Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-CO, stands alone as the most vocal proponent of sweeping immigration reform in Congress. He spent much of 2003 on the frontlines of the House of Representatives trying to give law enforcement authorities greater authority to prosecute illegals. When California Governor Democrat Gray Davis signed a bill granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, Tancredo immediately introduced a bill cutting off all federal highway funding to states issuing licenses to illegals. (It failed, despite overwhelming groundswell of public support for it exhibited in numerous polls and state voter referendums.)
As the year winds down, Tancredo spoke with Frontpagemag.com’s Steve Brown about the immigration crises that threaten national security and how he proposes to solve them, now and in the coming year.
While his occasional sarcasm masks the frustration over the amount of opposition to protecting our own borders, by visiting personally with those voluntarily taking on the thankless task of border enforcement and pushing for reform in Congress, Tancredo proves his deep commitment to getting the job done that voters in Colorado and nationwide have been emphatically pleading for over the past decade, which elected officials have continually refused to do.
Frontpagemag: What initially prompted you take up immigration as an issue in your political career?
Tancredo: Well, it could go all the way back to my days as a state representative in Colorado. In 1976, I was elected and started working on the issue. (Previously I was a teacher in a public school in Jefferson County.) Colorado had just passed the first bilingual education act in the nation and I thought it was a bizarre situation to take children out of my class, where they were learning English, and put them into classes where they were being taught only in Spanish. They weren’t being taught very well, and so we ended up with people who were illiterate in two languages. That caused me to wonder why anybody would do such a thing; what was the purpose of such a bill, to do something that impeded a child’s ability to learn. It then became apparent to me that it was much more of a political idea than an educational idea, and that’s what really got me interested in the whole issue.
Earlier in 1975, as a teacher I remember attending a rally on bilingual education. It was being conducted on the steps of the capital in Denver by a guy in a red bandanna and long black hair, ripped jeans and a megaphone. They were handing out leaflets, one of which read, "Return to Aztlan." It gave a series of steps to be taken to re-establish Aztlan, and the first one said, "Be sure the mother tongue is retained in the school system." That’s when it really hit me that this was about politics, not education. So I ran for the state legislature. I won and began trying to attack that whole concept of bilingual education. By the way, the same guy who was on the steps of the capital also ran and won; he cut his hair, got a suit and went on to become the minority leader in the Colorado House of Representatives. His name is Frederico Pena. He later became mayor of Denver and eventually state Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Energy.
Later on, I served as the region director of the U.S. Department of Education. It was amazing, the Office of Civil Rights within DOE was doing everything it could to harass school districts, forcing them into this bizarre plan to take children out of the path that would lead to some sort of success in American and put them on a path that would lead them to poverty.
When Clinton was elected president I took over the reins of the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank in Colorado. They commissioned a paper on the impact of immigration in Colorado and it came back saying some astounding things. It said that the impacts were primarily negative and the economic impact was enormous. It also indicated that we were not receiving enough tax revenues to pay for the infrastructure costs that we were having to foot.
Then I came to the U.S. Congress and told then-Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TN) that I wanted to work on immigration. H said, "Here, take it," and I was stupid enough to say, "Great, thanks." That’s when I formed the Congressional Immigration Caucus. I began talking about it night after night on the floor -- and of course nobody paid a bit of attention. Then 9/11 happened and the issue got elevated. Since then it’s all been a barrel of laughs.
FPM: Looking back on this year, can you trace the roadblocks to immigration reform that have been put up and what kinds of things are being done to address them?
Tancredo: We have to start off with the understanding that a strategy has been developed by the Mexican government that is now being followed by several other South American governments to get around the obstacle of congressional inaction on amnesty. They basically said, "Well, if we can’t get it through Congress we’re going to start using our Matricula Consular ID cards," which they hand out to Mexican nationals. They said we’re going to begin using our consular offices throughout the United States as lobbying agents to get cities and states to accept these cards. Once you accomplish that goal, once you get a state or city to accept the Matricula Consular, you end up in the same place: de facto amnesty.
Most people haven’t got the slightest idea what a Matricula Consular is. They don’t know and don’t care, so it’s hard to set up a defense against it. When we saw California pass legislation offering driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, it really did get a lot people’s attention. You have to remember that eight or nine states had already done so and it kind of flew under the radar screen. We tried to raise Hell about it but nobody cared. So people started noticing it in California, but we still have this Matricula Consular problem and it’s not going to go away until the White House does something about it -- and I don’t know that they will.
FPM: I know that you went down earlier this year to the southern border area and visited with U.S. Border Patrol officers. Can you tell us a little bit about what you learned from that visit?
Tancredo: I always try to get other Congressmen to go with me but they’re always reluctant to go down there for fear they might see something they cannot ignore. It’s quite an experience because what you will find is that you’ll be talking to border patrol people on the frontlines who are so frustrated they’re pulling their hair out. They are detaining people by the thousands; well over a million-and-a-half people have been detained so far this year for entering the country illegally. And remember, conservative estimates are that for every one we get, five get through. So with people talking about number like maybe eight million illegal aliens in the country, a conservative estimate would put that number at between 13 and 20 million people living here illegally.
