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PAULA ZAHN NOW
President Bush Vetoes War Funding Bill; Interview With Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey; Hundreds of Thousands Rally For Immigrant Rights
Aired May 1, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
We're following the breaking news out of Washington tonight. A deadline gets vetoed. So, what's next in the high-stakes showdown over the war in Iraq?
And, as demonstrators pack the streets, demanding citizenship, we're bringing a demeaning word for illegal Mexican immigrants out in the open to ask whether it should be banned.
Plus: a brand-new jail and a sheriff who's determined to fill it with people who are here against the law.
We start, though, with tonight's breaking news. Just a short time ago, President Bush dramatically went on national TV to announce he has vetoed a $124 billion bill to fund the Iraq war, because it also sets a deadline for U.S. forces to start pulling out. The president calls it setting a date for failure.
But Democratic leaders say they're not going to give him a blank check, and, in fact, are giving him more than he asked for.
Let's go right to the White House, where we find correspondent Ed Henry standing by.
Ed, bring us up to date on what else the president had to say.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula, this veto capping off a dramatic day, both sides digging in, and U.S. troops really caught in the crossfire.
The day started with the president handing -- heading down to U.S. Central Command in Tampa to huddle behind closed doors with U.S. generals, try to plot strategy in terms of winning the war, but this coming on the fourth anniversary of the president's now infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, in which he donned a flight suit aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, and also declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over -- Democrats clearly relishing the fact that today they sent him the bill to fund the war, showing that, four years later, clearly, combat operations still ongoing.
But the president did not blink. As soon as he came back from Florida, got off Marine One, that helicopter, headed into the Oval Office. Behind closed doors, he vetoed this bill. Then he came out and explained why, saying he basically believes the language demanding that all U.S. troops be pulled out by 2008 is a surrender date.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bill would mandate a rigid and artificial deadline for American troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq. It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing. All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars and gather their strength and begin plotting how to overthrow the government and take control of the country of Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: Now, the president also tried to strike a conciliatory tone, saying he wants to try work out his differences with Democrats. But the fact of the matter is, he's not budging an inch on that withdrawal date. So, it is hard to see a compromise -- Paula.
ZAHN: Well, do you think the Democrats will eventually budge?
HENRY: That's likely to happen eventually, because they don't want to be put in the position of looking like they're preventing money from getting to troops in the field.
But, for now, Democrats are not budging an inch either. They made a big show of signing off on this legislation before sending it up here to Pennsylvania Avenue, thinking as if maybe the president would sign it. They knew full well he had no intention of signing this bill, that he was going to veto it.
And, then, after the actual veto, Democratic leaders reemerged to bash the president. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid basically saying, well, what the president really wants is a blank check.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The president may be content with keeping our troops mired in the middle of an open-ended civil war, but we're not -- and neither are most Americans.
A bipartisan majority of Congress sent the president a bill to fully fund our troops and change the mission in Iraq. The president refused to sign this bill. That's his right, but now he has an obligation to explain his plan to responsibly end this war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: So, now it is back to the drawing board -- congressional leaders from both parties coming to the White House tomorrow afternoon to try and work this out -- Paula.
ZAHN: Ed Henry, thanks so much for the update.
The Democrats' majority in Congress is so small that an override of the president's veto seems impossible. So, what's next?
Let's ask Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Good of you to join us tonight, sir. Thank you.
SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: So, will your party reach a compromise with the Republicans on a new bill?
CASEY: Well, I hope the president's willing to compromise. I think tonight's statement indicated that, in large measure, he's still in denial. He's still in denial that our troops are in the middle of a civil war, trying to referee a civil war.
Our troops have done their job. It is about time that the president and this Congress do our job.
ZAHN: All right.
CASEY: And the way we do that is by making sure that we have a phased redeployment of our troops, that we give the troops all the resources they need. And I think we did this in this bill. But the president vetoed funding for the troops tonight.
ZAHN: So, if -- the president has made it very clear he's not going to change his mind about this. The question tonight is, what kind of give is there in your party?
CASEY: Well, I think the president has to understand that, for example, in a state like Pennsylvania, where 164 soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq, the third highest death total, that the American people, and certainly the people of Pennsylvania, are telling him that it's about time that we change the course in Iraq.
This stay-the-course, support-my-policy-or-else kind of finality that he's put forth tonight is not the kind of policy that is going to bring us together.
