Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Rep. Xavier Becerra discuss President Obama’s executive action on immigration. How far will President Obama go, is it legal, and how will it ultimately affect millions of Latinos?
Attorney General Gonzales on the legality of President Obama’s executive action: “I’m not prepared to say that he does have the authority, although, as your — one of your last guests said, in 2011, President Obama did say that he didn’t have the authority in a group before Univision. I start with the Constitution, where Article II, Section 3, requires that the president take care that the laws are faithfully executed. From my perspective, I don’t think the president has the authority to amend, repeal or suspend the law or fail to refuse a law based solely on policy.”
Rep. Becerra on deportation: “If it were your child and you are going to be — about to be separated from your child simply because Congress is dysfunctional, doesn’t get its job done, then you would say my god, this is crazy, a citizen child being separated from his or her parent.”
Mayor Villaraigosa on the imperative of reaching a solution: “The fact that 1,000 people are deported every single day — I think, last year, more than 400,000 people were deported — we have got to do something about this. This is a crisis.”
A full transcript is available after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CROWLEY: As you just heard from Senator Dick Durbin, President Obama is expected to take executive action any day now that would protect millions of undocumented residents here in the U.S. from being deported.
With me now, Judge Alberto Gonzales, attorney general under President George W. Bush, Congressman Xavier Becerra, fourth-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, and Antonio Villaraigosa, one-time mayor of Los Angeles, where almost half of all residents claim a Latino heritage.
And you all are practically neighbors in California.
CROWLEY: Let me — I want to start out with a legal question, because there has been…
CROWLEY: Yes, I know.
CROWLEY: And that is, there is some question by some Republicans that the president has the authority to — essentially, what we believe he will do is protect certain groups of those without papers from deportation, sort of moving them down the line of who you would deport.
ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, I’m not prepared to say that he does have the authority, although, as your — one of your last guests said, in 2011, President Obama did say that he didn’t have the authority in a group before Univision.
I start with the Constitution, where Article II, Section 3, requires that the president take care that the laws are faithfully executed. From my perspective, I don’t think the president has the authority to amend, repeal or suspend the law or fail to refuse a law based solely on policy.
But I do know that the courts have said the president does have a great deal of discretion in terms of the enforcement of the law. And so the question is whether or not someone who wants to challenge the president’s authority here has to go to court and has to overcome two significant hurdles. And that is, has the president abused the discretion in this case and does the person have standing?
From my perspective, I think where the real debate should occur is — putting aside the question of legality, which is an important question, should the president be doing so at this time as a matter of policy? And I think — from various reasons we can talk about, I happen to believe it’s ill-advised and short-sighted to take executive action at this particular time.
CROWLEY: And that’s a — that’s the political question now, is whether this is the appropriate time.
I want to ask you all a process…
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), FORMER MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: Though I would like to speak to that.
CROWLEY: Of course. Go ahead.
VILLARAIGOSA: And there actually have been 70 years of precedents in this regard.
CROWLEY: Ronald Reagan, as you know.
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, no, starting with Roosevelt and Truman with the bracero program, Eisenhower, Johnson, Kennedy all brought in Cubans.
My stepdad came in as a result of that. Every since — 20 times since the 1970s, you have seen presidents exercise judicial, prosecutorial discretion, so this isn’t a first time. It’s happened again and again and again and for nearly 70 years.
CROWLEY: Let me talk to you a little bit about the process.
Let’s say that this goes through. One of the things that folks point out is that when Ronald Reagan — and the last time there was major immigration reform was in the Reagan administration, and there were five million, I think, at that point undocumented folks in the country, and that was that, like, OK, now we have taken care of this problem.
And then what happened was, of course, now we’re up to 11 million or 12 million. It really depends on who you talk to. What in what the president is doing now — let me put it the other way. Doesn’t what the president is expected to do, which is to sort of protect these — some folks from deportation, encourage people to keep coming across the border?
