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Al Qaeda Regaining Strength?; Democrats Hold Marathon Iraq Debate

Aired July 17, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody.
We start off, though, tonight with this hour's breaking news. An airliner with 140 to 170 people aboard has crashed at an airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Reuters is reporting at least one death at this hour. Reports say the plane apparently skidded off the runway, while trying to land in bad weather, crossed a busy highway and hit a building, possibly a gas station. Pictures clearly show there was a fire. The plane belongs to Tam Airlines. It happens to be an Airbus A-320 that was on a flight from Porto Alegre to Sao Paulo.

We're keeping an eye on the situation. And, as soon as we have more details, we will bring them to you live.

While we wait, we are going to move on to that special topic we're covering all this week. We're counting down to Monday's YouTube debate at the Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina.

And I think it is the kind of thing you have never seen before because it is actually your chance to pose a question to the Democratic presidential candidates. As of right now, more than 1,300 questions have been posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube. We don't know which ones are going to be used in the debate yet, but all this week we're focusing in on some of the most provocative and most important questions coming in.

Let's start off with the war on terror tonight. It is the subject of quite a few of the questions we got.


YUSUF ZAIM, RESIDENT OF SAINT CHARLES, ILLINOIS: I have served in the United States Marine Corps. I have deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. And I am also an Afghan American.

My question is, do you guys have a plan to catch bin Laden? Remember that guy, the guy that murdered over 3,000 Americans?

CHARLES, RESIDENT OF ORLANDO, FLORIDA: As the son of two immigrant parents, I understand how beneficial immigration can be for our country. But I also realize that some terrorist organizations are trying to sneak immigrants both legal and illegal into the United States to commit attacks. What will you do as president to prevent terrorists from coming into our borders illegally? JEREMIAH PASTERNAK, RESIDENT OF RYE, NEW HAMPSHIRE: What if we pull all of our troops out of these countries and then a month later there is another attack on the U.S. with numerous casualties that can be linked to al Qaeda, or some other extremist organization based on Iraq, Afghanistan, or Iran? What happens then?

DAN VURTON, RESIDENT VIRGINIA: My question to all of the candidates is, what specifically would your presidency do to restore the constitutional protections and freedoms that the current administration has diluted under the guys of fighting terrorism?


ZAHN: Not only is the war on terror sparking questions for next Monday's presidential debate; it is making big headlines tonight because of a disturbing new government warning.

Justice correspondent Kelli Arena has some of the details for us now.

So, Kelli, the government is telling us that al Qaeda has gained strength, it has revamped its recruiting process, recruitment is up. Can you describe to us tonight exactly how it is regrouping?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, the report says that it has regained a lot of its capability to attack in the United States in the past 18 to 24 months.

Now, that's largely due to a safe haven that al Qaeda has been able to establish in Pakistan in the tribal regions. It has replaced a number of key operators with very experienced lieutenants. It is busy recruiting, as you said. And the report also predicts that al Qaeda could get even stronger, Paula, if it capitalizes on its franchise in Iraq.

Now al Qaeda there has already said publicly that it wants to attack on U.S. soil. It has already has got a fund-raising network. It is heavily recruiting as well. And of course that theater provides very deadly on-the-job training.

ZAHN: So, it clear how much strength it has regained since September 11, 2001?

ARENA: Well, no one is willing to measure it by any degree. They say that it is really something they have seen over the past couple of years. It is by no means as strong as it was just before September 11 or at that point, but it is steadily gaining in power.

ZAHN: There is an awful lot of debate, too, as we hear these chilling warnings about whether sleeper cells exist in the U.S. already or not. What are your sources telling you?

ARENA: Well, the FBI's deputy director, John Pistole, was asked that question directly. And he says no. But there are people in the United States that, we're told, are sympathetic to al Qaeda's cause and that has officials worried, because, as you know, that extremist movement has erupted in a big way over in Europe, Paula. And there are signs that it is growing in the U.S. as well, now, not at the same rate, but it is growing.

ZAHN: Of course, the greatest fear, I think, on most Americans' minds is whether al Qaeda, with this new operational capability, has gotten its hands on either biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

What do we know?


ARENA: Well, they're certainly trying to do that. But as one official said today, if they had them, they would use them. You know, officials say that they're definitely looking to get their hands on them, but there is absolutely no intelligence, thank God, suggesting that they have.

