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Paula Zahn Now

Firestorm Erupts Over Government Arrest of Meatpacking Workers; Latinos Held Back in America?; Divisions Between Black and White Firefighters

Aired January 03, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all for joining us tonight.
Across America, racism and intolerance lurk just below the surface. It's always uncomfortable to bring it up, but we need to talk about these hidden secrets and bring intolerance right out into the open. We plan to do that every night here.

Tonight, we talk about the roundup, accusations that the government was far too heavy-handed in a raid that caught hundreds of suspected lawbreakers.

Who is to blame for America's schools? Are Latino families themselves at fault for failing grades and poor achievement?

And dog food dinner -- was it a harmless firehouse prank, or was a black firefighter targeted because of his race?

Tonight, we're bringing these stories out into the open.

We start with a story, though, that is making national headlines, a multistate roundup targeting illegal immigrants who use stolen identities to get jobs. The government says it's all legal, but critics call it tactics heavy-handed. And one human rights activist is even calling what happened gestapo tactics. Most of those arrested were people of color.

The first question "Out in the Open" tonight: How should accused lawbreakers be treated?


ZAHN (voice-over): It's December 12, 2006. Police and federal agents swoop in on Swift Company plants in six states. Later, streams of arrested workers, most of them Latinos, are led away and put on buses. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, ICE for short, calls the raids a major crackdown on identity theft, the culmination of a nine-month investigation.

TIM COUNTS, SPOKESMAN, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT AGENCY: We believe that there may be hundreds of people, U.S. citizens and legal immigrants, whose identities have been stolen by people, who then use those identities to work in Swift plants across the country. ZAHN: In all, some 1, 300 people were arrested, suspected of offenses including identity theft and immigration violation. Prosecutors will put about 200 of them on trial. Hundreds more are being deported.

In Greeley, Colorado, where one plant was raided, union director Fernando Rodriquez says, authorities threatened to arrest him for complaining about the way government agents treated Latino workers during the roundup.

FERNANDO RODRIQUEZ, FOOD & COMMERCIAL WORKERS UNION: They had not yet ate or used the restroom. And they could not use the phones. And there was a -- a police agent that was being real physically, and degraded them on -- verbally.

ZAHN: And, now, three weeks later, some people in other towns where plants were raided say the government did more harm than good.

BRUCE NESTOR, ATTORNEY FOR UNION WORKERS: First of all, it drove the Latino community underground. And, second, it -- it highlighted and dehumanized those workers.

ZAHN: Bruce Nestor is an attorney for union workers at the Worthington, Minnesota, Swift plant. He says the raid there set back efforts to foster racial tolerance and understanding between the town and Latino workers.

NESTOR: I simply don't think that would have been tolerated if, for instance, they had been going after illegal Irish workers or illegal Canadian workers.

ZAHN: Fernando Rodriquez has been trying to help workers' families in Colorado.

RODRIQUEZ: They were crying. I mean, they were -- they -- they were totally confused. They didn't know what to do. They were left behind. The spouse was the only one working. They left children behind, with children left at school, children left with baby-sitters. They -- I mean, they didn't even take account nothing for the children that were left behind.

ZAHN: ICE says it has gone out of its way to ensure that the arrested workers and their families are treated legally and fairly.

Swift, whose products include the Swift Premium deli meats, is the world's second largest processor of beef and pork. The company says it doesn't knowingly hire illegal workers, and, in a press release at the time of the raid, said it voluntarily cooperated with federal programs to verify workers' personal information. It hasn't been charged with any crime.

Swift has provided $300,000 in assistance to the families of those arrested.


ZAHN: And joining me now, Dan Stein, president of the Federation For American Immigration Reform. His group lobbies for improved border security, and calls for a temporary halt to almost all immigration.

Good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.


ZAHN: Thanks, Dan.

I want to start off with a list of some of these allegations against the government. For starters, people were rounded up like cattle. People were not informed of their legal rights. American citizens and legal immigrants were detained just because of their looks, and held, even though their families came with their I.D. papers. White people's claims of citizenship were taken at face value, while Latinos were subjected to repeated scrutiny, and forced to prove their identities.

Did this raid go too far?

STEIN: Now, remember, Paula, we're talking about people here illegally. They're working in these plants using the documents of U.S. citizens.

ZAHN: Not all of them were illegal...

STEIN: We're talking about...

ZAHN: ... as you know, Dan.

STEIN: No, but we're talking about identity fraud and theft, OK?

Now, nobody has -- I have been litigating, and we have been working, litigating these cases, defending the government's right to enforce immigration law in the interior for years.

And these kinds of allegations certainly should be treated seriously. But, nevertheless, they're just allegations. And, in my experience, with watching ICE, and the way they handle these raids, most of them are probably not true. And, in the end, because somebody is here illegally, it means that isn't a criminal status. It's a -- it's a civil violation. They're being deported. They're not being charged and put in jail.

ZAHN: All right.

But -- but let me ask you this, Dan. Do they deserve to be treated like human beings?

STEIN: Of course. Well, look, Paula...


ZAHN: They said they -- some of them weren't allowed to go to the bathroom.

STEIN: Paula...

ZAHN: Some of them were in handcuffs for seven to eight hours, they charge.