ZAHN: But, from what you're saying tonight, sir, that's your viewpoint as well. Are you willing to give up anything in this? Are you willing to say, OK, we will forgo the timetables and agree to a benchmark instead?
CASEY: Paula, I think what you heard tonight is, the president is not in favor of a change of course. I hope that, when he actually sits down with Democratic leaders, he will sit down and try to work something out that's reasonable, not something that denies that our troops are in the middle of a civil war. It is about time that he did that.
I think Democrats and Republicans can work together on this. But, until the president gets out of denial about what's happening in Iraq, that we're losing lives every day of the week -- and there's no plan to get our troops out of harm's way. We have got to support our troops, give them the resources that they need. We did that in this bill.
ZAHN: All right.
CASEY: But the president vetoed it.
ZAHN: Need a very brief answer to this: Do you see any scenario where Democrats, the Democratically controlled Congress, will cut the funds for troops in Iraq?
CASEY: I don't support that, Paula. And I don't think that's going to happen. I think we have got to work something out that makes sense for our troops to get them the resources they need. But we have to begin to change the course in Iraq. We can't allow this to continue the way it is.
CASEY: The president's stay-the-course policy cannot last.
ZAHN: Senator Casey, thanks for your time tonight. Appreciate it.
CASEY: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: And, as Ed Henry mentioned, today is the fourth anniversary of the president's speech under the "Mission Accomplished" banner.
Since then, the Iraq war has cost half-a-trillion dollars and claimed more than 3,200 American lives. And public support for the war has plummeted. It was at 71 percent when the president stood on that aircraft carrier. It's down to 32 percent now. President Bush's approval rating has fallen just as dramatically, from 70 percent then, to 36 percent.
So, where does the country go from here?
To two members of the best political team on TV, for starters, chief national correspondent John King, senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
Mr. King, you just heard Senator Casey, and it didn't sound like he was willing to give away anything that the Democrats might have on their minds strategically. Obviously, someone's got to bend here. Will the Democrats back down?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They will have to bend, Paula. They would like to not use the term back down.
He didn't give you their strategy because they don't have one right now. The Democrats are in a bit of a box. It is president who is suffering most politically because of this war. And it is the president, in the end, who is most likely to continue to suffer the most.
But, in the short term, the Democrats have the dilemma. They need to cut a deal with the president at some point, because they need to fund the war. On the left, they have people saying, no, cut off the funding altogether or at least attach a timeline.
In the middle, they have conservative Democrats saying: Wait a minute. I need to go before the voters next year. We cannot delay this money.
The biggest question in the short term: Can the Democrats in Congress get the Republicans in Congress to go along with benchmarks? The president doesn't want very specific benchmarks. But the game now shifts to the Republicans in Congress, kicked out of the majority, but now incredibly important, as they try to reach a compromise.
ZAHN: Bill, the president used some very harsh language tonight, referring to the Democrats' plan as setting rigid and artificial deadlines, essentially handling -- handing the terrorists a dateline specific for when U.S. troops would withdraw.
What else struck you about the president's words and the tone he used tonight?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what struck me about the president's words were the ones he did not use. He did not use the word victory, not once. He didn't talk about winning this war.
Ever since November 2005, the president has talked about the purpose of this war is to win a victory. He produced a strategy for victory. He's talked about winning. He no longer talks about victory. He doesn't talk about winning. He doesn't talk about democracy. He says, the consequences of defeat and failure are intolerable, and we cannot lose.
So, essentially, he's arguing, we're fighting this war not to lose.
ZAHN: Let's listen together to what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to say right after the president vetoed this bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president vetoed the bill outright, and, frankly, misrepresented what this legislation does. This bill supports the troops. In fact, it gives the president more than he asked for, for our troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Contrary, though, to what Ms. Pelosi is saying, John King, you were talking about this box the Democrats find themselves in. What is their fear that this could backfire on them?
KING: Well, their fear is to be seen by the American people as to somehow withholding funds from the troops.
And, already, you have the Pentagon saying things like, if we don't get this money soon, we can't get as many armored vehicles to Iraq. Most people say that's nonsense, that the money for those vehicles, the ones that can be produced today, tomorrow, next week, and next month, is already in the pipeline.
Politically, the Democrats do not want to be seen as soft and weak, even as they do represent the will of the American people, which is to change the course of this war. So, again, it is the president who has the big, profound legacy problem with the Iraq war. But, in the short term, the Democrats are in a box, and the Republicans are trying to take advantage of it.
ZAHN: John King, Bill Schneider, thank you both.