ZAHN: It would strike me with all this chatter that we're learning about that perhaps the Pentagon might have a better idea where Osama bin Laden is. Do they?

ARENA: Well, officials are saying more definitively than ever that they believe that he and his number two, Ayman al-Zawahri, are in those tribal areas of Pakistan. Now, they're not sure whether those men move across the border into Afghanistan or how often they move at all. But they're pretty sure that they're in that area of the world.

ZAHN: So, in spite of that knowledge, he remains as elusive as ever.

Kelli Arena, thanks so much for the update.

ARENA: You're welcome.

ZAHN: It is time right now to bring in two members of the best political team in TV, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider and senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Always good to see the two of you.

Candy, I want to start with you tonight.

You have got Democrats always fighting this perception somehow that they're weak on terror. Certainly some people think that they don't obviously want anything to do with Iraq right now. But now that this report makes it very clear that Iraq could very well be a staging point for an al Qaeda attack against us, how does that impact Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Any time you have a negative report about the fallout from Iraq, it helps these Democratic candidates who now to a person are against this war and want a deadline for withdrawal and want it to start sooner rather than later.

This particular report also helps them because it gets at one of the key arguments that they have been making, and that is, by going into Iraq, the president took his eye off the ball, that being Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Now having said all that, I would judge that this probably would help Barack Obama a little more than it helps Hillary Clinton.

He was against the war from the beginning. She voted for the war. Now, the two positions now of these two people are virtually indistinguishable, but they were different from the start. So, it may help him a little bit more.

ZAHN: But couldn't this also cut both ways, Bill Schneider, because if people really believe that Iraq is a central front on the war on terror, and both these candidates Candy was talking about want these troops out as quickly as possible, perhaps as early as six months, couldn't someone out there argue, saying that you're allowing al Qaeda then to reconstitute itself in Iraq?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, for Democrats, the argument is the longer the United States stays in Iraq and participates in the civil war, the more dangerous it will be for the United States because our policy in Iraq, our presence there, our participation in this war is serving the goal of recruiting more terrorists to the radical Islamic groups like al Qaeda in Iraq, and that it will be safer for the United States if we pull our troops out of their combat missions as quickly as possible.

That's, of course, the opposite of the Republican argument, which is, the sooner we get out, the more dangerous it will be for the United States.

ZAHN: Sure.

Bill, and I want to put up some of the latest statistics we have from a CNN opinion poll done before this latest intelligence report showing how Democrats rank terrorism on their list of priorities, pretty low when you compare it to Republicans.

So, do you see any of the Democratic front-runners shifting their strategy to accommodate this, perhaps to go after maybe independents?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think for Democrats the central terrorism issue is the war in Iraq, as Candy said, and how it has distorted our policies of combating terrorism.

And, so, what they want to argue is that the best way to fight terrorism is to get our resources out of this civil war in Iraq and devote them to not just in Iraq but all over the world to places where they can do lot more good.

ZAHN: And, Candy, final thought on what this all looks like on Monday. Rudy Giuliani, of all the candidates running for president, seems to benefit from the public's acknowledgement, at least so far, that he is the most serious about fighting this war on terror.

CROWLEY: Well, the Democrats, I think it will be very interesting during the debate, particularly because, as you mentioned before, they have been trying to do this balancing act, being against the war and being tough on terrorism.

You may recall an earlier debate where the candidates were asked, listen, what would you do if there were a terrorist attack in the U.S. and you knew who it was? And Hillary Clinton immediately said I would go after them. Barack Obama gave this sort of around-the-bend speech that didn't get to the central point until a lot later. And she was generally giving kudos.

I think what you're going to see is a fight for who can be the toughest as far as homeland security is concerned.

ZAHN: Bill Schneider, Candy Crowley, thanks.

We're going move on now. And when it comes to the issue of Iraq, we have noticed a surprising trend in the YouTube questions. Many people already assume the U.S. will pull out, and that's raising a whole new set of difficult questions.

Let's listen to some of them.


MITCH, RESIDENT OF PHILADELPHIA: How do we pull out now? And isn't it our responsibility to get these people up on their feet? Do you leave a newborn baby to take care of himself?


ZAHN: So, what is it that the U.S. should do about Iraq? Well, the Senate is starting an all night debate on it right now. These are live pictures coming at you. Will that help anything, even when they roll out the cots tonight and try to force a vote?

