector's desk that I'm leaning on right now.
How fast the newcomers simulate. How fast do they become Americanized? Experts say it usually only takes a couple of generations for complete assimilation. Case in point, my own children. Their father was born in Cuba but they're as American as cornbread. Here now, part two of our family story.
SANCHEZ (on camera): Savannah! Hey, nice catch!
SANCHEZ (voice-over): What could be more American than tossing around a football, shooting pool or preparing a Thanksgiving meal. Three generations here in the U.S., and my family is now as American as --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Arros.
SANCHEZ: Well, OK. It's not apple pie.
SANCHEZ (on camera): How do you say beans?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Arros? Frias (ph)
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Frijoles. SANCHEZ (voice-over): My parents left Cuba during the revolution. Fleeing poverty and the fear of communism, they came to the U.S. and settled in Miami.
SANCHEZ (on camera): You work in the hotels in Miami Beach. So you would work one, two, three jobs all in one day. Uh-huh. Not a lot of time to learn how to speak English.
As a child of immigrants, I'm in the middle. To my parents, I speak Spanish. To my wife, I speak English.
So Honey, tell me what we've got for dinner.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, RICK SANCHEZ'S WIFE: We have the prime rib.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, RICK SANCHEZ'S WIFE: Turkey.
SANCHEZ: Now, that's not very Cuban, is it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, RICK SANCHEZ'S WIFE: That's not even American.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Then there's my kids. For them it's really confusing. And Spanish -- doesn't come too easy. In our household, dinner begins with grace, sometimes in two languages.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for this bountiful meal.
SANCHEZ (on camera): Do you remember your first Thanksgiving in the United States?
The immigrant experience is passed down by stories. Dad's car broke down on the highway on his way home from work. There were seven of us in a two bedroom apartment on 29th street with one bathroom.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): For my kids, it's tough to get. They are proud of their Cuban heritage and of the sacrifices their grandparents made.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know my grandparents fought to come here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really just pity those that have to go through all those hardships like they did.
SANCHEZ (on camera): Was there a sacrifice? Was it hard for you to get that? Is it? Do you get it? What did they go through?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Cuba.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Fidel Castro.
SANCHEZ: Fidel Castro. You got it. They had to leave everything behind, right? Start over?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: They were poor.
SANCHEZ: And they had to work hard so that me and my brothers could go to school. They put their children before themselves.
Here's a toast to three generations of our family in the United States. To when my mom and dad came to this country. And look at us now. Cheers.
SANCHEZ: Terrorists in Iraq leave him horribly disfigured. Thanks to CNN viewers and America's generosity, this little Iraqi boy is having a Thanksgiving he never could have imagined.
Here's another question for you. This is our citizenship test. Why does the flag have 13 stripes? Thirteen stripes. Why? The answer after the break.
SANCHEZ: It is unbelievably chilling to look out the window and see that, isn't it? Welcome back, everyone. I'm Rick Sanchez. Now the story of a little Iraqi boy. He was horribly, horribly burned, so he was brought to the United States. Thanks to the generosity of CNN viewers and the CNN program "Impact Your World", he's now getting treatment and he's recovering.
CNN's Arwa Damon is the correspondent who first came across little Youssif. She has gone to visit him to see again to see how he's doing on this his first American thanksgiving.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's eight weeks since we last saw Youssif, but the changes are obvious. For now, the surgery on his burn scars make his face look worse before it gets better. But mentally, he's a happier child, more outgoing.
TRANSLATOR: It makes me happier than he is, to see him like this. His father, who doesn't want to be identified, says --
DAMON: The family's about to experience an American Thanksgiving, an almost unimaginable contrast to the day in Baghdad in January when attackers doused Youssif in gasoline and set him on fire. But first, a day to build Youssif's self-confidence.
We're at Canyon Creek Camp near Los Angeles. Keely Quinn with the Children's Burn Foundation is leading a day for kids who are burn survivors.
KEELY QUINN, CHILDREN'S BURN FOUNDATION: It is a day of fun, but we're also going to do some activities that are a little more challenging and confidence-building. DAMON: There are three kids here with their families. Youssif, 7-year-old Walter burnt in a car accident, and 4-year-old Dami, who was burnt in an accidental explosion.
DAMON: I'm not scared, Youssif declares, watching the others scale the wall. That is, until he actually got up there. But here, everyone's a hero. Something that's reinforced by Bonnie, burned when she was 18 months.
BONNIE WEATHERBEE, BURN SURVIVIOR: We're not freaks. We're not contagious, right?
DAMON: All these families have dealt with hostility or ignorance. But not here. The families draw themselves and build homes, safe places.
This is mommy, Youssif says. There's glitter too. Youssif's never seen it before. I lose the glitter war. Despite the laughter, the past months haven't been easy.
It's hard being a foreigner, his father says. God willing, things will go well. The doctor said the next surgery's going to be harder, and that we need to be ready for that. His mother Zana (ph) breaks down just thinking about home.
But the mood lightens when we talk about Thanksgiving. We're all going to Keely's house.
DAMON (on camera): They're making fun of my cooking.
DAMON (voice-over): They don't know much about the holiday, but Youssif's family knows how lucky they are to be here. Arwa Damon, CNN, Los Angeles.
SANCHEZ: Youssif still has many more surgeries ahead. We're not going to stop checking on him, and we're also not going to stop pulling for him.
One more question for the immigration test. If you wanted to become a citizen you'd have to know this. Federalist papers supported the passage of the U.S. constitution. Name one of the writers. We'll be back.
SANCHEZ: What a place this Ellis Island. So many stories -- rich, rich stories just like the fabric of our country. From all of us at OUT IN THE OPEN, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
I'm Rick Sanchez. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.
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