We are devoting most of tonight's program to an issue that brought tens of thousands of demonstrators into the streets today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That immigrants are here to work, and they're not criminals, and that we think that the best solution to this problem is legalization with full rights for all the undocumented.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Legalize illegal immigrants? Is that even possible? How about any compromise over illegal immigration?
We will also be meeting a sheriff who isn't waiting for any reform. He's got a brand-new jail and intends to start filling it with illegal immigrants now.
Also out in the open: A word that Mexican immigrants feel is just as demeaning as the N-word, should it be banned, too?
ZAHN: Out in the open in tonight's special hour, "Immigration Nation," one of the few places where local officials enforce all of this country's immigration laws, and they have got a brand-new jail just for the people who are breaking them.
Meanwhile, right now, in Los Angeles, at least 20,000 people are in the streets tonight demonstrating for the rights of illegal immigrants. There are 12 million of them, at least, in the United States right now. And their future has divided the nation, whether they should become citizens or be rounded up and sent home.
Well, today, hundreds of thousands staged demonstrations in cities all over the country, demanding a legal way to stay here.
CNN's in-depth coverage of these May Day protests continues now with Ted Rowlands in Los Angeles.
Ted, what's going on?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's more like a party here right now, Paula, than a protest. It has been an incredible day.
We're in MacArthur Park, which is in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. And there are thousands of people out here together. They're enjoying family and time together.
I hear a lot of music and speaking going on here. Of course, the goal here is not -- here -- not only here, but around the country, is immigration reform. And it's immigration reform which would allow illegal aliens in this country to stay here and become U.S. citizens.
ROWLANDS (voice-over): With horns blaring and mostly American flags waving, thousands of marchers, young and old, rallied in downtown Los Angeles. They're demanding that illegal immigrants in this country be given a chance to become U.S. citizens.
GILBERT CEDILLO, CALIFORNIA STATE SENATOR: We leave our countries and come to America for one thing, for hope, and for work, and for dignity, and for respect.
ROWLANDS: Many of those marching are illegal or know someone who is. This man says his name is Jose (ph).
(on camera): You're undocumented?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'm illegal.
ROWLANDS: You're illegal?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I am.
ROWLANDS: Jose says he snuck into this country four years ago through Arizona. He says he has two jobs and sends money to his wife and three children in Guatemala. Jose says he's marching because he thinks his family should be given a chance to live in the United States.
(on camera): What about people that say, hey, you're illegal; you should not be here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's crazy, because -- so, the American people say, we don't want the illegals, you know? So -- but we're here. We are working. We are working too hard. We are not terrorists.
ROWLANDS: Across the country, thousands of people turned out for similar demonstrations in cities like Orlando, Denver, and New York. In Chicago, an estimated crowd of 150,000 people packed into Grant Park.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm half-Mexican. My mom is from Mexico. And she came illegally and now is a U.S. citizen. So, I have to support what she stood for, what she came for.
ROWLANDS: The number of marchers in Los Angeles was significantly lower than last year, when an estimated half-a-million people overwhelmed the city. Last year, there was some optimism that Congress might act to allow many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. to come out into the open and work here legally. That hope is fading now, and many people here are skeptical that there will be any progress on immigration for the next few years.
ROWLANDS: But there's still a sense that this is going to be an annual event. The last year, there were, of course, 500,000 people, this year, less than 100,000 people here in Los Angeles.
The bottom line is, the political climate is much different this year. Organizers acknowledge that. But they say, be prepared, because this group of people is going to join every year on May 1, not only here in Los Angeles, but around the country, with the goal of changing immigration, so that some of these folks that are here illegally can stay with their families -- Paula.
ZAHN: Ted Rowlands, thanks so much. We will come back to you, if it warrants that.
Let's go straight to tonight's "Out in the Open" panel, Peter Nunez, a former U.S. attorney and chairman of the Center for Immigration Studies. Miguel Perez, he's a syndicated column and journalism professor at New York's Lehman College, and CNN contributor Roland Martin.
Good to have you all three of you with us tonight.
You were just watching the demonstrations today. We're reflecting on how much bigger they were this time last year. In the meantime, Congress has done little more than debate this issue of reform, no meaningful legislation put forward.
So, who do you hold accountable for that, Miguel?
MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I hold everybody accountable.
Congress, even the organizers of these demonstrations dropped the ball last year. They had momentum going. They built up more than a million people all over the country, demonstrating last year. This year, as you can see, the demonstrations are smaller, because they basically sat on their hands for a few months...