STEIN: Paula, the point is, these kinds of allegations have to be subject to tested proof, before we try to -- I'm not a judge and I'm not a jury. They're just allegations at this point. And those kinds of allegations tend to be routinely made by interested parties, who naturally want to defend them.

The point is, we have an orchestrated immigration bar that works in this country to try to prevent interior enforcement. They work with the ACLU, et cetera, that basically says, if you get here illegally and you get a job, they don't want to see you ever get deported.

And -- and there's -- there's this fight going on all across the country in all 50 states, whereby cities and states and -- and -- and citizens are trying to get the immigration laws enforced. And every time we see the kind of stepped-up raid work that we see here happen, we get these allegations.

This is not about Hispanics vs. non-Hispanics.

ZAHN: All right. But...

STEIN: This is about -- this is about U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have the right to have a fair job market to get jobs created in this country...

ZAHN: Do you think...

STEIN: ... not giving them to illegal aliens.

ZAHN: ... the corporation bears any blame at all for hiring these people?

STEIN: Paula, you are so right.

ZAHN: Certainly, not all of these people will have been found to have illegal documentation.

STEIN: Look, we are never, as a country, going to get serious about illegal immigration until both political parties get serious about cracking down on employers.

And every time we see this kind of crackdown, these companies get away with murder. Look, 30 -- 30 years ago, meatpacking jobs paid 15 percent above manufacturing wages. Today, they pay 25 percent below manufacturing wages. This is not about cheap labor. It's about taking what should be good jobs for hardworking middle-class American families, and transforming our society into a two-caste, two-tier labor market, jobs that we don't do and now apparently go to illegal aliens, and then these jobs that they do. And it is not healthy for our civic fabric over the long term.

ZAHN: Dan Stein, we have got to leave it there tonight. Always good to have you on board. Thanks.

STEIN: Thanks.

ZAHN: We are going to bring in tonight's "Out in the Open" panel now, Karen Hunter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who teaches journalism at Hunter College in New York City, Sandra Guzman of "The New York Post," and Niger Innis, a Republican strategist and spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality.

Glad to have all of you with us tonight.

So, we know, and immigration officials have said, Sandra, that they followed policy. They did not break any rules, that these people simply did not have documentation.

SANDRA GUZMAN, "THE NEW YORK POST": It's called Mexico profiling...

ZAHN: Why do you find that objectionable?

GUZMAN: It's called Mexican profiling.


ZAHN: Excuse me.

GUZMAN: It's called Hispanic profiling.

And I want to see the day when C.O.'s officers are raided. It is absolutely a tragedy that these hardworking people, who -- by the way, have you been to a meatpacking plant lately? They work in really horrible conditions. We should be thanking them, not arresting them.

ZAHN: What about folks that are knowingly breaking the law? And -- and they may very well prove that, in some of these cases, and some of, what is it, some 1,300 of these folks that are arrested, in fact, they had illegal documentation? Are we to tolerate that?

KAREN HUNTER, JOURNALISM PROFESSOR, HUNTER COLLEGE: Well, we're tolerating a lot of things.

And, first, this country has to make up its mind about what is its immigration policy. On one hand, we have people who are working in folks' home, mowing their lawns, cleaning their homes, and working in restaurants. And that's OK. We look the other way.


ZAHN: Wink, wink, nod, nod.

HUNTER: But, when it's -- when it's convenient, we will arrest them. I mean, the founding fathers came here as illegal -- illegal immigrants. Either we need to open the borders for everyone, or close it for everyone, and stop playing this game.

ZAHN: So, do you view what happened, as what we know from the facts...


ZAHN: ... as using gestapo tactics?

HUNTER: No. If it's -- if they're here illegally, and we have set a standard that this is illegal, then we treat them like criminals.

If they're here legally, then we don't treat them like criminals. I think we can't have it both ways. And that's the problem with this. We're a little hypocritical.

ZAHN: You're saying we can't have it both ways, and, yet, we have heard descriptions from witnesses, saying that, clearly, there was racial profiling that went down -- down here...



ZAHN: ... that the Hispanic workers were siphoned off from the white workers, and that illegal immigrants were thrown into a big pod with legal Hispanic immigrants.


INNIS: And that -- and that would be wrong. And, if there are any civil rights violations, I'm sure the lawyers are already swarmed, like locusts, on that community. And it will be pursued.

But let's keep in mind, ICE -- this was part of a yearlong investigation. They had already had warrants out, and warrants out for identification fraud, OK, for Social Security fraud. That is against the law, not only being an illegal alien, but actually using somebody else's, using your Social Security number, my Social -- Karen's, Sandra's Social Security number. That is against the law. And that undermines the legitimate American citizen.

The irony about it...

ZAHN: But, Sandra, you were saying that -- that, what, we should have just let this go?


GUZMAN: Well, no. What I'm saying is, let's -- the focus should not just be on the workers. Why not look -- and you actually asked the -- Mr. Stein the question -- why not look at the corporations that are actually hiring? We -- we -- we are completely focusing on the workers.


GUZMAN: And you know what? It's shameful...

INNIS: You know what's funny about that, Sandra, is...


GUZMAN: .. because, you know, at the end of the day, this is an economic issue.


INNIS: It's political correctness...


GUZMAN: This is an economic issue.


INNIS: The funny about it is that...

GUZMAN: Absolutely.

