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President Obama Addresses Immigration Reform; Interview With Pennsylvania Congressman Louis Barletta

Aired January 29, 2013 - 15:00   ET

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


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ken Salazar, he's, you know, of Mexican-American descent, but he points out that his family has been living where he lives for 400 years, so he didn't immigrate anywhere.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: The Irish who left behind the land of famine, the Germans who fled persecution, the Scandinavians who arrived eager to pioneer out West, the Polish, the Russians, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the West Indians, the huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one coast and Angel Island on the other.

All those folks, before they were us, they were them. And when each new wave of immigrants arrived, they faced resistance from those who were already here. They faced hardship. They faced racism. They faced ridicule.

But over time, as they went about their daily lives, as they earned a living, as they raised a family, as they built a community, as their kids went to school here, they did their part to build a nation. They were the Einsteins and the Carnegies, but they were also the millions of women and men whose names history may not remember, but whose actions helped make us who we are, who built this country, hand by hand, brick by brick.

They all came here knowing that what makes somebody an American is not just blood or birth, but allegiance to our founding principles and the faith in the idea that anyone, from anywhere can write the next great chapter of our story.

And that's still true today. Just ask Alan Alima (ph). Alan's here this afternoon. Where's Alan? He's around here. There he is, right here.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Now, Alan was born in Mexico. He was brought to this country by his parents when he was a child.

Growing up, Alan went to an American school, pledged allegiance to the American flag, felt American in every way. And he was, except for one, on paper. In high school, Alan watched his friends come of age, driving around town with their new licenses, earning some extra cash from their summer jobs at the mall. He knew he couldn't do those things.

But it didn't matter that much. What mattered to Alan was earning an education so that he could live up to his God-given potential. Last year when Alan heard the news that we were going to offer a chance for folks like him to emerge from the shadows, even if it's just for two years at a time, he was one of the first to sign up.

And a few months ago, he was one of the first people in Nevada to get approved.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: In that moment, Alan said, I felt the fear vanish. I felt accepted.

So, today, Alan is in a second year at the College of Southern Nevada. Alan is studying to become a doctor. He hopes to join the Air Force. He's working hard, every single day, to build a better life for himself and his family.

And all he wants is the opportunity to do his part to build a better America.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: So -- so, in the coming weeks, as the idea of reform becomes more real, and the debate becomes more heated, and there are folks who are trying to pull this thing apart, remember Alan and all those who share the same hopes and the same dreams.

Remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It is about people. It is about men and women and young people who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way into the American story. And throughout our history, that's only made our nation stronger. And it is how we will make sure that this century is the same as the last, an American century, welcoming of everybody who aspires to do something more, who is willing to work hard to do it, who is willing to pledge allegiance to our flag.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King in Washington.

You're watching there President Barack Obama just finished laying out his vision for comprehensive immigration reform. The president is speaking at a high school in Las Vegas. Immigration, of course, the topic of the moment for both the president and the bipartisan group in Congress.

Mr. Obama speaking just a day after senators from both parties announced they had reached what they call a framework for immigration reform in the United States Senate. A similar group happening -- the conversations happening on the House side as well on a bipartisan basis.

In just a moment, we will hear from some folks who don't agree with the president's proposal.

First, let's get some reaction from our team of political experts and reporters, Gloria Borger with us, our chief political analyst, our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, and Miguel Marquez at a key location in Georgia.

Jess, I want to start with you, because of something the president said. He said he was laying out key markers. But he said if Congress doesn't move a bill, if it bogs down, he will send a specific proposal of his own. That's something reform advocates very much wanted in the first term. Why does the president think the second-term politics are better?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Because of the president's showing among Latino voters. And, as you know, he won more than 70 percent of the Latino vote. Republicans did not show well among them.

And so the shift means that there is a coalition now among Democrats and Republicans, he believes, to move Republicans across the finish line to get something done now on immigration reform.