PEREZ: ... while Congress was doing all these draconian measures, passing all this incredible stuff, holding hearings that were basically very lopsided hearings toward the anti-immigrant attitude and crowd.
So, yes, a lot of people are responsible for not -- not passing legislation. Congress is definitely involved. But I think the activists -- these activists, it is not enough to build a civil rights movement once a year. You have to keep going. If you build momentum, you have to keep it going. You can't drop the ball.
ZAHN: Peter, I want to put some graphics up on the screen for our audience to soak up here. And it shows a recent poll of views on immigration. You believe the goal should be to stop illegal immigration completely and not give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Can you tell me tonight how you would deport some 12 million people?
PETER NUNEZ, CHAIRMAN, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: Well, you wouldn't have to deport 12 million people, if we just enforce the laws we had on the books, the immigration laws, and if we put in place an effective law to prevent illegals from getting a job in the first place.
This is not rocket science. We have known how to do this for the last 30 years. We have just -- the government has just failed to do it.
ZAHN: But they're here now. What are you going to do with them?
NUNEZ: Well, if you start enforcing the immigration laws, and if you start enforcing the workplace laws that are already on the books, many of these people would have to have no choice but to leave on their own and go home. If they can't work here, they're not going to stay.
ZAHN: And I see Miguel shaking his head. You think that's ridiculous?
PEREZ: It's absurd. It's absurd to think that these people are going to go back on their own.
What the -- the strategy is, look, we can't afford to deport 12 million people. So, what are we going to do? We are going to make their lives miserable for several years, until they go back on their own. That is never going to happen. And it is also very inhumane treatment on our part.
ZAHN: What do you think should happen, Roland Martin?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think, first and foremost, look, we're going to -- we're going to have a solution, Paula, that is not going to make illegal immigrants happy, that is not going to make those who oppose illegal immigrants happy.
It is going to be an uneasy truce. There will be no doubt that we are going to have some kind of amnesty program that will say, for those people currently in the U.S., there's going to be a period of time in which you are going to have to go through the process for a number of years. You are going to go through -- meet several different qualifications. It is not going to please anybody. The bottom line is, 12 million are not going back home. And I think those who are marching in the streets, I understand their concern. But, when talking about illegal immigrants, we have to deal with the reality that illegal comes before immigrant.
We do have an immigration policy. Now, you may not like it, but it does indeed exist. But -- but we're going to have come up with a solution, because, as Miguel said, as long as you talk and talk and talk, it's going to continue to get out control. And then nobody is going to be happy, and everybody will be sitting on their hands.
ZAHN: Peter, your reaction to that?
NUNEZ: Well, look it, Congress has been -- has messed this up for the last 30 years. They tried a little -- they tried in 1986 to fix it, and failed, and failed miserably. And it was apparent quite -- quite quickly that, quite soon thereafter, that they had failed.
So, yes, Congress has dropped the ball on this, and they have created a situation that is of such stupendous criminality, and it has allowed the situation to get so far out of hand, that it has reduced the -- the options that you would normally have.
I believe that, if you proceed on some basis to, as I said before, enforce the current laws and improve the employer sanction laws, you would have a significant effect. Now, will everybody go home? No, but at least it will reduce the numbers that law enforcement has to deal with.
ZAHN: Of course, what we all have the question is whether anybody has the will to really enforce these employee sanction laws.
A lot more debate with our team here tonight.
ZAHN: Hang on, gentlemen. We are going to come back to you.
Another aspect of this is what folks are doing on their own. One sheriff isn't waiting for immigration reform. He's got a brand-new jail. He's ready and waiting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TERRY JOHNSON, ALAMANCE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, SHERIFF: Hopefully, within the next day or two, we will be filling the place up.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That quickly, huh?
JOHNSON: I hope so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Out in the open next: one of the few places in this country that actually enforces all of our immigration laws.
And, a little bit later on, we will bring an insulting word for illegal Mexican immigrants out in the open. Debate whether it is so demeaning, it should never be spoken.
We will be right back.
ZAHN: Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets tonight, demonstrating for immigrants' rights.
As we have already mentioned tonight, the number of people protesting today is a whole lot lower than this time last year -- among the possible reasons, the fear caused by highly publicized federal immigration raids over the last 12 months.
And there's another reason we're bringing this out in the open tonight. A few local police departments around the country are now doing what used to be federal work, locking up illegal immigrants.
Jeanne Meserve has the latest on that.