INNIS: ... Swift actually had an identification program that it launched in '97 to make sure that the I.D.s were legitimate. It wasn't effective enough.

ZAHN: Well, it wasn't working, was it?

INNIS: It wasn't working.

But, interestingly enough, a politically correct, you know, sensitive Justice Department sued them, because they were doing something, an internal investigation, that made sense.


HUNTER: This is such a funny-bone discussion.

ZAHN: Why?

HUNTER: This is about whether -- what's illegal. Who determines what's illegal? Who determines who is illegal?

I mean, we have -- we're -- we're having this discussion because somebody determined that these people were illegal, whatever that means.

ZAHN: So, you're saying we have different tiers of acceptance here. HUNTER: We -- exactly. And -- and it's not right. So, either we need to have one or the other. But we can't...


ZAHN: What does that mean, raiding every company in America, then?

HUNTER: Yes, how about that? Let's raid CNN and everyone else.


INNIS: America is the most open, liberal society in the history of the world, not only in the world today, but in the history of the world.

HUNTER: What? What are you talking about?

INNIS: And it is fair for Americans to expect immigration reform that respects the integrity of our borders, just like any other country around the world.

ZAHN: All right.


ZAHN: Let me just throw this out, one last question.

There are a lot of people who feel that this raid will have a limited impact on anything related to immigration, and that, in fact, what you're going to cause is a lot of these undocumented workers to go further underground, making it even harder for them to be nabbed by the government.

GUZMAN: Look...


GUZMAN: I think this issue -- the issue here is economics.

Someone is hiring people at very, very low wages and exploiting them. So, I think the focus should be on these companies.

HUNTER: And who is going to focus on those companies, Sandra? Who is going to focus? Who...

GUZMAN: Do you think we're going to focus...

HUNTER: Who is going to focus on them?

GUZMAN: ... on Fortune 500 companies...


GUZMAN: ... that are trying meet the bottom line? Hell no.

HUNTER: Exactly.

GUZMAN: They're trying to make money off the backs of these people...


GUZMAN: ... who just come to this country to work.


ZAHN: You get the final thought.

INNIS: I have a point of agreement here, in that there are, by some estimates, a half-million unskilled jobs out there that are unfilled, and there's a desire. And there are only 5,000 unskilled visas that are being distributed. There needs to be immigration reform, but a reform that protects the integrity of our borders.


INNIS: And people do not have the right, the constitutional right, to just come in to the country illegally.


HUNTER: The people who are taking advantage of this are the ones that are making the laws. how -- how are we going to have fair -- how are we going to have fair laws?


ZAHN: All right.

HUNTER: Please.

ZAHN: Save those thoughts.

HUNTER: Come on.

ZAHN: We have got more ahead...


ZAHN: ... folks out there.

Karen Hunter, Sandra Guzman, Niger Innis, look forward to talk to you in little bit.

Back here in the U.S., hidden racism isn't always a question of black and white. Coming up next, we're going to visit a small Southern town where intolerance between blacks and Latinos is out there in the open.

And, later, have you have heard whose Koran the country's first Muslim congressman is going to use at his swearing-in tomorrow? You might not believe it. And you might be surprised by all the uproar over it.

Are you guys mad about that?



Well, some folks are.

INNIS: Just prefer to use a Bible. That's all.



ZAHN: Among the stories we're bringing "Out in the Open" tonight: a black firefighter's plate of spaghetti and dog food. Was it a harmless prank or was he a victim of racism?

Another one of the stories we're bringing "Out in the Open" tonight may be a surprise to many of you. The latest census shows that half the country will be non-white in another 50 years, and one of every four Americans will be Latino. That's the future course of the country.

But it's already happening in a small Southern town that now finds itself dealing with an entirely new reality about race.

Here's Randi Kaye with more.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The tiny town of Willacoochee, Georgia, just 45 miles north of the Florida border, is a kind of demographic time machine into the future.

Some of the largest growth in Latinos in the United States has occurred right here, much to the dismay of many black residents. Racial tension here, having simmered between blacks and whites, is now, as they say, between blacks and browns.

JOYCE SOLOMON, COUNTY CLERK: Now, when you have another, you know, race that's coming in and -- and trying to survive, just like we're trying to survive, you know, it just makes it that much harder.

KAYE: It's no secret here. Townspeople say the two races don't get along. There is a language barrier, and they're competing with each other for jobs and public assistance.

SOLOMON: It's always rumored that Hispanics are hardworking, so, if you have 10 openings, you know, in a factory or distribution center or whatever, the majority, you know, will go to the Hispanics.

KAYE: County Clerk Joyce Solomon says her daughter was laid off, then replaced by a Hispanic worker. This man tells us his African- American neighbors turn down jobs he's willing to take. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They think we're stealing their work, but we're not stealing anything from anyone. On the contrary, we are going forward. I have never seen a black person that works like we do in the fields.

KAYE: But if there is anything that could unite Willacoochee...

PASTOR HARVEY WILLIAMS, PENTECOSTAL MINISTER: I do pray that we all can be as one.

KAYE: ... it just might be the longtime friendship of Pastors Harvey Williams and Atanacio Gaona, even though few others accept it.

ATANACIO GAONA, PASTOR: I can feel their look, you know? They're looking at us, kind of, what's going on with this?