What is meaningful, I think, about that statement, John, is that the president thinks he now has the wind at his back to at least push his will a little bit. So, he has a piece of legislation written. He's sitting back, letting the Senate lead on this right now, but you could hear a little bit of skepticism about -- in his voice and his words about whether or not that will actually get the job done.

This is supposed to be -- until the Newtown shootings, this was going to be the president's signature policy initiative at the beginning of his second term. This was -- this is the issue he wants to stake his claim on right now. And so he is ready to move on it. He's letting the Senate go for the time being, but if they do not, if they hit a brick wall, they have legislation they are ready to act on and they will.

KING: And so, Gloria Borger, join the conversation.

The president is trying to be pushy and cautious at the same time, if you will, pushy saying if the Congress doesn't get its business done, that he will get more aggressive, cautious, so that at a time when you see more and more Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican vice presidential choice, Congressman Paul Ryan, saying they want to look at this as well and they're not terribly far from the president, of course the devil is in the details. What is the challenge of actually making this bipartisan hope a bipartisan reality?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what the president is doing, John, is he's kind of to the left a little bit as the bad cop, letting the Senate Democratic leaders who are working with their Republican colleagues look like the good cops. So he's sitting out there saying, OK, here's what I want, and which, by the way, would probably be a more direct, shorter path to citizenship than what the Democrats and the Republicans are talking about in the Senate right now. So he sits out there and says, OK, if you don't deal with them, you're going to get me to deal with.

Who would you rather deal with? I think the question you hear from Marco Rubio and the Republicans is, does the president want a deal or does he want a political issue? And I think we're going to have to wait and see, but it sounds like a little bit of, OK, I'm going to let you guys work, but I'm hanging out there, so you guys better get something done because what you're going to get from me is a little bit to the left of what Chuck Schumer and the other Democrats are agreeing to.

KING: Hanging out there, I think, a good way to put it as you watch the president there after that event. He's a few days into his second term. But that looks very much like a campaign event.

Let's get some reaction now outside of Washington. The debate will rage of course inside Washington.

But our Miguel Marquez is inside a student union in Savannah, Georgia -- Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

We're at the Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah. They have a very aggressive program of recruiting Latinos and undocumented students here in Georgia here in Savannah, Georgia one of the top 10 states for the number of Latinos in the state and the South, the Latino population growing enormously over the last 10 years.

These are the students here that have been recruited by the university.

I want to give a very quick little test here. How many of you are undocumented? Raise your hands. How many of you have taken advantage of the deferred action program that the president -- and how many of you have family members, immediate family members, brothers, sisters, parents that are not here legally? Raise your hands.

These guys are also, John, very, very keen on what the president said and they are hopeful, talking to them just a little while ago.

Let me get your name and tell me why you think something will happen this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. My name is Jesse (ph).

I believe that the president was very clear in what he believes needs to be done for the country in order to have positive immigration reform, and, you know, he gave us a good history lesson, that we're all immigrants and we all deserve a chance.

MARQUEZ: I want to talk to Mariana Reyes here who we spoke to yesterday.

Mariana, you actually spoke to your parents about what the Senate talked about yesterday. You have seen this go back and forth over the years. Do you have hope that something will actually happen?

MARIANA REYES, STUDENT, ARMSTRONG ATLANTIC STATE UNIVERSITY: Yes.

MARQUEZ: And why?

REYES: Why? Because, like Jesse said, he made a really good point and I think that it is now the time to make some changes. It is comprehensive. And it is not just for everybody. At the end, we're all immigrants. I think it will happen.

MARQUEZ: But do you think the politics are different? People don't do things out of the goodness of their heart sometimes. But why do you think it is different now?

REYES: Well, because I think it is really shocking to see Republicans turn the table. But I think it is because they realize, like I said, it is the time, and it's also, you know, Hispanics, they are -- we're growing.

MARQUEZ: It is indeed, the population.

Raise your hands, how many of you guys think that something will seriously happen this time around, you will see comprehensive reform?

John, it's an impressive show of force. There is a real sense of optimism here in this university and at this -- in this state, at least among these people, that they will see some real change this time, John.