MESERVE (voice-over): Alamance County, North Carolina, has a brand-new 240-bed jail. And Sheriff Terry Johnson intends to fill it with illegal immigrants.
TERRY JOHNSON, ALAMANCE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, SHERIFF: Hopefully, within the next day or two, we will be filling the place up.
MESERVE (on camera): That quickly, huh?
JOHNSON: I hope so.
MESERVE (voice-over): Alamance is only one of a handful of local jurisdictions in the whole United States that enforces federal immigration laws. The fingerprints of every foreigner arrested in the county, whether the offense is big or small, are matched with the federal database. If the person is here illegally, the sheriff's department starts deportation proceedings.
JOHNSON: They come here in my country, in our country, and commit other violations. Knowing they're not rightfully here to start with, I feel it's my duty, as a sheriff of this county and an official of this state, to deal with those people that choose to violate the law.
MESERVE: The sheriff has his critics, like immigration lawyer Ebher Rossi, who says Johnson has a broader goal.
EBHER O. ROSSI JR., DEFENSE ATTORNEY: What they want to do, I believe, is instill fear in Hispanics and get them to leave the county.
MESERVE (on camera): Jobs in manufacturing, construction and agriculture have brought Hispanic immigrants to Alamance County in huge numbers in recent years.
JOHNSON: We arrested several gangbangers down here in this mobile home park down here.
MESERVE (voice-over): Johnson says some have brought crimes, like drug dealing and domestic violence, with them.
Thirty percent of his jail population on any given day is Hispanic, the sheriff claims. But, ironically, by sow fear in the Hispanic population, Johnson's own tough policy on illegal immigration might be making it more difficult to crack down on crime.
NOLO MARTINEZ, CENTER FOR NEW NORTH CAROLINIANS, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA: The community, as a whole, is not going to participate as a community reporting crime or seeing in a sheriff uniform someone that you can actually come openly and talk about issues.
MESERVE: Johnson says part of his motive is practical. He hopes the federal money he gets for housing immigration detainees will help pay for the county's new $12 million jail. Whether all this hurts or helps him in his next election is beside the point, he claims.
JOHNSON: If the people in Washington, D.C., would quit thinking about what was politically correct or what would get them or not get them elected, and do the job they were put there to do, we wouldn't be dealing with this issue right now at the local level.
MESERVE: Johnson says he swore on a Bible to uphold the law. But critics say he has forgotten a key commandment: Love thy neighbor.
Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Alamance County, North Carolina.
ZAHN: But, no matter how you feel about the immigration debate, there is one word that some Latinos say you should never use to describe illegal immigrants. We are going to bring that out in the open next and debate whether it's too offensive for anybody to say.
And, then, a little bit later on: one of the people you should know, a successful businessman who has cooked up a big controversy just by letting his pizza parlors accept Mexican pesos.
We will be right back.
ZAHN: Tonight, as we cover the immigration protests all over the country, we're bringing out in the open outrage over a single word. It is a slur used to describe illegal immigrants from Mexico, and it's been used recently by commentators, in print and on TV.
Now, I'm just going to say it once just to make sure we all know what we're talking about. The word is "wetback." And it is deeply offensive to a lot of people, including nationally syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. who made his anger very clear in a commentary recently on cnn.com.
And on the other side of the debate, columnist Gustavo Arellano. Author of a brand new book just out today called "Ask a Mexican." Welcome to both of you.
So, Ruben how demeaning is the W word and have you ever been called it?
RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR., SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yeah, Paula. Lately -- what time is it? Someone writes a column like I do, I get about a thousand e-mails a week related to the column and oftentimes either I'm called that word directly or they use that word in third person to talk about Mexicans in general, not just Mexican immigrants or not just illegal immigrants but Mexicans in general.
And it is a word that's been popular for the last 50 years. I would love it if it wasn't as popular for the next 50. It is probably as offensive as the N-word. But you notice when we talk about the N- word, we usually use the shorthand, we don't use the long form. And I was shocked when people started throwing about the W word in the long form.
ZAHN: And what does it mean?
NAVARRETTE: It sort of means the process of crossing through a river and how one's backside might become dampened in the process. So it is interesting for Mexican-Americans who have been in this country oftentimes for generations, four or five or six generations in states like Arizona or New Mexico, it is little bewildering, I think, for them to be called this word or have this word attached to them when, if anything, as the old saying goes, they didn't cross the border, the border crossed them. They were in the Southwest before the Southwest was part of the United States.