KAYE: People stare because Pastor Gaona is Latino, Pastor Williams black.

GAONA: Hey, I just see his as -- as a human being, like myself. And I...

KAYE (on camera): And what about you?

WILLIAMS: I saw him as just a -- a human being. I have -- I have never saw color. I have never seen color. I have never -- I don't know. I guess I have always been attracted to people because of their -- their character, rather than the color of their skin.

KAYE (voice-over): Pastor Gaona came here from Mexico 20 years ago, part of a steady stream of Latino immigrants to Atkinson County. Today, half the preschoolers are Latino.

(on camera): These days, in Atkinson County, blacks are outnumbered. Hispanics make up 21 percent of the population, blacks just 19 percent. Compare that to the 1960s, when the county was segregated and the nation's population was closer to 200 million. Thirty percent of the population here was black, and there were no Hispanics.

(voice-over): Blacks are losing their edge and their place.

WILLIAMS: I don't think we should be on the critical -- critical side of this issue. I don't think we should be criticizing them. I think we should be learning from them. How are they able to do this? They're coming over, and, in just a few years, they're able to purchase land and own property. And here we are. We was born here. And they are exceeding us.

KAYE: And, one day, they plan to bring both congregations together for a service.

GAONA: They need to understand that we -- I mean, we're different colors, but we're still human beings, and we deserve respect, every one of us.

KAYE: A small town, a kind of imperfect mirror image of where much of this country may be headed.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Willacoochee, Georgia.


ZAHN: And there is a new controversy "Out in the Open" in the Latino community. One prominent Latino politician now says it's their own fault that so many of his people live in poverty. He will explain why in just a few minutes.

Coming up a little bit later on in this hour, I am going to tell you whose Koran the country's first Muslim congressman will be using when he's sworn in tomorrow. And I will ask Headline Prime's Glenn Beck if he's OK with that.

A little bit later on, we're bringing allegations of firehouse racism out into the open, allegations that began with a plate of spaghetti mixed with dog food.

We will be right back.


ZAHN: And welcome back.

Our "Out in the Open" look at intolerance against Latinos in America continues with a critical look at Latinos themselves.

Are they to blame for their own higher-than-average rate of poverty? New Yorker Herman Badillo thinks so. The first native-born Puerto Rican elected to Congress generated some shocking headlines after he blamed his own people in a critical new book, "One Nation, One Standard: An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Like Other Immigrant Groups." In it, he argues that education is not a Latino family value, and that too many Latinos are not making an effort to learn English.

It is a radical turnabout. And Herman Badillo joins me now.

Thanks so much for joining me tonight.

So, you are saying that the fact that so many kids are dropping out of high school...


ZAHN: ... the fact that so many Hispanics are not educated...

BADILLO: Over 50 percent -- 50 percent of Hispanic kids do not even graduate from high school.

ZAHN: All right.


ZAHN: And you're saying that is not the fault of the school system?

BADILLO: Oh, yes. No, no, no, I'm saying it's the fault of the...

ZAHN: But the parents, though, primarily are to blame?

BADILLO: I'm saying we cannot expect the school system to correct it.

The parents have to get more involved, get into the schools, find out what is happening, find out what techniques are being used that prevent the kids from learning.

For example, social promotion -- what happens is that kids are passed automatically, whether they're learning or not. If you do your work, you pass. If you don't do your work, you pass. Then, the kids get to be ninth or 10th grade, and they're reading at the fourth- or fifth-grade level. And drop out.

ZAHN: But...


BADILLO: Parents have to know about that.

ZAHN: Right. Let's come back to the crux of that. When you -- when you talk about the parents...


ZAHN: ... are you suggesting that Hispanic parents simply don't care about educating their children?

BADILLO: No. I'm saying -- no. I'm saying that they have to get more involved in what's going on.

They don't realize what's going on. They don't realize the techniques that are used.

ZAHN: Why is that?


BADILLO: Because they don't go to the parent/teachers' conferences -- not everyone, of course. Some do. But, in general, they don't participate in what's going on. They don't insist that they look and see whether the kids are getting homework, whether they're doing it, and whether they're performing.

And, if they did, they would realize that they're not learning. And that is why I say, we -- this is a message to the Latino community, that we have to wake up and begin to look at the problem, because education is the key to moving ahead in this country. ZAHN: And many of those people are charging you with being a race-baiter.

BADILLO: No. No, they're not.

Some people, my opponents -- you may remember I changed the standards at the City University. The same people who, of course, when, you know, I was chairman of the board, opposed me, because there are some people who don't want to have any discussion that reflects poorly on a community, even if it's true. They don't deny the facts. They just don't think that I should talk about it. That's the problem.

ZAHN: Well, let's -- well, Congressman Badillo, let's bring back our panel right now, Karen Hunter, Sandra Guzman, Niger Innis.

What about that, Sandra?

GUZMAN: Well, I -- I actually -- with all due respect, I want to know where you got this 50 percent statistic , because...

BADILLO: Oh, the national...

GUZMAN: ... because the last numbers I saw was 33 percent.

And I am not saying there isn't a problem.


BADILLO: ... nationwide.

GUZMAN: I'm saying to generalize and say that it is the fault of Hispanic parents, that our kids are failing, is divisive. It's dangerous. It's dangerous...

ZAHN: What if it's true?