KING: And, Miguel, let me ask you a favor and ask your cameraman to play along with us here, continuing the point, the show of hands you just said -- this is what I think matters in Washington and what is driving the debate. If you could ask the young students to think of themselves in the American political spectrum, how many of them consider themselves Republicans, a show of hands.

MARQUEZ: Absolutely.

John King has a question for you all. How many of you consider yourselves Republicans?

KING: How many Democrat?

MARQUEZ: If you could all vote today, if you could all vote today, who would consider themselves Democrats? And that is something, John, we hear over and over again, no matter which state we're in or where we go to, and that's obviously why Republicans are so concerned here and that's why this has become such a national issue in the sense of things getting done very quickly, John.

KING: Vivid picture showing you right there the demographics of the country are changing, as Miguel Marquez so smartly notes. Miguel, thank those students and thank you for their input on the conversation today.

Now let's come back to the conversation in Washington. We heard from a bipartisan group of senators yesterday. If you do the math, it seems -- this could get bogged down. But it seems the Senate has at least a general consensus on how to move forward. But what happens when the debate shifts to the Republican House?

Congressman Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania joins us now on the phone.

Sir, you're a critic of the president's proposals. I want to come at this, play devil's advocate for a minute. The president says there will be tougher border security. The president says there will be tougher enforcement, including electronic efforts like E-Verify. He says there will be a path to citizenship, but it will be earned citizenship.

Answer the critic who says the president is trying to address conservative concerns, that essentially he's trying to say yes to you, but you won't accept it.

REP. LOUIS BARLETTA (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, we're talking about replacing the carpet, John, while we still have a hole in the roof.

This will only -- these types of proposals will only make the problem worse. Proposing a pathway to citizenship while our borders are not secured, while people can come on visas and then disappear into our system, will only encourage millions, millions of people around the world to come here illegally, making the matter worse.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Forgive me for interrupting, sir, but both the president -- and let me bring in a conservative in the context -- Senator Marco Rubio on the Senate side said yesterday he won't let that happen. He said this will be phased in, that you will have to certify -- and they will have to agree on how to certify -- but you would have to certify that the border was secure and that you would have to have a system that prevented what you just talked about, people coming in legally, but then overstaying their welcome.

Do you just simply believe it can't be done?

BARLETTA: Well, I believe we haven't done it yet.

This is five years that the president talked about some type of immigration reform and now we're just talking about it again. The problem has been going on for over a decade. And we still know that we can't track people who enter the country illegally and exit the country.

This is also, John, going to make it harder for the legal immigrants. I know the window dressing here claims that we want to help immigrants, but we're actually going to make it harder for the legal immigrants that are here who can't find a job today, and then, thirdly, right now when we are trying to balance a budget in Washington, the cost of a pathway to citizenship for 10 to 12 million illegal aliens will be about $2.7 trillion when you consider Medicare, Social Security, unemployment compensation, food stamps and other welfare programs.

So, you know, I think we're rushing. I think this is a political fix more than it is a practical policy decision that we're going to secure the borders, we're going to make sure we track people, and we're going to make sure we can afford what this is going to cost.

KING: Let me ask you a political question. Obviously, you're in the Republican House majority. You know what happened in the last election. Not only Mitt Romney got 27 percent of the Latino vote. In House races across the country, Democrats got a huge majority of the Latino vote.

In most of the key Senate races, the Democrats got 50, sometimes 60, sometimes 70 percent or more of Latino vote. You're from a largely white district, sir. Maybe this doesn't impact you as much, but when you're in the House Republican Conference, how much of the conversation about the need to do something changed now as opposed to if we had this conversation a month before the election?

BARLETTA: Well, first, we need to look at -- the city I was mayor of before I went to Congress is 40 percent Latino. So I know very well, you know, the problems that come along with illegal immigration and how it hurts the legal immigrants who came here for an opportunity.

And we have now allowed an underground work force to come in and compete for their jobs. I know very well what type of effects illegal immigration has on municipal government. As a political issue, I believe that's really why we're rushing, rather than doing this in the proper sequence of making sure that our borders are secure and that the national security issue of who is in this country, and to make sure we're protecting the American people and American jobs.