So there's a connotation to the word that suggests recent immigrant, somebody who came to the country illegally. And if you are a U.S.-born Mexican-American, as I am -- I was born here, my parents were born here. Three of my four grandparents were born here. And it just doesn't make any sense. It's used a slur in shorthand.
ZAHN: And Gustavo, it seems to be a word you're pretty comfortable using in your writing. Do you think that Ruben is overreacting here?
GUSTAVO ARELLANO, COLUMNIST: No, I agree with Ruben in the double standard that is used with the N-word and the word "wetback." I think wetback is a hilarious word because anybody who uses that is so out of date with the reality of this country that they have to resort to use those words. Now for the record, the word wetback gained in popularity thanks to President Dwight Eisenhower. The last time there were mass deportations was during the 1950s when the United States government started a program called, guess what, Operation Wetback.
Anybody who uses that term is still stuck in the '50s and probably drives a pink Cadillac.
ZAHN: But it is not just stuck in the '50s because even you see it on Comedy Central. Let's watch what Carlos Mencia does in one of his sketches.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLOS MENCIA, COMEDIAN: Welcome to the show where (EXPLETIVE DELETED) don't pick lettuce, they pick answers. Bill, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) have lost many famous battles and deportation hearings. Name the only time that (EXPLETIVE) actually conquered white property.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During the ...
MENCIA: Wrong again, my friend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Gustavo, you are not going to tell me tonight you're not insulted by that.
ARELLANO: No, Carlos Mencia is using it just to be crass. I know who I am. Anybody who gets called a wetback, I think, they can use that, but they better get ready to expect a reaction from me or for anybody using it. In my case I'll use a clever insult or I'll address the topic in my column.
And other people, though, might get a little more offended. I think people who get offended by particular terms, they have -- they should be a little bit more confident in themselves. Anyone can call me whatever they want because I know who I am.
ZAHN: But Ruben, you can't tell us tonight that you think that even though you're encouraging people not to use this word, the use of this word will ever rise to the level of inflammation as the N-word?
NAVARRETTE: I think it depends on who you ask. I think that one of the problems with even the debate is that Mexican Americans, Latinos, typically we're not part of the national historical record. People will tell you yes, I know about Jim Crow laws in the American South that denied African Americans the right to sit at lunch counters.
A lot of people don't know about similar laws that denied Mexicans the right in the Southwest to sit at restaurants. Part of it is this sort of general consciousness.
We are a black and white country, for better or worse, and the networks perpetuate that. They have these wonderful specials on television, race relations in America, black and white.
And you're living in a country where there's more Latinos than African Americans. So a lot of the dialogue is again outdated. It doesn't mean the word is any less offensive. It just means that the people who are using the word -- I joke that baby boomer, I was glad when they had that epiphany, I was able to get them to stop using one word. It feels like I have to go back to the well to get them to stop using a second word. And they're telling me, sorry pal, only one epiphany per generation.
ZAHN: All right, gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Ruben Navarrette, Gustavo Arellano. Thank you both.
ARELLANO: Thank you.
NAVARRETTE: Thank you.
ZAHN: The immigration debate shows up in places that might surprise you, like a chain of pizza parlors where the owner says he wanted to do something nice for his customers. He's one of the people you should know.
We're also starting something new tonight. Coming up, a teacher who is a real hero. We'll be back with his story in a little bit.
ZAHN: When a U.S. pizza chain decided to accept Mexican currency it really brought out in the open the passion and anger over the issue of illegal immigration. The owner, Antonio Swad, says he's even received death threats over it. But he is not backing down. He says he'll keep on accepting pesos for pizza indefinitely.
And tonight, with America's streets filled with pro immigration demonstrators, Antonio Swann is one of our people you should know. Here's Susan Roesgen.
SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No matter how you slice Antonio Swad's pizza business, politics and controversy have become key ingredients.
ANTONIO SWAD, FOUNDER, PIZZA PATRON: This is going to be a great pizza.
ROESGEN: The founder of Pizza Patron opened his first store in 1986.
SWAD: And a funny thing I noticed is a lot of the folks that came through the door couldn't place their order in English. In fact, they spoke no English. They were Mexican people living in the community.
ROESGEN: Today with 65 stores in six states, Swad still caters to his original clientele, the Hispanic community. In January, he had an idea for a promotion, letting people pay for their pizzas with pesos.
SWAD: When anybody travels abroad or somewhere, they always come back and have is a few dollars left of that country's currency and we thought, hey, this would be a way for people to get rid of those pesos.