BADILLO: Excuse me. There's a national report card that is published. It was...

GUZMAN: But -- but wait a minute. It's not true.


BADILLO: Excuse me -- it's published by -- it was -- it's an agency, published...


GUZMAN: It's not true. Hispanics do care about education. We care about our children.

BADILLO: No, no, I'm talking about the facts, the facts.

GUZMAN: You're generalizing that...

BADILLO: No, I'm not.

GUZMAN: ... all Hispanic families -- so, that means that your family doesn't care about education.

BADILLO: No. I didn't say all Hispanics.

GUZMAN: Are you still Hispanic?

BADILLO: Excuse me. I didn't say all Hispanic families. You and me and others, Hispanics, have achieved.

I say, the huge percentage of Hispanics are not achieving. And we have to face that, because that's a reality. To ignore it, it's a disservice towards...


ZAHN: How do you think African-Americans would feel...


ZAHN: ... if the same criticism was lodged against them?


HUNTER: As the Puerto Rican Bill Cosby...


ZAHN: "You don't care about your children as much as Asians do," you know, whatever the charge is going to be.

HUNTER: Right.

As the Puerto Rican Bill Cosby, I completely agree with him. And I think that, ultimately, we live in America. This country is based on people putting themselves up by the boot=straps and being successful.

All of the -- we have access to everything here. If you are not successful, it's your fault. And, if your kids aren't doing well, look in the mirror. At the end of the day, the school system sucks. But, then, it's up to you, as a parent, to augment what the school system isn't giving, because...

ZAHN: But, clearly, there are...

HUNTER: ... if your kid is not successful, whose fault is it?

ZAHN: ... pockets of populations that are under-served in this country. And all of us have to concede that the quality is not the same across the board in school districts across the country.


INNIS: And, at other times, our children are being miseducated by politically correctness, which Herman's book is thrashing.

And thank goodness he is.

BADILLO: That's what I'm talking about.

INNIS: You call him -- you call him the Bill Cosby, the Latino Bill Cosby.




HUNTER: ... Puerto Rican Bill Cosby.

INNIS: I call him the Latino Roy Innis, because...

GUZMAN: And, in some circles, he's being called...


GUZMAN: ... and a sellout.

INNIS: No, not all.


INNIS: The sellouts are those that will allow their children to continue to mire in poverty, and they're not doing well in school.

GUZMAN: I don't know of any Hispanic parent who, in his or her -- her right mind, is going to be look at his child and say, great, you're failing.


GUZMAN: You're blaming -- it's not -- it's not that simple.


ZAHN: I know you don't buy this statistic that Herman used about 50 percent failing.


ZAHN: Let's say it's 33 percent.


ZAHN: How do you defend that? Whose fault is that?


GUZMAN: I don't defend that. It's tragic. It's absolutely tragic. ZAHN: But don't parents...


INNIS: This book is a book of liberation.


ZAHN: ... have -- deserve any responsibility for that?

GUZMAN: Absolutely. It's parents. It's society. It's our culture.

Remember, we live in a society where we celebrate Paris Hiltons of the world. Come on.


INNIS: And that -- and that's wrong with our culture.


INNIS: And let me tell you something. This book is a -- is not oppressive. It is a pathway to success. It is a road map to success, not just for Latinos, but for any group that is trying to climb up the economic -- socioeconomic ladder.

HUNTER: And, if you're mad about it, do something about it. If you're mad about it, do something about it.


HUNTER: I'm -- I'm standing here today, because Marge (ph) and Don (ph) Hunter made sure that I got an education.

And, if I brought home a B, guess what? I -- well, I won't tell what you they did to me.


HUNTER: But that -- that fear...

INNIS: We need to go back to that standard. That's right. That's right.

HUNTER: ... propelled me. And I think there's no fear in today's youth. They don't care. There's nothing that's going...


ZAHN: What about the fact, Sandra, that some people will think you're being in...


GUZMAN: I just think it's unfair to just say it's just parents. ZAHN: ... that you're being too sensitive to the criticism, once you hold the mirror up to your community?

GUZMAN: No, I'm not -- I'm not -- Paula, I'm not being insensitive.

I'm just -- I -- I think this is -- this is race-baiting. I think it's -- it's really unfair to just say it's the parents' fault.

BADILLO: We have to talk about the problem.

GUZMAN: It does start with the family...

BADILLO: We cannot hide the problem.

GUZMAN: ... absolutely. But...

BADILLO: You're trying to hide the problem because you don't want to talk about it.

GUZMAN: No, I'm not trying to hide the problem. What I'm saying is that it's not that simple. No.

BADILLO: What I'm calling is for a national conversation in the Hispanic community to improve the conditions because the facts have been known for a long time and we just sit around and do nothing.


GUZMAN: And maybe the gem of this conversation is that -- of this book we're having that conversation.

BADILLO: That's the point. Exactly.

GUZMAN: But, Badillo, quickly, it's like if I'm having a child who is failing and he comes to me and I call him stupid.

BADILLO: I'm not saying anybody's stupid. Excuse me, no, no.

GUZMAN: You know what? You're saying parents don't care and we don't have a culture where education...

BADILLO: I'm saying they don't get involved. They don't get involved. That's a reality.

ZAHN: OK, we've got to cut this off, but it gives us plenty of fodder for future conversations. Thank you all.