And then a little bit later on, some pointed questions about immigration reform. I will also be joined by two young people who sent in some questions. You're going to hear their stories about what compelled them to share their questions with the public.

We will be right back.


ZAHN: Tonight, we're counting down to next Monday's YouTube presidential debate on CNN. And the Democrats will face off at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. They will be facing questions from you.

We're asking YouTube users to tape some questions and post them on the Web site. So far, more than 1,300 of you have already written. Those questions have come into us -- I shouldn't say written -- you allowed yourself to be taped. And obviously not all of them will make it into the debate.

So, this week we're showing as many of them as we can. And Iraq remains one of the top questions asked.


MITCH: I certainly wasn't a big fan of the invasion/liberation. It sickens me to hear about soldiers wounded and getting killed daily, not to mention innocent Iraqis.

How do we pull out now? And isn't it our responsibility to get these people up on their feet? Do you leave a newborn baby to take care of himself?

ELIZABETH, AMMAN, JORDAN: I'm in Amman, Jordan, where there are approximately 750,000 Iraqi refugees. I'm here with one right now. Her name is Atri (ph). She's a Syrian, one of the ethnic and religious minorities that are being persecuted in Iraq right now.

I want to ask the candidates what they plan to do to help these Iraqis resettle to the U.S.

DOUG BRADSHAW, FATHER OF U.S. MARINE: Here's my question about Iraq. With most of you calling for a drastic reduction in U.S. troop strength, please tell me what specific steps you will take in order to ensure Middle East stability, so that my son will not have to go back.


ZAHN: So, Iraq definitely on the minds of YouTube questioners. And you can bet they're watching what is going on tonight at the Capitol, where you have Democrats in the Senate pulling an all- nighter.

Yes, they are staging a debate that will last the whole night designed to grab our attention and yours and put some pressure on the Republicans in the meantime before tomorrow's vote on whether to bring most U.S. troops home by next spring. So they have carted in the cots and the pizza, and it is already getting fiery.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Is it necessary to wait 60 more days until this magic day in September to change course? How many more American soldiers are going to get killed? How many are going to be maimed, wounded, lose their arms, lose their minds? So, we have no choice but to stay in session.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY WHIP: The Congress is not going to precipitously mandate that our troops begin to be withdrawn. We're going to go forward and allow them the time to do the job in September and October.


ZAHN: Right now, we go straight to the Capitol, where that debate will go on.

Congressional correspondent Dana Bash pulling an all-nighter with them. All right, so we get the theatrics of the cots and the all-night pizza and all that. But, at the end of the night, will the Democrats have accomplished anything?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, anything in terms of what their practical goal is, which is to get more votes, likely not, at least enough votes to actually pass their deadline for withdrawal.

But they are getting -- they are accomplishing, Paula, another goal, which is what we're giving them right now, attention. They are trying to shine the spotlight on the fact that they are trying over and over again to have these votes and to press Republicans to come their way and vote for a deadline for troop withdrawal.

In fact, that is -- the Republicans are one of two audiences that they're trying to reach here, first, not just Republicans, but wavering Republicans, those who have in recent weeks come out and said publicly, they're opposed to the president's position and strategy on the war.

What Democrats are trying to do is say if you're opposed to that, come our way and vote with us. But the other constituency or audience here, Paula -- it's very interesting -- are actually Democrats' own supporters who are maybe a little bit frustrated that Democrats were elected eight months ago to come in here and try to change course in Iraq, and they haven't.

So, this is a way for them to tell those constituents, if you will, that they're trying.

ZAHN: So, in a way, it is the war of the skeptics tonight, some of those Democratic supporters you're talking about. But certainly there has got to be a tremendous amount of cynicism on the Republicans' part, too.

What are they telling you?


BASH: Yes, there is. And it's interesting. It is not just from the Republican leaders or the staunch and outspoken supporters of the president's plan.

It is also some of the moderate Republicans, the very Republicans, Paula, that these Democrats are trying to target, for example, Senator Susan Collins, a moderate of Maine. She's undecided on this, but she told me in an interview earlier today that she thinks this is going to backfire, at least for her personal vote. She says that she thinks this is political theater, a stunt. And, if anything, it sort of turns her off the idea of voting with the Democrats.

ZAHN: Keep an eye on it for us tonight, Dana.