ROESGEN: That increased sales 35 percent, but also brought results Swad never imagined.
SWAD: We didn't think that we'd be linked with the controversy that surrounds illegal immigration. And that's what we found ourselves, sort of swimming in that water immediately.
ROESGEN: The threats started rolling in, thousand of e-mails a day and angry messages left on the company's voice mail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to make it my hobby to try and bring you down.
ROESGEN: Even local lawmakers started chiming in, like Councilman Tim O'Hare who says pizza for pesos is less about providing a service and more about meeting a bottom line.
TIM O'HARE, FARMERS BRANCH CITY COUNCIL: They're making money off of it because they're catering to people who are here illegally. And the people who keep crossing the border back and forth go there and eat because they'll take their money.
ROESGEN: But Swad says otherwise.
SWAD: We're in this to really provide a quality product and service to a community that's been typically overlooked.
ROESGEN: Susan Roesgen, CNN, Dallas.
ZAHN: Back to tonight's "Out in the Open" panel, Peter Nunez, Miguel Perez and Roland Martin.
So Peter, you just heard what some of Mr. Swad's critics had to say. They actually accuse him of encouraging illegal immigration by taking pesos and, thereby, sort of sucking up to people who don't want to assimilate into American culture. Do you agree?
NUNEZ: No. I don't agree. I think actually the guy's pretty clever to do what he's doing. Look at it, if he was taking German marks or Italian lira or French francs, no one would be saying anything about this.
The reason why it has caused such a controversy is, as you said in your opening, people are so sensitive. The American public is so angry about illegal immigration, that anything that sort of reminds them of that or makes it look like someone is catering to illegal immigration causes this kind of uproar.
MARTIN: Hold on -- Paula.
ZAHN: Go ahead, Roland.
MARTIN: Paula, I'm sorry. You know, they're not sensitive, I have to disagree with them. They're stupid. So you mean to tell me that they'll gladly take the American dollars these illegal immigrants make when they go to the convenience store, when they go to the restaurant, when they go to the car dealer, when they go buy clothes, when they go buy food, oh, but because he's taking pesos, then he's wrong. This is absolute nonsense. We know they're here.
These are the same people who take care of kids, who build homes, who do all kinds of jobs, but because he's taking pesos, he's the bad guy, not everybody else who takes American dollars from the same illegal immigrants. That's crazy.
ZAHN: You got Miguel rolling his eyes here.
PEREZ: I'm laughing because, you know, we Americans, we travel all over the world. And we say, wait, you don't take dollars? I mean ...
PEREZ: Excuse me. What do you mean you don't take dollars? So this is an incredible double standard here. All of a sudden they're tying this thing to illegal immigration. It's a great gimmick. The guy came up with a great idea. Let's give him some credit.
ZAHN: Sales are up 35 percent. But his restaurants are hundreds of miles away from the border.
PEREZ: He should be taking currency from all over the world so that those of us who travel, when we come back with all this extra money we don't know what to do with, we can spend it on pizza. I wish there was a pizza place -- I wish he had one of these pizza stores near me so I can use all the pesos I have at home. I'm not an illegal immigrant and it has nothing to do with me.
ZAHN: Yeah, Roland?
MARTIN: I just got back from Jamaica. I'm trying to unload some Jamaican money for maybe jerk chicken or something.
Again, I think Americans need to separate nonsense from politics. If you want to be against illegal immigration, I have no issue with that. If you want to articulate a policy, I have no issue with that. But also use your brains for a second. That councilman, he wasn't even thinking, oh, he's endorsing this, but again he didn't say anything about the American businesses that accept the dollars that these folks accept.
So is he going to now boycott Western Union because people are going there and they are sending money back to the various countries? No. I mean, wake up and grow up.
ZAHN: Peter, what do you make of the death threats that were lodged against Mr. Swad? What does that tell you about the state of debate about illegal immigration and legal immigrants here in the United States today?
NUNEZ: Well, look, there's no question that this has become a superheated emotional issue and that there are always idiots on both sides of every issue that are doing things that nobody would condone.
But to go back to your point that was made a little bit ago, I am not at all offended by what this guy's doing. As I said before, he can take whatever kind of currency he wants. What's more offensive and more damaging to the immigration situation is things like what Bank of America are doing, and even the Treasury Department of the United States, where I used to work, which allows illegal aliens -- it makes it easier for illegal aliens to survive here by allowing them to use their Mexican documents to open bank accounts.