Coming up next, as we bring in tolerance out into the open, we look ahead to the swearing in of America's first Muslim Congressman. Hear what Glenn Beck has to say about that in our weekly talk.

And then a little bit later on, the firefighter who says he was fed dog food for dinner mixed in his spaghetti. His case brings in tolerance among firefighters across the country right out into the open. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Outspoken and controversial Headline Prime host Glenn Beck joins me every week. So let's find out what he has to say about some of the stories of intolerance we're bring out in the open tonight.

Always good to see you. Happy new year.


ZAHN: Let's talk about a milestone that's being reached tomorrow that's creating an awful lot of controversy. You've got the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, Keith Ellison, being sworn in, in a ceremonial swearing in with a Koran, a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Ellison said today, "Jefferson's Koran dates religious tolerance to the founders of our country," but there are critics out there that say that this is ridiculous. He should be sworn in on a Bible.

GLENN: First of all, it is ridiculous the critics. He's not being sworn in on anything. You do not put your hand on anything. This is a photo op. It happens with all of them. People have been sworn in with the Torah. John Quincy Adams was sworn in on a law book. It's your choice and it is the quintessential freedom of religion to be able to use whatever book you choose.

ZAHN: The biggest critic of Ellison is a representative who's name is Virgil Goode and he says unless you tighten up immigration now, more and more Muslims are going to come into this country and do the same thing.

GLENN: Oh, no! Oh, no!

ZAHN: Is this about religion or fear?

GLENN: This is clearly about fear. First of all, more and more people like Ellison will come in. Oh no! His family has been here since 1742. This is not about immigration. It's about freedom of religion. Now, if I would say, gee, you'd better tighten things up, otherwise more Jews would come in, I would be called an anti-semite. How is this not about fear?

ZAHN: But the fact is, Representative Goode is not alone in his thinking. We found a poll that dates back to 2006 and it basically says nearly four out of 10 Americans say they do feel some kind of prejudice against Muslims. So while religious freedom is all well and good, the reality is that almost half of our population shares this kind of bias.

GLENN: Sure. There are reasons to fear people coming in and immigrating and not assimilating. That's what's happening with the Muslim community in Europe. They're not becoming Europeans. If you want to come here and assimilate, and be a Muslim, God bless you.

ZAHN: All right, so are you OK with the fact this Gallup poll also discovered that 31 percent of Americans say they would be nervous they noticed a Muslim man on their flight.

GLENN: No, I wouldn't be nervous if I noticed a Muslim man on my flight. What that poll says is not justified. If you see a Muslim on a flight and you would be afraid because you see a Muslim, that's a problem.

If you see somebody who is doing something, maybe a Muslim, may not be a Muslim, but is demonstrating different things that have been done that make you suspicious beyond being a Muslim, then you should -- then that fear is justified. You should pay attention to that.

ZAHN: You should pay attention to it. You also believe that we got caught up in a bunch of political correctness and people are too afraid to express those fears. So what do you accomplish by people using all kinds of racial slurs and being very public about their intolerance, whether you feel it's justified or not?

GLENN: I don't think you accomplish anything. I think this Koran nonsense with Keith Ellison is just that. It's nonsense. It's a nonissue. It has everything to do with you not having to be of certain religion to serve your country, to be able to say I am a member of a different faith than you and us respect that, for you to be able to choose and put your hand on a Koran as opposed to a Bible is quintessentially America.

It is not an issue. The rest of it, being twisted and playing on people's fears, is quintessentially un-American.

ZAHN: We've got to leave it there tonight. Glenn Beck, always good to see you.

GLENN: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: And still ahead tonight, dog food for dinner? Startling charges from a black firefighter in one of America's biggest cities. His story is bringing racism among firefighters out in the open.

Then a little bit later on, could hidden bias be the reason why poor minorities aren't getting the information they need about programs to help them pay for food?


ZAHN: Tonight we're bringing out into the open racial intolerance in the nation's firehouses. We all of course depend on firefighters to work together to rescue us in a disaster. But a case in Los Angeles is exposing deep divisions between black and white firefighters. Ted Rowlands has more.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this Los Angeles fire station, Tennie Pierce, a black firefighter was fed a plate of spaghetti laced with dog food by a group of white firefighters. They say it was just a prank. He says it was racism. TENNIE PIERCE, FIRED DISCRIMINATION SUIT: This is wrong. If four black firemen did it to a white fireman, I would stand up for the white fireman and say it's wrong.

ROWLANDS: It's a profession that conjures up images of bravery and heroism, but over the years, blatant examples of racism have plagued fire departments around the country. Three years ago in Chicago, firefighters were caught using racial slurs over the radio. Before that, two off-duty New York firefighters were caught on tape in black face making fun of African-Americans on this racist parade float.


ROWLANDS: And last year in Jacksonville, Florida, this African- American firefighter said he found a noose hanging in his equipment locker.

ARNETT HARTSFIELD, RETIRED FIREFIGHTER: Racism is inherent in this country.

ROWLANDS: 88-year-old Arnett Hartsfield has many stories about racism. He joined the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1940 when it was segregated. Black firefighters were all assigned to the same station and did not mix with their white counterparts. Hartsfield helped lead the charge to end the separation in the '50s and that's when he says the trouble started.