BASH: Thank you. I will.

ZAHN: Hope you like pizza.

BASH: Already had some. Going to have some more.


ZAHN: Yes. Well, to keep you fueled until 5:00 in the morning, you have may to partake in even more.

Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Thank you.

ZAHN: So, what might happen in Iraq if Democrats get their way and American troops withdrawal?

Well, let's ask two reporters who covered the war extensively. On the phone with me now is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, author of "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11." Also with me, "TIME" magazine correspondent Brian Bennett, whose last trip to Iraq was in April.

Good to have both of you with us tonight.


ZAHN: All right. Thank you.

Ron, I'm going to start with you tonight.

You have got all of the Democratic candidates basically saying they would like to see all the troops out by the end of next year or so. So, what is the first thing that would happen if that is accomplished?

RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST: It would probably split, at least in some fashion, and probably violently, into maybe three different parts. You know, in a way, it is showing what meddling of Western powers can do in this part of the world, back to the pre-World War I sort of A mishmash created by the Brits, a Kurd section, a Shiite section and a Sunni section.

And the fact is, is that that could be a consequence of enormous bloodshed to move all the Sunnis, ostensibly, to Anbar, you know, a dislocation of people. The question is how bad will the mayhem be? And what will it mean for the United States? Exits from these sorts of situations have to be handled to minimize the sense of defeat, which is something that frankly we need to be thinking about.


ZAHN: So, Brian, we heard Ron just filling us in on what he thinks would happen. And you have got candidate Joe Biden actually calling for Iraq to be divided into three states. How would that work, given the kind of bloodshed that Ron is talking about?

BENNETT: Well, for example, what Biden is proposing is (INAUDIBLE) that, really, the regions have control of their own destinies. Split up the oil wealth among them, and let them run their regions, which is exactly what is happening in Kurdistan already right now.

How would it work? Actually, it probably wouldn't solve any existing problems that you have right now, which is exactly that. How do you share the resources and oil wealth of this country? And how do you protect the minorities, so they don't feel like they have been (INAUDIBLE)

And that said, looking forward to a time when the Americans are no longer there, I even spoke with some Iraqi officials in the current Iraqi government. You may think they have their head in the clouds, but they believe that when -- if you think the Americans out of the picture, it exposes those who are still fighting as people who are trying joint to sow chaos, with really no wool of occupation to hide behind anymore.

ZAHN: Let's talk about something that Hillary Clinton has said during the course of this campaign, that she's opposed to installing permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, but recognizes the need for some sort of residual force to stay in place to keep Iraq whole.

How many troops are you talking about to keep the al-Maliki government in operation? A lot of people think it is pretty close to falling now.

SUSKIND: Well, one of the things, Paula, is that the U.S. will almost certainly have a presence in this region for some time to come. Will that be a presence in a kind of garrison inside of whatever is left of Iraq? Or will it be, which I think lots of folks are suggesting now, in Kurdistan? The Kurds already have been talking about the desire to have a U.S. presence there. They think that that is in their interests.

And certainly they have been aligned with U.S. interests more than maybe some of the other parts of the country would be going forward.

ZAHN: Brian Bennett, Ron Suskind, thank you for your very important information tonight. Appreciate it.

We're going to move on to something else Congress hasn't been able to do much about. What is the YouTube community saying about immigration reform? Wait until you hear what they're asking the presidential candidates to do about the border.

But next, a college professor's controversial research uncovers a growing health crisis in many minority neighborhoods.


ZAHN: Next week, the Senate holds a hearing on environmental justice, making sure laws designed to protect the environment don't come at the expense of minority groups or the poor.

But one man those senators will be hearing from says our country is suffering from environmental injustice.

Kyung Lah has his story in tonight's "People You Should Know."


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For decades, Detroit resident Ophelia Owens has lived with a huge solid waste incinerator across the street.

OPHELIA OWENS, RESIDENT OF DETROIT: It is so unbearable to even come out and breathe.

LAH: Owens and her two toddler boys suffer from acute asthma. The area around where they live has the highest rate of asthma in Detroit, a city where more African-Americans die of the disease than anywhere else in America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I worked in California.

LAH: Clark Atlanta University professor Robert Bullard says Owens is not alone. He charges that toxic waste sites are being deliberately placed within America's minority communities all across the country, something he says is more than just a dangerous health threat; it is outright racism.

