A Q&A with Congressman Hayworth on Immigration

J.D. Hayworth represents Arizona’s Fifth Congressional District. First elected in 1994, he is serving his sixth two-year term in Congress.

The Congressman is also the author of the recently released Whatever It Takes: Illegal Immigration, Border Security, and the War on Terror. A passionate and powerful call to action on this increasingly pressing issue.

Given the storm over the ports issue and focus on national security in general, this seems like a perfect moment to talk about illegal immigration and border security. To help with that, and to introduce readers to the issue and the book, Congressman Hayworth was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. The Q&A session is below (questions in bold, answers below). Look for a review of Whatever It Takes on Friday.


Surely pushing immigration reform is not the way to get ahead in Washington. What led to your passionate interest in this sometimes controversial and polarizing subject?

Living in Arizona is all the reason you would ever need for getting passionate about this problem. The people in my state deal with the fallout of illegal immigration every day. As I point out in the book, illegal immigration costs every Arizonan $700 a year, a huge hidden tax. It is ruining our schools, our environment, and our healthcare system. It has turned the border into a veritable war zone. It would be a dereliction of my duties as a congressman to ignore this issue.

You state that “We must not let them control the language, because if they control the language, they control the debate.” How has the debate been skewed and warped by language and why is this important?

One of the primary goals of any political campaign is to define your opponent before he defines you. It is the same principle here. If we let the other side define us as xenophobic, racist, or anti-immigrant, then it becomes harder for our side to win the debate. There is no doubt the debate has been skewed and warped, and I point out many instances of that in my book. For example, in a story on two illegal aliens, the Arizona Republic wrote, “Like most undocumented workers, Javier and Janet work aboveboard. They used fake Social Security numbers to land their jobs.” Got that? Using a fake Social Security number is what passes for “aboveboard” at the politically correct Republic.

But we cannot be afraid of being branded xenophobic or worse. We must press our argument based on the rule of law and what is good for all Americans. It is a debate we can win.

You argue that “assimilation is the key to any successful immigration policy.” But I wonder, is the “Melting Pot” concept still viable? Or has multiculturalism so infected popular culture, the media, the courts, academia, etc. that integration is severely/fatally hampered?

If the melting pot culture is no longer viable then America as the “shining city on the hill” is no longer viable. Multiculturalism is destroying Europe and the people over there are just now starting to realize it. I read where the new German Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, recently said, “The notion of multiculturalism has fallen apart.” Things have not reached that point here in America, but we are heading that way rapidly and I point out many examples of that in the book.

We need to return to the kind of Americanization program that we had at the turn of the century—one that immersed immigrants in English, American patriotism, and traditional American values. That was good for immigrants and good for America. It cannot be replaced by the multicultural whim of the day. Citizenship is serious business and we need to start treating it that way. We can start by making English the official language of the U.S.

There is much being made of how polarized Washington is today and how the parties can’t agree on anything. Yet there are powerful groups on both sides of the aisle and ideological divide on this issue. How do the left and the right come together to prevent effective immigration reform?

This is one of those strange bedfellow situations that crop up from time to time. On the right, there are business interests that want cheap labor. On the left, there are special interests that look at illegal immigrants and see cheap votes. In the middle are the rest of us who get stuck with a bill that is anything but cheap. And unless the vast majority of the American people in the middle make their voices heard, they will be rolled by the special interests.

Another factor driving the lack of action on illegal immigration is the political dimension. Politicians in both parties view this as a political problem to be managed or finessed instead of what it is—an invasion to be stopped.

Securing our borders and enforcing our laws will require significant federal spending. How do you overcome conservative concerns about the cost of these programs?

Spending what is necessary to secure our borders will be expensive, but less so than the alternatives. It is generally recognized that illegal immigration is tremendous drain on our economy—a net loss, not a benefit as the other side would have you believe. Investment firm Bear Stearns puts the cost at about $65 billion a year in lost tax revenue and other costs stemming from education, healthcare, and crime. That alone is enough reason to secure the border. But when you consider that the economic damage that could be done by terrorists sneaking across our unprotected borders with a weapon of mass destruction, the costs of taking action pale in comparison.

As I point out in the book, it is estimated we will spend $200 billion to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. That is about what three years of illegal immigration costs. If the government knew that there would be a Hurricane Katrina every three years and did nothing to protect us, wouldn’t you say it was being derelict? So how does it get away with ignoring this threat year after year?

I would venture that far too many Americans are unaware of the statistics and facts laid out in your book. How do you get Americans that are not directly impacted by immigration to focus on the issue and in turn force politicians to address it?

Get them to buy the book! Seriously, one of the things I’ve tried to do in this book is show how illegal immigration affects all of us, whether we live in a border state or somewhere else. In the first chapter I discuss the town of Danbury, Connecticut, which is being overrun with illegals. It is not just a border problem; it is a national problem.

At the very least, the national security implications of our uncontrolled borders certainly impact every American. A terrorist smuggling a WMD across our border could use it anywhere. But the costs of educating illegals, providing them with healthcare, incarcerating illegal alien criminals, and giving them access to programs like Social Security costs all of us. Too often the focus is only on the border, but Americans need to understand that the border is only one part of the problem. In fact, the more serious problem we have is in the interior.

It can be argued that guest worker programs and other immigration reforms have a long history of failure. Why do so many politicians insist on repeating past mistakes?

In the case of liberals, they believe about this what they believe about everything—that they can somehow overcome human nature. But it is inexplicable why so many conservatives remain wedded to a concept that has such a long track record of complete failure. In theory, a guest worker plan sounds great. In practice, there has never been a successful one.