That's more offensive and that's more damaging to our attempts to enforce immigration law than what this guy is doing.
MARTIN: Right. This guy ...
ZAHN: Roland, radio guy, 15 seconds from you, then I've got to move on.
MARTIN: Paula, very simple. This guy is practicing capitalism. For all you people who forgot, that's what our system is based on, capitalism.
ZAHN: Oh, yeah? I'd forgotten that.
ZAHN: Thank you, Roland. Roland Martin, Miguel Perez, Peter Nunez. Thank you all.
We're starting something new tonight. Coming up, a teacher who goes way beyond reading, writing and arithmetic.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our young people are in such a crisis of lack of love, lack of interest, lack of hope, lack of heroes.
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ZAHN: Well, there's no lack of heroes in his classroom. Stay with us. You'll want to see more of this guy. You'll meet him, next.
ZAHN: Welcome back. Time to take a quick biz break.
The Dow gained 73 points, the NASDAQ finished six higher, and the S&P was up four. Rupert Murdoch has launched a $5 billion takeover bid for Dow Jones, owner of the stock index and "The Wall Street Journal."
Murdoch's News Corporation already owns Fox TV, newspapers and MySpace. The Food and Drug Administration says there will be no recall of chickens fed tainted Chinese wheat gluten. The FDA says that the likelihood that anyone will get sick is very low. The chickens ate the same ingredients that killed cats and dogs and as you might remember led to a massive pet food recall.
The last privately run oil fields in Venezuela have now been taken over by the government of Hugo Chavez. Chavez calls it an historic victory over years of U.S.-backed corporate exploitation. Those are his words, not mine.
Beginning this week and continuing through the rest of the year, we'll be shining the spotlight on some very special people. Each one has a remarkable story that I want you to hear.
And each is an example of how a single person can turn a personal vision for a better world into action. We call them CNN heroes. Our first lives in Brooklyn, New York. And his name is Thabiti Boone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear Mr. Boone, my name is Michelle Dejesus and I'm in the fourth grade. This neighbor that I live in is not a good thing to me. I see a lot of crime and dangerous things in this neighborhood.
THABITI BOONE, "CHAMPIONING CHILDREN": I am from eastern Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York. Like many young people that come from this community, have you no chance, there is no hope, no joy to go to school. My name is Thabiti Boone and I chose a different path.
My father didn't want to be a father. My mom was too young at that time to take me out of the hospital. So I was stuck in a middle with no direction.
My life could have been, I'm angry, I want the fight the world, I have an attitude. But something said, you know what? I'm going to make a difference, I'm going to make it out of here, and I'm going to be one of the ones to come back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Boone, you make learning fun for us. By you coming back, it shows my classmates and me that you care about us and our education.
BOONE: Our young people are in such a crisis of lack of love, lack of interest, lack of hope, lack of heroes. The read to succeed program is a unique program that connects sports, entertainment and hip hop to self-development and success through the importance of reading. Bam. That's it. So students have to read on a continuous basis. They have to learn how to give oral presentations, stand in front of the classroom, develop confidence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This program taught me and my classmates that we can be anything in life if we just work hard.
BOONE: You may want to dream to be an athlete or entertainer, but at the end of the day, that may not be what you're supposed to be. But let's have is a program that teaches you how to self-discover many different talents.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much. You are like a father to us. We love you so much.
Sincerely, Michelle Dejesus.
THABITI: There's a piece of who you are that's connected to where you came from. So if you go and don't come back, you're walking around half dead.
ZAHN: And if you want to learn more about Thabiti Boone's "Rise to the Occasion" program and how you can help go to cnn.com/heroes. We're just minutes away from the top of the hour and LARRY KING LIVE. Larry, who do you have joining you tonight?
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Coming up, the one and only Oprah for the hour. After all she's done, she says she hasn't even gotten started. What does she really want to do next? Find out as the celebration of my 50 years in broadcasting continues at the top of the hour on LARRY KING LIVE. Paula?
ZAHN: We'll be watching, anniversary man.
And all of you out there won't want to miss it either. Please stay with us. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And before we leave you tonight, another look tonight at the big immigration rally in Los Angeles going on right now. We're told about 20,000 people have taken to the streets there, demonstrating for the right to stay in the U.S. legally, just one of the many demonstrations in cities all over the country today.
Hundreds of thousands of folks turned out but it was still in much smaller numbers than last year. We will keep you posted on all of this throughout the night here on CNN. Thanks so much for joining us. That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night. Good night.
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