But I believe there is more politics behind these types of proposals than there is good policy. And that is, I believe, there is a rush to try to get the Latino vote and that's not the reason that we should be dealing with this type of immigration reform until all of our questions are answered.

KING: Congressman Lou Barletta, Republican of Pennsylvania, sir, I appreciate your perspective today. We will stay in touch as the debate continues in both houses and chambers of Congress. Sir, thank you very much.

Let's bring in Emory University Professor Polly Price now. he's an expert on immigration law.

Polly, let's go through some of the concerns. You just heard the congressman, he's talking about, you know, these people -- let's start with this, people come into the country legally. They have student visas or some other temporary visa and then as the president noted, as anyone who follows this issue notes, some of them just decide not to leave and they overstay their welcome. Why can't the government do a better job tracking them and what can it do to do a better job?

POLLY PRICE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: What it has not done in the past is track people who are leaving. So usually they don't know whether someone who has been here on a temporary visa has overstayed that visa.

KING: And when you hear the president and now some conservatives in the Senate saying E-Verify, more enforcement on employers, how important is that to equation and again what is the government doing right and what is it failing to do right now?

PRICE: Well, I think it is terribly important for the political compromise that there be an emphasis on enforcement, although enforcement has not been lacking for the last four years.

In fact, President Obama has deported more persons than any prior president. So I think that going forward certainly there will be the emphasis on the enforcement side, but I do think that President Obama will spend some political capital on the issue of how these 11 million undocumented aliens can become on the path to citizenship.

KING: And as someone who knows that process, who knows the complicated paperwork, who knows sometimes the frustration of waiting for the bureaucracy, do you think it can be done, that you can have a path to earned citizenship, in which somebody comes forward, gets first a green card, legal status and then gets in line for citizenship?

Can that be done in a way that is fair or as fair as possible in the sense that if there is someone who has been waiting legally, will the people already in this country actually go to the back of the line? That's what a lot of people suspect won't happen.

PRICE: Well, the Senate proposal and President Obama have both said that they would have to go to the back of the line. That line in some instances is years long for family reunification.

It is one of the reasons that employers have said over and over that we need a simplified, streamlined immigration system so that persons can be hired legally and have a legal path.

One thing that I wanted to point out is the Senate proposal does provide a more direct pathway for DREAMers and for agricultural workers. It is really the only thing they have been specific about. So everyone else, it is unclear when, if ever, a path to citizenship would come about, because security of the border must be certified as secure. So it could be decades for most of this 11 million. And that, of course, means that's 11 million people that are not participating in the political process.

KING: Important details to look for as they try to put together the specifics of these proposals. Polly Price, appreciate your insight.

Now let's bring in another critic of the president's proposal. Phil Kent is a member of the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board. Sir, let me start by asking the question this way. As you just listened to the president of the United States, did he say anything that you agree with?

PHIL KENT, GEORGIA IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT REVIEW BOARD: Well, it was pretty much idealistic rhetoric. There wasn't much you could agree on.

There is a lot to agree on perhaps in the bipartisan approach, but I still think incremental approach is going to be the best thing that is going to occur. I think this is going to drag out in the U.S. Senate to probably June or July, into the summer. And I think you're going to have to take this in pieces, for example, the DREAMers, the young children that came here unknowingly when their parents broke the law and came across the border.

You're going to have to streamline the guest-worker programs. I didn't hear Barack Obama say anything about that. The bipartisan group has said a little bit about that. The question of visas, the broken visa policy, we can't handle all of the legal immigrants that are coming in right now. We can't verify a lot of these people who are here.

The cost was never mentioned by the president of the United States. That's going to be a huge, divisive issue when this debate goes forward. And lastly the enforcement has not been occurring under Barack Obama. In fact, the union, the immigration, customs and enforcement union actually condemned their political appointees for not letting them do their job in border enforcement and deportation.