It is my experience that many conservatives simply don’t know the history of failure with these programs. They are enamored with the free market aspects of the theory. But a guest worker plan is not free market; it is a market distortion. Again, just the other day I read this quote by former German PM Helmut Schmidt: “It was a mistake for us to bring guest workers from foreign cultures into the country at the beginning of the 1960s.”

We have learned from our previous mistakes, which is why America’s temporary worker program, called the bracero program, was ended in the mid 1960s. That so many conservatives seem so eager to sign onto a guest worker plan given its history of failure is a classic case of hope over experience.

How big of an obstacle to reform is big business? Are Republicans capable of pushing through reform over the objections of these powerful interest groups?

Big business is a huge obstacle to reform. Just look at how the Chamber and other groups went ballistic over the bill the House passed in December, a bill I voted against because it was far too weak and incremental. Business interests acted as if it were the end of the world. Given my views of the bill, I thought they deserved an Academy Award.

The bottom line is that Republicans cannot ignore the 80 percent of the people who want tougher enforcement just because business interests are opposed. And I think the vote in December probably showed a lot of members that on this issue they are better off with the people instead of the special interests.

Can politicians champion real reform without being labeled racist, uncaring, etc. by the media?

Sure, because this is not a racist cause and those of us pushing tough enforcement are not uncaring. I have one great quote in the book from an illegal immigrant activist in Arizona who says: “We call things racism just to get attention. We reduce complicated problems to racism, not because it is racism, but because it works.” Accusations of racism are the last resort of those who have run out of arguments and the American people see through all the phony shouts of bigotry. They know this issue has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with the rule of law, our economy, and our culture.

Are there some “low hanging fruit” that we can go after in order to build some momentum in this area? Is there room for incremental change?

The main reason I voted against the bill the House passed in December was that it was so incremental as to be ineffective. If we pass incremental legislation that we know won’t be enough to get the job done, it will just give our opponents all the ammunition they need to say that enforcement has been tried and doesn’t work. My view is we are only going to get one bite at this apple and we’d better pass something that is comprehensive to ensure that we get the job done.

We have heard a lot lately about the wall between intelligence and law enforcement in the war on terrorism. There seems, however, to be a similar wall between federal, state, and local government agencies when it comes to immigration. What is the rationale for a policy that prevents various levels of government from working together to enforce the law?

“Rationale” implies reason, which implies logic, which is totally nonexistent in this case. The major impediment to getting different levels of government to cooperate on illegal immigration is identity group politics. Local elected officials are just too scared to do anything that might upset the identity group grievance mongers that can make their lives so difficult. So instead of cooperation, we get sanctuary laws and policies that bar local law enforcement from cooperating with federal authorities.

A lot of space in the book is devoted to exposing how this refusal on the part of local government’s to assist with the enforcement of our immigration laws makes every American less safe. When a local policeman can’t arrest a known gang banger that he knows is in the country illegally, something is seriously wrong. That so many big city politicians are willing to allow that to happen so they can retain their politically-correct bona fides, well, it borders on criminal negligence.

Is the Mexican government (intentionally or not) undermining the security and stability of this country with its policies on immigration?

Yes! I devote an entire chapter in the book to Mexico’s continued undermining of our laws and our security. The Mexican government encourages its people to head north because it cannot provide them with a decent life and because it is hooked on the $18 billion in remittances illegals send back home to Mexico—more than it earns from tourism! The Mexican government is so dependent on sending workers north that it publishes “how to” manuals to guide illegals and offers advice on avoiding detection once in the United States.

Of course, if it is easy for a Mexican to slip across our border, it is just as easy for anyone else, including terrorists. Indeed, there have been an increasing number of arrests along the border of those from terror-sponsoring states. Mexican acquiescence in the illegal invasion of our country makes us all less safe.

What steps can we take to encourage Mexico to act more responsibly in this area?

Mexico needs some tough love. I think we should:
1. expel Mexican diplomats who interfere in our internal affairs;
2. eliminate legal immigration from Mexico (i.e. green cards) until Congress can certify that our neighbor is acting in good faith;
3. ban the acceptance of the matricula consular card issued by the government of Mexico to illegal aliens; and repeal the preferences Mexico received in many visa categories.

You make clear that you are not talking about a massive roundup of illegal immigrants. What do you mean by a “long term strategy based on attrition?”

We did not get into this problem overnight and we will not solve it overnight. Rounding up 11-20 million illegal aliens is not only impractical, but it would go against our nature as Americans. So we need to influence the illegals’ behavior in such a way as to get them to return home on their own. The key will be tougher interior enforcement based on “broken windows” policing. That means going after not only illegal immigrants, but the employers who hire them.

I’ve often said that one CEO on television doing a perp walk for hiring illegals would do more good that a 1,000 new border patrol agents. If employers get the message that hiring illegals is a good way to go to jail and if illegals get the message that they can no longer have their picture on the cover of Business Week magazine and that they won’t get a job without a legitimate Social Security card, then they will start to head home.

In the book I use the example of a street corner here on Capitol Hill where one officer strictly enforces jaywalking. As a result, you rarely see anyone attempt it at that corner. Illegal aliens and those who hire them need that same kind of conditioning.

What can people who care about this issue do to make a difference?

Contact their representatives and tell them that they want an enforcement first approach to illegal immigration—no guest worker, no amnesty, no surrender. As we just saw with the controversy on the ports, if the American people are roused, they can make a difference. This is more important now than ever.

Senator Arlen Specter has just introduced an immigration bill that is contains a guest worker/amnesty provision and is completely unworkable. It would be a disaster for our country and must be defeated. Call your senator and tell them to vote no on this very bad bill.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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