Those numbers are significant because they effect the entire culture along the border. One of the problems in Mexico and in many South and Central American countries is that there is an enormous amount of corruption, and it goes from the cop on the beat to the highest levels of government. That will always stymie their attempts to improve their economy. But it also is something that’s happening on our own border. I talked to a man who headed up a gang unit out of Los Angeles. He told me that there were five cities -- Compton, California, near Los Angeles, was one -- that were completely taken over by the Mexican Mafia. He said they had taken over the city council, the mayor’s office, the police chief…it has become simply another place for illegal drug activity in an institutionalized fashion. He said they couldn’t bust anybody in town. They can't talk to the police in these towns. And the same thing is happening in places like Douglas, Arizona, which I think was rated as the most corrupt town in the country by one magazine recently.
So what we are seeing is a phenomenon that is really disturbing and it’s all about numbers. People talk about illegal immigration being a problem. It’s not just illegal immigration: it is immigration both legal and illegal, on a massive scale. We have a philosophy in this country that I call the cult of multiculturalism, that permeates everything. It tells people when they come here that they should remain separate, that they should never buy into Western ideas or American values, they should retain their own language, customs and even their political affiliation with their country of origin. When we do that to ourselves we are creating enormous problems. It doesn’t matter if they’re here illegally or not once you have that kind of internal dynamic.
Our Border Patrol is charged with trying to stop that flood of illegal immigrants and they’ve been given a sieve in order to do so. How would you like to risk your life to detain someone at the border? When you take them in, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement asks them where they were going. You say Los Angeles, then BICE says here’s a letter that you need to take to the federal courthouse in Los Angeles on such and such a date for your deportment hearing -- and here’s a bus ticket to Los Angeles. We give them a bus ticket! We pay for a bus ticket for an illegal alien that has just come into the country. You know they’re not going to show up in court; they never do. But why the Hell would we be buying a bus ticket to a destination in the United States for an illegal alien? There’s a lot of frustration on the part of the Border Patrol.
FPM: Can you explain to our readers, what are "incursions," and what significance to they have?
Tancredo: "Incursions" are incidents where members of the Mexican military have crossed the border into the United States without our permission or knowledge. There have been over 200 in the last five years. When they get to be identified as incursions its after they’ve gone through a whole bureaucratic process that makes sure it wasn’t just some guy who wandered across the border by accident, that it was in fact members of the Mexican military purposefully entered the U.S. without our permission.
Some of the incursions have resulted in shots being exchanged. In one incident not too long ago, a border patrol agent came along and saw a Mexican military vehicle with a number of military personnel around it. He called it in and they told him to get out of there as soon as possible, you’re outgunned. He turned his vehicle around and was shot at as he left the scene. The reason we’ve had these incursions is because the Mexican military is actually supporting drug running. They provide protection for some of the larger shipments of drugs into the U.S. Sometimes they protect the shipments themselves, other times they just cross the border to draw border patrol to them and away from the shipments.
FPM: Is it just drugs, or is there any smuggling of human beings involved?
Tancredo: Lately it’s become more lucrative for the drug cartels to move people across the border, because Mexicans will pay up to $1,500 for the ticket -- and Middle Easterners will pay up to $50,000. So we’re getting an increasing number of what border patrol calls "OTM," or "Other Than Mexicans" crossing the border. The revenues are so huge now that the cartels have become involved. However, I don’t have any information that the Mexican military is actively involved with this. I wouldn’t doubt it if they were, but I just don’t have any hard data verifying that.
FPM: Tell us about the legislation you introduced recently, the Be Real Act.
Tancredo: My purpose in introducing the bill is to emphasize that what we have to do to enforce our own immigration laws is to focus on the enforcement side of things: defend your border, apply pressure to step up internal enforcement of immigration law. Then you can develop some sort of guest worker plan that allows people to are truly needed to fill the jobs that "no one else can fill" to come into the country for a short period of time. While they’re here, they cannot get amnesty, they can’t bring family, and they have to return home in order for them to be legally employed in the United States. You can only do that only if you control your own borders.
There are a lot of bills that have been introduced by other members that are really amnesty plans disguised as guest worker plans; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has introduced such a bill, as have Representatives Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Christopher Cannon (R-UT) in the House. I just want to be able to give my colleagues an opportunity if they want to enact some kind of guest worker act, one that is a true border security and guest worker act because believe me, our bill requires a very aggressively defended border. It authorizes 20,000 more border patrol. It authorizes the use of the military on the border. We quadruple the number of personnel assigned for the internal enforcement of our immigration laws. We require this president to certify that only a few people will be coming across the border illegally, and then and only then will there be a guest worker plan. We think that might give us a chance to protect our borders from terrorists and other needless abuse.