MODERATOR: Let’s go to a new question, Mr. President. I got more e-mail this week on this question than any other question, and it is about immigration. I’m told that at least 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. Some people believe this is a security issue, as you know, some believe it’s an economic issue, some see it as a human rights issue. How do you see it and what do we need to do about it?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I see it as a serious problem. I see it as a security issue, I see it as an economic issue, and I see it as a human rights issue. We’re increasing the border security of the United States. We got 1,000 more border patrol agents on the southern border. We’re using new equipment. We’re using unmanned vehicles to spot people coming across. And we’ll continue to do so over the next four years. It’s a subject I’m very familiar with. After all, I was a border governor for a while.
Many people are coming to this country for economic reasons. They’re coming here to work. If you can make 50 cents in the heart of Mexico, for example, or make $5.00 here in America — $5.15 — you’re going to come here if you’re worth your salt, if you want to put food on the table for your families. And that’s what’s happening.
And so, in order to take pressure off the border, in order to make the borders more secure, I believe there ought to be a temporary worker card that allows a willing worker and a willing employer to mate up, so long as there’s not a American willing to do the job — to join up in order to be able to fulfill the employer’s needs. That has the benefit of making sure our employers aren’t breaking the law as they try to fill their work force needs. It makes sure that the people coming across the border are humanely treated, that they’re not kept in the shadows of our society, that they’re able to go back and forth to see their families. See, the card will have a period of time attached to it.
It also means it takes pressure off the border. If somebody is coming here to work with a card, it means they’re not going to have to sneak across the border. It means our border patrol will be more likely to be able to focus on doing their job.
Now, it’s very important for our citizens to also know that I don’t believe we ought to have amnesty. I don’t think we ought to reward illegal behavior. There are plenty of people standing in line to become a citizen and we ought not to crowd these people ahead of them in line. If they want to become a citizen, they can stand in line, too. And here’s where my opponent and I differ. In September, 2003, he supported amnesty for illegal aliens.
MODERATOR: Time’s up. Senator.
SENATOR KERRY: Let me just answer one part of that last question quickly and then I’ll come to immigration. The American middle-class family isn’t making it right now, Bob, and what the President said about the tax cuts have been wiped out by the increase in health care, the increase in gasoline, the increase in tuitions, the increase in prescription drugs. The fact is the take-home pay of a typical American family as a share of national income is lower than it’s been since 1929. And the take-home pay of the richest .1 percent of Americans is the highest it’s been since 1928. Under President Bush, the middle class has seen their tax burden go up, and the wealthiest tax burdens gone down. Now, that’s wrong.
Now, with respect to immigration reform, the President broke his promise on immigration reform. He said he would reform it. Four years later, he’s now promising another plan. Here’s what I’ll do: Number one, the borders are more leaking today than they were before 9/11. The fact is we haven’t done what we need to do to toughen up our borders — and I will.
Secondly, we need a guest worker program, but if it’s all we have, it’s not going to solve the problem. The second thing we need is to crack down on illegal hiring. It’s against the law in the United States to hire people illegally. And we ought to be enforcing that law properly. And thirdly, we need an earned legalization program for people who’ve been here for a long time, stayed out of trouble, got a job, paid their taxes, and their kids are American, we’ve got to start moving them toward full citizenship, out of the shadows.
MODERATOR: Do you want to respond, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, to say that the borders are not as protected as they were prior to September 11th shows he doesn’t know the borders. They’re much better protected today than they were when I was the governor of Texas. We’ve got much more manpower, much more equipment there. He just doesn’t understand how the borders work, evidently, to say that. That is an outrageous claim. And we’ll continue to protect our borders. We’ll continue to increase manpower and equipment.
SENATOR KERRY: Four thousand people a day are coming across the border. The fact is that we now have people from the Middle East, allegedly, coming across the border. And we’re not doing what we ought to do in terms of the technology. We have iris identification technology. We have thumb print, fingerprint technology today. We can know who the people are, that they’re really the people they say they are, when they cross the border. We could speed it up. There are huge delays. The fact is, our borders are not as secure as they ought to be, and I’ll make them secure.