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Sen. Shelby Calls Immigration Bill 'Amnesty'

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's talk some more about those 12 million illegal immigrants who would become legal under the proposal. We've called Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama who says he doesn't like that plan. And Senator, why not?

Senator RICHARD SHELBY (Republican, Alabama): Well, first of all, it's amnesty. It's saying if you've broken the law and you've come to the U.S. illegally, now we're going to let you stay. We went down this road 21 years ago, 1986 I believe it was. I was in the House then and voted against it. They said this would be the mother of all immigration bills. I knew what would happen and it laid the president for where we are today.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask though, Senator. Senator Ted Kennedy, when he talked about this proposal last week, said that there are some difficulties for people if they want to get permanent legal status. They do get this temporary visa. But he says if you want to go and get a green card, he says, quote, "you have to wait in line. You can't cut in line." Secondly, you'd have to apply not here in the United States but from your country to get that green card. You have to pass an English test. You have to have paid your fines. There are other fees who have to be paid and so forth. Why doesn't that count as enough accountability for you?

Sen. SHELBY: Well, it rewards those who broke the law. And besides, what's going to happen in 20 years…

INSKEEP: Wait a minute - you pay a fine.

Sen. SHELBY: Let me tell you this. Twenty years from now, we're going to have 20 million or 25 more million illegal aliens. We have ignored the law. We have not enforced our borders. Now we're going to reward these people. I think it's wrong.

INSKEEP: So you think that what Kennedy describes as some penalties and fines is just insufficient.

Sen. SHELBY: I think it's insufficient. And it's really a farce, in a way.

INSKEEP: Let me ask, though, there are 12 million people here now, here illegally, estimated. What would you do with them?

Sen. SHELBY: Well, first, what I would do is secure the border, if I had my druthers, and secure them well. Secondly, I would enforce the work rules with the employers. If there are no jobs, people would go home. They will not continue to go here. Now a lot of them won't go home, you'd have to round them up. But the problem is today, the immigration system is a sham, it's broken. The laws don't matter. If they don't matter, we either ought to repeal them or enforce them.

INSKEEP: Are you confident, Senator, that the economy would suffer no blow if, in fact, 12 million workers were forced out of - illegal workers were forced out of their employment - or several million, anyway?

Sen. SHELBY: I think the economy would hurt, but we'd catch it up legally. And secondly, the rule of law should be paramount in this country. And it always has been, but in immigration it isn't today.

INSKEEP: So now, do you see opponents trying to block this bill from passing, or do you think it could actually change and be passed?

Sen. SHELBY: Well, that's a good question. There are going to be a lot of amendments on the floor. Could it be improved to where it's palatable to a lot of people that are against it today, including me? Sure. Will it be? I doubt it.

INSKEEP: And when you say could it be improved to be palatable to you, is it going to have to say no favors of any kind for 12 million illegal immigrants?

Sen. SHELBY: It's going to have to say no amnesty.

INSKEEP: Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, good talking with you this morning.

Sen. SHELBY: Thank you a lot.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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