HARTSFIELD: They would line up with wet towels, handballs, see who could hit the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) baby, a dishpan with an iron spoon in your ear when you were trying to study or turn out the lights or throw your shadow on the wall and talk about what sexual acts your mother must have committed with an ape for you to be conceived.

ROWLANDS (on camera): Why do you think that there was more racism in the fire department than there was in the general mix of society?

HARTSFIELD: Because of the special nature of fire fighting. You eat and sleep together. You live together. Most of the jobs you go for eight hours and go back home.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Carol Chetkovich, the author of "Real Heat," which documents the history of racism in fire departments, agrees with Hartsfield saying the tight-knit atmosphere of a fire crew doesn't lend itself to new blood.

CAROL CHETKOVICH, AUTHOR: And that whole sort of fraternal social arrangement I think makes it hard not just to bring in somebody who is of a different color, but somebody who doesn't fit with the group.

ROWLANDS: Captain Brent Burton has been a Los Angeles firefighter for 21 years. He's also the president of the Stentorians, an L.A. County black firefighters' association. He says things have come a long way since the '50s, but there's still a problem, especially if someone tries to speak up.

BRENT BURTON, CAPTAIN, LA. COUNTY FIRE DEPT: If you're the one person bringing a complaint and you have four or five other firefighters in there that say well, just let it go or don't do that, because now the attention turns on you and there's ways that they kind of want to freeze you out or intimidate you out of the place and that still goes on.

ROWLANDS (on camera): But some people believe the pendulum has actually swung the other way and that African-Americans now enjoy an advantage when it comes to hiring or promotions.

Here in Los Angeles, the dog food case is getting a lot of attention because there's speculation that what happened at this station may not have been racism, but rather just another firehouse prank.

(voice-over): After these photos surfaced showing Tennie Pierce hazing other firefighters, the Los Angeles City Council shot down a $2.7 million settlement agreement with Pierce. Pierce and his lawyer argue that hazing is done openly as a traditional way to mark someone's promotion, while Pierce was fed the dog food without his knowledge, and for no apparent reason.

The Pierce case may have cost the L.A. fire chief his job. He stepped down last month in the wake of the controversy, and was replaced by the first African-American to hold the top spot in the department's long and often difficult history. Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.


ZAHN: So we turn again to tonight's out in the open panel. Out in the open here, Karen Hunter, Sandra Guzman and Niger Innis. So Niger, is this a clear-cut racism, what happened at the Los Angeles Fire Department or is this just the culture as we've seen of fire departments perhaps across the country?

INNIS: It actually might be a little bit of both and what's very interesting about it is that the black firefighters are not supporting him universally. There's some firefighters say it's the right case, it's the right issue to discuss, but it's the wrong guy because this particular individual had been involved in hazing and had been one of the boys for some 20 years, close to 20 years. So it is a complicated case.

ZAHN: But do you guys think that hazing has anything to do with this case?

HUNTER: No, there were two people before Rosa Parks got sat down that day, and was there racism during that time?

INNIS: Of course there was.

HUNTER: OK, so to bring that up, and I think those guys are just jealous because they're not in on the money and maybe they want to be in on it.

INNIS: I hope it's not just about the money.

HUNTER: But I think the culture is racism. So I don't think you can divide it like that.

ZAHN: So there's no question in your mind this firefighter was targeted because he was black.

HUNTER: There's no question.

ZAHN: Now there was also another incident where he got up and apparently had somebody sprinkled some white powder in his bed when he got up.

GUZMAN: What you were saying there's a pattern, there's a consistent pattern of racist acts against this African-American.

ZAHN: But does this man have less credibility because he was involved in this hazing incident.

GUZMAN: I don't think.

HUNTER: Someone squirted mustard on him? What's racist about that?

INNIS: Cut the hair off of the genitals, I believe, of another colleague.

HUNTER: OK, but that's kind of the hazing. But he wasn't being hazed.

INNIS: The last comment I think had the right point of view on this question, which is they don't believe there should be any type of hazing at all, formally, which is why they're not backing him universally.

Now I should say for full disclosure, the Congress of Racial Equality in Los Angeles has urged the mayor to reinforce that settlement that the city council had come to, I think, $2.7 million and then they now vetoed it. And the Congress of Racial Equality rebelled against that and protested that because they felt it was wrong. They thought it was a just settlement that the city of Los Angeles had come to with this particular firefighter.

GUZMAN: But you're talking (INAUDIBLE). I don't understand you. On the one hand you say it's racial, and then the other hand you say that it really has to do with hazing.

INNIS: I'm saying you are going to have to deal with the issue of hazing not just in this fire department but all over the country.

HUNTER: But maybe we could deal with the issue of racism. Maybe we should deal with that issue and maybe we can eradicate all that and you can haze all you want. I mean, the 80 plus-year-old firefighter who was on there... INNIS: ... Then there will be gender bigotry charged, I'm sure.

HUNTER: The 80 plus-year-old who talked about his beginnings in the fire department...

ZAHN: ... Sure, but decades of this kind of behavior.

HUNTER: And it's because people are living together and they don't want to live together in a barracks with black folks and cook for black folks and be in that brotherhood. They don't want that. So what do you do? You make people uncomfortable.

GUZMAN: But it's not just racism too, by the way, it's also sexism, because how many female fire fighters are in our nation's fire department?