DR. ROBERT BULLARD, PROFESSOR, CLARK ATLANTA UNIVERSITY: Just because you're pour, just because you live physically on the "wrong" -- quote -- "side of the tracks" doesn't mean that you should be dumped on.

LAH: But Bullard's views aren't always embraced. On this visit, the city of Detroit denies a nearby plant makes people sick, saying -- quote -- "We operate a clean licensed waste energy facility that does not receive or process hazardous waste."

However, a recent report co-authored by Bullard, "Toxic Waste and Race at 20," found, of the nine million people living within two miles of the nation's most hazardous waste facilities, more than half are people of color.

BULLARD: Race does matter.

LAH: Bullard and his supporters are delivering their message to Washington prior to this month's Senate hearing on health and the environment.

BULLARD: This is in-your-face, slam-dunk discrimination.

We need to have a national policy to look at what is happening in these communities and to begin to address them as a public health issue.

LAH: Bullard says he hopes change will come before it is too late for people like Ophelia Owens.

OWENS: If they don't step up, I can't see it getting any better for us.

Kyung Lah, CNN.


ZAHN: And many questions for Monday's presidential debate deal with a topic that was too hot, it seems, for Congress to handle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. My name is Antonio (ph). And I am from Mexico.

As we all know, there are a lot of Mexican workers in the United States. Some are legal and some are not.

So, these are my questions for all the candidates. What do you think about the militarization at the border and the fence being built there?


ZAHN: We're getting a lot of questions from both the United States and Mexico. Next, what can the Democrats do about immigration reform?

And have you noticed the YouTube generation is predominantly the next generation? What do America's young voters want most?

I will ask a couple of them a little bit later on.


ZAHN: Welcome back to the "CNN/YouTube Debate Countdown." Next Monday, that will be July 23, for those of you who haven't memorized the calendar for the month, we'll host a first of its kind presidential debate, the Democratic candidates will be in Charleston, South Carolina taking questions from people all over the world.

So far some 1,300 questions have been posted on the video-sharing website YouTube. And all week long we're going to play the best ones, exploring some of the critical issues they raise. Now, a lot of the questions deal with one of this year's most contentious issues, the immigration crisis.


THERESIDENT, BROOKLYN, NY: So I think getting new immigration laws in place is critical for the U.S. tight now. I have my own ideas on how to solve the current immigration problems, but I would love to hear yours.

BJORN SVENSON: The diversity of each American's ancestry helps to shape this country into what it is today. Now, just as Vikings were explorers and immigrants in search of better lives, so too were those who still come to America yearning to breathe free. My question to you is this, how do you plan to deal with illegal immigration?

CHRISTINA: We're a country of immigrants. Yet today immigration is dividing our nation. Why do you think the present immigration law is not being enforced? And what will you do to solve this problem with justice and fairness?

ANTONIO, MEXICO: Hello. My name is Antonio and I'm from Mexico... Well, there are a lot of Mexican workers in the United States, some are legal and some are not. So this are my question for all the candidates. What do you think about the military (INAUDIBLE) of the border and the fence being built there?


ZAHN: So, here's my question, what are the chances Bjorn will make the cut next week with that headgear? Some very important issues raised, though, by all of those folks who were nice enough to videotape their questions on an issue that has dominated the headlines this year, but one that has gone nowhere in Washington. So exactly where do the Democratic candidates stand on immigration? We decided to take a look.


SEN BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want to have a situation in which those who are already here are playing by the rules, are willing to pay a fine and go through a rigorous process, should have a pathway to legalization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There doesn't need to be a 700 mile fence.

ZAHN (voice-over): There are at least 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. right now. Dealing with them was a hot topic at our last Democratic presidential debate and it could be back in the spotlight again next week. Here's why. In a CNN poll last month, 15 percent of you thought it was the most important issue to your vote for president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not agreed to.

ZAHN: Immigration reform went down in flames in the Senate last month. All four Democratic senators running for president voted for the bill, but New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the only Latino White House hopeful changed his mind and ended up opposing the bill.

GOV BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would not support legislation that divided families. I would not support legislation that builds a wall, a Berlin-type wall between two countries, the way the bill in the Congress exists today.

ZAHN: The death of the Senate bill could hurt Republicans' chances at holding on to the White House. Other than Senator John McCain, just about all of the GOP presidential contenders were dead set against the immigration reform plan.