BECERRA: Actually, Candy, I think it’s going to discourage.
And you can take the — the evidence of what happened over the summer, when we had a lot of young children from Central America coming. Today, that’s gone down to a trickle. Why? Because people back home got the word, you know what? You don’t get to stay. Why am I going to send a child on a very dangerous journey, paying a lot of money that we don’t really have to do something when they’re going to come right back?
Remember that the president, as you outlined, can only defer a deportation. He’s not granting folks a path to citizenship, a green card. He is simply saying, look, I’m going to prioritize how I execute the laws, because we don’t have enough resources to go after the 10 million or 11 million people.
So, in Los Angeles a week ago, two suspects for murder back in their home countries were caught in L.A. Today, they’re on a path to be deported, because they should be out of here. So prioritize those who should be out of here, criminals, traffickers of gangs and drugs and human beings. Get rid of those folks. Terrorists, make sure we get rid of those folks and make sure that you’re letting those who are working hard, going to the grocery store, trying to come back home to feed the family, let them — let them prove that they will have an opportunity in the future.
CROWLEY: I think there is a work — a work visa involved in this somehow, but we haven’t seen what the president…
BECERRA: But it’s still all temporary.
CROWLEY: Right. Right.
I want you all to talk a little personally, because everybody talks about — particularly from the Latino community says, this is so urgent. This is — this has to be done now. Talk to me about the urgency of it from your personal experience. What is at stake here?
VILLARAIGOSA: As you said, L.A. is the epicenter of the undocumented population. We’re 44 percent foreign-born. Not all of them, by the way, are from Mexico.
And a lot of what I have seen are families separated. You know, when somebody’s deported, oftentimes, they have citizen children. Their children are here as dreamers. They have built a life here. They have a home here sometimes. They’re working here. They’re contributing to this great nation.
And when they’re separated from their families like this, there’s trauma that happens. When the kids are deported, many of them only speaking English and having to go to a country where they have to speak Spanish for the first time, this isn’t an easy thing.
And so when you think about the fact that 1,000 people are deported every single day — I think, last year, more than 400,000 people were deported — we have got to do something about this. This is a crisis.
CROWLEY: Are — are families being split apart in — that necessitates this urgent move by the president to do something?
GONZALES: Clearly, there are examples of families being split apart, but it’s not just about urgency. It’s about doing the right thing.
We want to act quickly, as quickly as we can, but doing so in a way that’s smart. From my perspective, long-term is better than short-term. I think all of us here sitting at this table support comprehensive immigration reform, a permanent solution by the Congress and not by the president alone, acting alone. And I — what I worry about is, this is going to antagonize Republicans if the president takes executive action. And, short-term, he will provide relief to however million — however million people will be affected by his executive order, but, long-term, I think it’s going to leave some families in a much more difficult situation.
BECERRA: Can I just say real quickly, I’m the son of immigrants. This is very close to me.
At the same time, I know valedictorians in high school who were being denied the opportunity to go to some of the best schools in the nation that they got accepted to simply because of their status. At the same time, I don’t expect those 10 million or 11 million people who are here without documents to all qualify.
There are people who will not qualify because they can’t prove that they want to do it for the right reason or they have done bad things. And so what we have to recognize is that, as much as this touches us personally, at the end of the day, we have got to do what’s best for our country. And we got to get our economy going. We have got to make sure we have security at our borders. And we have to make sure that we keep families together where — where they deserve that chance.
CROWLEY: Security at our borders is what I want to talk to you all about next, because all of you are from border states, so we’re going to talk about that when we return.
CROWLEY: We are back with Congressman Xavier Becerra, plus Antonio Villaraigosa and Judge Alberto Gonzales.
So, border security. Who here thinks the border is secure enough?
GONZALES: Well, let me just say this, if I can just answer first.
In my first meeting, when I was attorney general, in Mexico, I met with my counterparts there. And their nightmare scenario was terrorists coming across the border and doing a 9/11-style attack. Now, 99 percent of the people that come across the border are not terrorists. They’re not coming over — they’re coming over primarily to seek a better life.