HUNTER: That's a whole other issue.

GUZMAN: So there's also sexism and racism. It's a very white male institution.

INNIS: And you now have a black chief and it's going to be very important. I hope that this is not symbolic.

HUNTER: That's not going to change this.

INNIS: Well, he's got the job.

HUNTER: Window dressing.

INNIS: He's got the job, he's got to do something about it and if he doesn't do something about it, he's got to be held accountable.

ZAHN: Why do you think it's just window dressing? You don't think it will have any impact at all on attitudes within the fire department?

HUNTER: No, because it's so deep in the very fabric and I said this before, of our culture that how do you eradicate it, by sticking someone in that position?

ZAHN: That's like saying you put Condi Rice in her position and said nothing to effect?

HUNTER: Oh, yes, we have Clarence Thomas, my rights are really protected by Clarence Thomas sitting on the Supreme Court. I feel really...

INNIS: Mine aren't.

HUNTER: Yours probably are.

INNIS: I feel quite protected by Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and quite proud, too.

HUNTER: That's scary. ZAHN: OK.

HUNTER: But look, the man has the position, he's got the power now. What he does with it, it's up to him. Now, it is in term, so he can raise some hell and really get some things done.

ZAHN: We'll be watching him from here. Karen Hunter, Sandra Guzman, Niger Innis, thank you for all of your time tonight.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up in just a few minutes. Hi, Larry, happy new year. Haven't talk to you in ages.

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Paula, how are you?

ZAHN: I'm good, thanks. How was your holiday?

KING: Fine, yours?

ZAHN: Very good, thank you. You've got a lot of work to do tonight. Who are you talking to tonight?

KING: Well, the lady who says she's James Brown's widow, but she got locked out of his house the day after he died last week. And her first interview since his funeral is at the top of the hour right here.

Plus, a man who was sailing around the world solo is now lost at sea in his damaged boat. And can rescuers find him in time? We've got an update with his daughters and his girlfriend. All straight ahead, Paula.

ZAHN: And didn't I see you with your kids on TV over the holiday weekend?

KING: Yes, with Jack Hanna and one poisonous frog -- or toad jumped on Chance and freaked him out of his mind.

ZAHN: He didn't get bitten or anything? Nothing terrible happened to him?

KING: He did not get bitten. But he will never...

ZAHN: He looked awfully cute.

KING: ... he will not hang around toads ever again.

ZAHN: I don't blame him.

Thanks for bringing me to work, dad.

Thanks, Larry. See you coming up in about ten minutes from now.

When we come back, we're going to bring you another story of intolerance out in the open, one that could be keeping food from some of the Americans who need it the most.


ZAHN: Now we're going to bring an incredible contradiction out in the open. Some of the very people you've seen here tonight working in the slaughterhouses, the farms and the fields don't have enough food to feed their own families. And a brand new study shows a government program to help is failing because of what some consider intolerance.

Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen checked into the problem for tonight's "Vital Signs".


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Food for the hungry. And the hungry in this country are disproportionately minorities, African-American, Hispanic, new immigrants.

But a new study says information about the federal Food Stamp Program is too often aimed at white people.

CAROL TUCKER FOREMAN, FMR. ASST. SECRETARY, USDA: You have to talk and -- talk and tell stories that are culturally appropriate to the people that you want to hear and respond.

COHEN: The study authors say government pamphlets need to be written in more languages, too often it's just English and Spanish, and that pamphlets are often written at a sixth grade reading level or above, too high, they say, for many food stamp recipients.

And sometimes the bias is just below the surface, hard to detect but there.

(on camera): The study authors say that the government simply isn't sensitive to the needs of people on food stamps. For example, they say that one government pamphlet suggests that people who are on food stamps buy bagged vegetables like this one. Well, at almost $4 a bag, they say that's not very practical.

(voice-over): But there may be ways to fix these problems. The Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center researchers urge the Food Stamp Program to teach people with what they call photo novels, essentially comic books like this one used in HIV education, instead of using text heavy pamphlets like this one.

In a statement the USDA said, "There is a large range of materials and activities beyond those considered by the study designed to improve access to the program, to encourage thrifty food shopping and to promote healthy eating for all our clients. Encouraging healthy life styles through the use of the [Food Stamp Program] benefits is important to us."

In the meantime, critics say the government could learn a lesson from advertisers" race and ethnicity matter.

TUCKER FOREMAN: If you go to Madison Avenue and ask people who sell marketing to big food firms, they'll tell you nothing matters more.

COHEN: The proof that the government isn't doing a good marketing job, critics say, is that 40 percent of the people that are eligible for food stamps haven't even enrolled in the program.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Atlanta.


ZAHN: And there's this: according to the government, nearly 14 million children are among the hungry who cut portions or skip meals simply to get by.

Coming up in just a few minutes at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE", the controversy after the death of the Godfather of Soul. Larry welcomes the woman who says she's James Brown's widow. Is she?


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight.

Thanks so much for joining us. As some of you are joining us for the first time this year, tomorrow we'll follow the swearing in of the country's first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison, using Thomas Jefferson's Koran.

And we'll take you to a Texas town that doesn't want a mosque for a neighbor.

That's all coming up tomorrow night. We hope you'll join us then. Have a great night.