REP DUNCAN HUNTER (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The security of the American borders should not be conditioned on amnesty.

ZAHN: That kind of talk is music to conservatives, but could hurt Republicans among Latino voters who are the nation's largest and fastest growing minority.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIR: According to the exit polls, Latino voters in 2006 cared more about immigration than voters of any other race. And 70 percent of the Latinos who cared about the issue voted Democratic. If both of those were true in 2008, that could be bad news for the Republicans.


ZAHN: With me now, syndicated columnist Miguel Perez, who's also a journalism professor at New York's Le Moyne College; attorney and "USA Today" contributor, Raul Reyes; also here Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez, author of the new book "Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans need each other."

Welcome, all.

Leslie, I wasn't to start with a graphic to show how important the immigration issue is to those who were polled among the YouTube folks in this. And I think it's easy to understand why it impacts all of us. But help us better understand how deeply it resonates with all Americans.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, that's a great point. There's an incredible level of intensity on the issue of immigration, but if you look, that was issue No. 5. And even at a Latino Coalition poll of Hispanic voters, you saw that immigration was issue No. 5 among Hispanics, as well. So, Hispanics are very much thinking the same way that general market voters are.

The reason it's important is this is a debate on our national identity. And there's a reason it takes 20 years or more before Congress attempts to do something about our immigration laws. It's clouded in fear, racism, untruths, but it has to be done and as -- and this is something that cannot be done in the dead of night by a Congress that is trying to push it through. It has to be done correctly it has to address real issues that Americans care about.

ZAHN: Let's move on to one of the questions posted on the YouTube website to give our audience a flavor of what they might be hearing next week. Let's listen together.


DICK COLLINS, DALLAS: ...we voted for the immigration bill. Can you explain your vote to give amnesty to 12 million illegal immigrants in our country?


ZAHN: All right, Miguel, Richard's first part of the question got clipped there, but he was addressing it to Hillary Clinton. Basically saying, this bill is the same thing as giving amnesty to some 12 million Americans.

And when did amnesty become a four-letter word? It use to be we were proud to be...

MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It isn't amnesty. But how should she answer that question?

PEREZ: Well, the Democratic candidate, how Hillary? She's answering those questions pretty well. As a matter of fact, of all the presidential candidates, Hillary has handled the immigration question pretty well, especially during the New Hampshire debate when she was asked about the movement to make English the official language, she also on that other issue was very, very clear. Basically explained that all the senators already voted to make English the national language, making it official has legal implications like taking away the bilingual balance...

ZAHN: But, coming down to the specific issue of these 12 million Americans are here who are here illegally, breaking the law. This latest reform bill that went down in flames. Would you consider that amnesty or was it, as the president says a...

PEREZ: Even the people adamantly against them...

ZAHN: ...a pathway to citizenship?

RAUL REYES, CONTRIBUTOR, USA TODAY: It was earned citizenship. It actually -- you know what? I think Hillary out of all the candidates, as you said, she's is very well prepared to defend it, she has very well articulated herself on this issue and she's spoken of the need to balance the needs of the agriculture industry, the health care industry, national security, and the 12 million people here undocumented. She's very converse on this issue. And I'll say one thing for Hillary, she made superb outreach efforts for the Latino community. She knows what she's doing on this issue. She has it together.

ZAHN: And Leslie, I'm standing here in the Hillary corner tonight, it seems.

I know you're no big fan of Hillary Clinton's, but of all the candidates running for president who has the best shot at making any progress on this issue?

SANCHEZ: Republican and Democrat? I do have to ask you that.

ZAHN: Yeah, either side.

SANCHEZ: You know, clearly I'm going to say Republican.

ZAHN: I'm so surprised.


SANCHEZ: The reason...

ZAHN: I'm stunned. I'm amazed.

SANCHEZ: The main reasons -- point that people forget for the last three presidential elections, Democrats have been in a free fall with Latino voters losing nearly 20 points since 1996 and that high reached by Bill Clinton. It has been a precipitous drop and what has stopped that is this immigration debate.

So, what is the impetus -- what is the impetus if I can finish my point very quickly -- what is the motivation for Democrats to take on the immigration issue and do something about securing our borders? There isn't one. Because as long as they believe it's something that can divide Republicans, they're going stand by the sidelines and not take any action.