But I do think it is legitimate in today’s world to do what we can as a government to secure our borders. I think that is a perfectly legitimate…
CROWLEY: OK. Is it secure?
GONZALES: I don’t believe it is secure today. I think we can do better. We are never going to have total security, but I think we can do better.
VILLARAIGOSA: You know, look, we’re spending more to secure our border than we ever have. This president has deported more people than any president in U.S. history.
The fact of the matter, we spend more on that border than we ever have. Can we make it more secure? Maybe. But we have invested in border security. And now it’s time to invest in a humane, comprehensive immigration policy.
And I think that’s what the president is trying to do with executive action. This has been 18 months that they have discussed the issue since the Senate passed…
CROWLEY: But isn’t that the question now, as it’s been 18 months? Why act right this second? Why do it next week? Why not say to the president, listen, hold on, we will get something done by March? Why can’t the president step back now, new guys in town?
BECERRA: Yes, Candy, it hasn’t been 18 months.
The president’s been in office for six years saying he’s going to do this. He waited for two years, when the House of Representatives, when it was under Democratic control, passed the DREAM Act. The Senate passed it, but, because of their use of the filibuster, 55 votes out of 100 didn’t count, and so it didn’t become law.
Two years later, Democrats were ready to push this again. Republicans, when we had our bipartisan discussions in the House on this, said, if the president comes out with a bill — because the president right after the 2012 election said, I’m going to issue my own bill — Republicans said, if the president issues his bill, the immigration reform is dead.
So, the president held back at the request of Republicans two years ago. For the last eight months…
CROWLEY: Also, Democrats, as I recall, asked him to hang on.
BECERRA: No, no. No, the — the Republicans in the House were the ones that said, don’t drop your bill, Mr. President. Don’t introduce your bill.
Then, a year — two years ago, the president finally said, look, I’m going to do something at least for the DREAMs. So, he did the deferred action program, which has been very successful, 700,000.
Nine months ago the president said, I’m going to take action. He’s been saying this for nine months, not the last few weeks. And so he’s now going to take action because it’s clear Republicans have had a bill sitting at their desk in the House for a year and a half to do immigration reform.
VILLARAIGOSA: And all they could do is pass one. If they passed a comprehensive immigration bill we wouldn’t have executive action. And actually as Xavier said very well it’s actually been before that since the Bush years when they were — we were trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
CROWLEY: Right which makes the question, why tomorrow, why next Thursday?
GONZALES: Why the urgency? We now have a new congress — new congressional leadership and I think that, I don’t understand the urgency. The president could have done something – could have taken this action before the election. He made a political calculation not to do it, if it was so urgent he should have done it then (ph).
BECERRA: That’s because if it were your child and you are going to be — about to be separated from your child simply because Congress is dysfunctional, doesn’t get its job done, then you would say my god, this is crazy, a citizen child being separated from his or her parent.
CROWLEY: But his point being then if it was that urgent and you were about to separate from your child —
VILLARAIGOSA: He should have done it before. I’m not going to sit here and defend the president on that. He said he was going to do it. He should have done it then. He needs to do it now.
BECERRA: And he understands that. He was going to do that, he held back. Now, the Republicans are saying —
CROWLEY: For political reasons.
BECERRA: He held back and now Republicans say, pull back longer. And the president’s saying, no, we need to move. We need to get things done. The people voted in November to have us to get things done.
GONZALES: I agree, we need to get things done but there’s a right way and a wrong way to get things done and I think a preferable way clearly is through comprehensive reform. I think we all agree with that.
CROWLEY: Former attorney general –
BECERRA: Let’s (INAUDIBLE) Republicans to get a vote on immigration reform.
CROWLEY: Antonio Villaraigosa, Congressman Xavier Becerra, thank you all so much for coming. We’ll see what happens next week.