KING: Now, you touch on a very important point there, because the Senate proposal and any proposal ultimately to get enough Republican votes would have to deal with improved border security and what they say is certifying that the border is secure before the other provisions kick in.

This president would say deportations are up and the numbers support that. He would say people crossing the border is down. A lot of that has to do with the unemployment or lack of jobs in the United States, perhaps. But he would also say some of it has to do with increased border security. How can you draw up a standard that a critic like yourself would agree to, that somebody who has the president's perspective agree to as to what a secure border is?

KENT: The border, I think we're making improvements. But the key is fixing the visa program. Almost half of the illegal immigrants here now came here legally, and yet they jumped their visas and melted into society.

And we're not talking just about a Mexican worker. We're talking about a 40-year-old so-called Muslim student that we don't know who he is and where he's from melting into American society. So there is a national security aspect to all of this too.

KING: Phil Kent, a critic of the president's proposal, appreciate your insights today. Obviously, this will be a very complicated and controversial debate as it goes forward.

Gloria Borger, you have been listening to this. I want to bring you back into the conversation, our chief political analyst. You listened to this. Polly Price gives you a lot of technical questions, how do they write the law and how do they enforce it, and you hear from the critics of the president, one a Republican member of Congress, one an activist from the state of Georgia.

There is more consensus today, but is there enough consensus to get an issue that we have seen, we have seen at the beginning -- when Ted Kennedy was standing with George W. Bush and John McCain years ago, you thought this is going to happen. And it didn't happen.

BORGER: I did.

KING: Will it this time?

BORGER: I think there is more likelihood, John, that it will happen. That's because of the political reality.

Most of the country supports some kind of pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. You saw that President Obama beat Mitt Romney by about three to one with Hispanic voters. The problem is that this divides the Republican Party. Only about a third of self-identified Republicans support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

You have to depend on someone like Marco Rubio, who is actually putting himself on the front line. He's a senator with real conservative Tea Party credentials, putting himself on the front line and saying we need do this for the country, and we need to do this for the Republican Party.

This is somebody now who has taken to conservative talk radio, talking about what needs to be done. The key here, John, is enforcement, because the path to citizenship in the Senate version of the bill is going to be contingent on enforcement.

And my big question is, how do you judge -- how do you judge whether the borders are secure? That's going to be a very big question, so as the senators try and map this out. But I have to say, I think we may be closer now than at any other time since I have been covering this issue.

KING: Closer now than at any other time, still a ways to go.

The president says it is -- quote -- "within our grasp." We will watch this one, Gloria. Thanks for your insights.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: We will watch this one as it plays out in the days, weeks and I do suspect months ahead, a controversial issue, but the president believes and there is some Republican support to back up the president's words when he says within our grasp. We will watch this one play out. Thanks for joining us for our special coverage -- Poppy Harlow, back to you on an issue that dominates in politics, but a lot of the pressure behind getting something done, economics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: As critics pounce on Apple, the heavyweight unveils its latest product. But will it make a difference? I'm Poppy Harlow. Roll it.

(voice-over): A homeowner is suing because the seller didn't reveal a killing incident that happened inside the house. We're on the case.

Plus:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This 13-hour procedure was performed by a team of 16 plastic, orthopedic and microvascular surgeons.

HARLOW: A war vet becomes just the seventh person in the country to have his arms replaced.

And Hillary Clinton's exit interview. This hour, CNN sits down with America's top diplomat in her final days as secretary of state.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Now to a story illustrating just how deep the gun divide runs in this country.

Neil Heslin lost his 6-year-old son to the massacre inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. He voiced his grief, but also a goal, an assault weapons ban, on CNN's "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL HESLIN, SON JESSE LEWIS DIED IN SANDY HOOK SHOOTING: I still don't understand why somebody would, especially after what happened to my child, Jesse, want or need an assault-type rifle, an AR-15 for protection.

A shotgun, a handgun would be more than sufficient.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: What a beautiful little boy.

Heslin did the same thing at a public hearing last night in Connecticut and the reaction is making a lot of headlines.