REYES: OK, what -- Leslie -- one thing you're missing, if anything, is the Republicans were in the Hispanic right now -- Hispanic panic now, Latino support for Republicans is in a free fall. Right now only 11 percent of Latinos self-identify as Republicans, so it's a huge challenge for the GOP...

ZAHN: Hispanic panic?

PEREZ: Who's panic are we, right? His-panic.


Now, let me make one...

ZAHN: Quickly.

SANCHEZ: Very quickly, one quick point. I just wrote a column saying that as McCain -- and McCain was the only hope, as far as I'm concerned, on the whole Republican team, the only hope for Latinos to get, you know, a good amount of votes for Republicans was McCain. As McCain slips in the polls, Latinos leverage with the Democratic candidates is lost. Why? Because we could always say to the Democrats, hey, we have McCain, there is a Republican alternative. Now we're losing that alternative. What happens? The Democrats are going to take the Latino vote for granted as they always have.

ZAHN: Okay. What happens now is I got to go to a commercial break. As much as I love to listen to all three of you. Miguel Perez, Raul Reyes, Leslie Sanchez. Thanks.

Not only are most of the YouTube questions coming from young people, the stories behind their questions are really interesting. Listen to this guy.


YUSUF ASIM: I have served in the United States Marine Corps. I have deployed in support of "Operation Iraqi Freedom," and I am also an Afghan-American.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: A lot of interesting back stories behind these questions that will some of them be posed to the presidential candidates. You're going to meet this gentleman as well as another questioner with fascinating story. Please hang around, we'll all be back.


ZAHN: This week we're counting down to next Monday's CNN/YouTube debate. The candidates will be at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina answering questions from just about anyone with a video camera and access to YouTube. So far more than 1,300 questions have come in, most are from young people. Obviously they're generally better at computers than the older generation and they happen to be members of the YouTube generation.


PJFURLONG06: Here to deliver shocking news from the youth of America. We don't care about your FaceBook or your MySpace profiles, they won't change our votes. But what might change my vote is how you answer the following. What's your administration going to do to address poverty at home and abroad?

KEITH NEELY: What issue will affect my generation the most and furthermore what are you, as a candidate, doing about it?

AARON BURGER, NASHVILLE, TN: Why is education put on the back burner and what will you do to change this?

MELISSA, SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA: If I can go to any state and get the same triple grande non-fat no foam vanilla latte from Starbucks, why can't I go to any state and vote the same way?

ROBERT PRICHARD, MILTON, DE: How will you, the candidates, end the war in Iraq responsibly through a political solution and how can the saved money be redirected? Will the excess cash one day be able to make college more affordable for students like myself?

KAREN, MEGAN, LIZ, WASHINGTON: Want to know why we're wearing ostrich costumes in front of the White House? Because we are students who are searching for candidates who won't stick their heads in the sand on reforming Social Security.


ZAHN: Think a lot of people thinking the same thing. A lot of interesting questions from the YouTube generation. Here's another one that grabbed our attention.


YUSUF ASIM: Hello, candidates. My name is Yusuf Asim. I'm 22 years old. I have served in the United States Marine Corps. I have deployed in support of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and I'm also an Afghan-American. Now, I understand all of you candidates have a plan to withdraw the troops from Iraq. My question is, do you guys have a plan to catch bin Laden? Remember that guy? The guy that murdered over 3,000 Americans?


ZAHN: That question came from Yusuf Asim, as we just mentioned, who joins me now. And there is another clip I want you to see first.


JAMIE BERNSTEIN: Hi. My name is Jamie and I would like it tell you a quick story. One of my very good friends recently was sick for four months straight. She didn't have health care insurance because she had just graduated college and did not yet have a job.

Now, after four months she was able to get health care insurance and she did go to a doctor where they were able to cure her and in only five days. But she was lucky. She didn't have anything that spread over that time or got worse. And a lot of other people aren't nearly as lucky as she was. So, I would like to ask you, if you're president, what would you do to help with the millions of Americans that currently do not have health care insurance?


ZAHN: Jamie Bernstein submitted that smart question, too. And she joins us now, as well. Good to have both of you with us.

So, Yusuf, there are many young people like you who have served honorably in the military and, of course, have been very personally affected by the war on terror. Why was it so important for you to take the time to pose this question on videotape?

ASIM: Well Paula, I just wanted my voice to be heard. I mean, in my neck of the woods, not too many of the candidates are coming around and speaking. So, I figured by posting a video on YouTube, that would enable my voice to be heard. And if the candidates wouldn't hear it, then hopefully other Americans would hear it and come to a decision with it.

ZAHN: Certainly Americans will have heard it tonight. You know, at these debates you hear a lot of very politically calibrated answers. Do you expect to get honest answers to these questions?

ASIM: I hope so. I mean, a lot of the candidates, it seems in the past debates, have been kind of just smoothing over the answers and they're not getting to the point and they're not getting detailed, and I think we need to see that.

ZAHN: And Jamie, clearly you're affected by the war on terror, as well. But it was clear from your personal experience, through a friend in the health care system, that's on the top of your list. I understand you actually recorded a number of questions. What are some of your key concerns as you try to make a decision about some of these candidates you'll hear on Monday?

BERNSTEIN: Well, one of my main concerns is that too many politicians are taking religion into consideration when making policy decisions and I think they should be focusing more on things like science and experts, instead.

ZAHN: Yusuf, you're going to be analyzing a number of candidates on Monday night. Who do you like so far?

ASIM: Well, so far -- so far I really like Barack. To me, Barack hasn't been tainted yet by the Washington politics. He's young. He's fresh. He has a good outlook. So, so far I'm rooting for him.

ZAHN: Jamie, we have seen the number of people voting increase, young people, I have to make that clear, voting increase, even though as a nation we really are woefully inadequate about turning out at the polls, but do you think it is working for these candidates to use YouTube and portals like that to get information out to voters like you?

BERNSTEIN: Definitely. I mean, I think that a lot of young people feel kind of cut off from politics, like the politicians aren't really listening to us, but on YouTube, you can go and you can post a question and ask a question directly to one of your -- one of the presidential candidates. And in many cases, they will respond to you directly. And think that that really makes them seem a lot more real and really speaks to the younger generation.

ZAHN: Jamie Bernstein, Yusuf Asim, appreciate you sharing your questions and thoughts with us tonight.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

ASIM: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Hope to see you Monday night out there in cyberspace.

There are some stories you've got to see to believe. In one part of the world, girl as young as 10 can be forced into marriage. But one woman is challenging that old tradition. See what else makes her a CNN Heroine, next.


ZAHN: Back to our "CNN/YouTube Debate Countdown." Next Monday the Democrats will be answering questions from YouTube users at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. We've some 1,300 questions so far posted on YouTube. We still want more, so we asked Internet correspondent Jacki Schechner in to show you how to do it.


JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Hi guys. No matter how you capture your video, there is a way to get it onto YouTube. Let me show you what you do. We start with our digital camera or your camcorder. Now, once you record your question, you're going to want to put it on to your computer and then log on to Create an account, that's the best way to manage your videos. Name your question -- we'll call this "Jacki's Question," and the upload the file from your system.

Once it's online, add it to the contest and you're done, it's that easy.

If you've got a cell phone with video, that's easy, too. YouTube gives the option of sending a question directly from your phone. Just shoot your video and then e-mail it. Question accomplished.

The final way is the quick capture version on If you've got a have a webcam this is the easiest thing to do. Record yourself talking into the camera, quick capture it, then once you're done it takes a couple seconds to process and then it pops up online. It's that easy. In fact, there's only one challenge left, what do you want to ask? And well that, I can't help you with.


ZAHN: Oh come on Jacki, we thought we'd supply the questions, too.

We're going to switch gears now to introduce you to an incredibly brave woman from Kenya who is tonight's CNN Heroine. She has taken a huge risk to change an ancient rite of passage to help young girls get an education.


MARGERY KABUYA, CNN HERO: A girl here can get married as young as 10, certainly by 13, a lot of them are already married.


In Maasai culture, a girl can be promised or "booked" for marriage before she is born.

Her family receives a payment in exchange.


KABUYA: Girls are very, very important because they are a source of health and wealth. That is why it is very difficult for a Maasai man to let a girl do anything else but get married.

Before a girl gets married here, they must go through the female genital mutilation. When you delay marriage, you delay circumcision.


It is estimated that 93 percent of Maasai girls have undergone female genital mutilation.

An estimated 80 percent of Maasai girls never completes elementary school.


KABUYA: My name is Margery Kabuya, and we started a school for Maasai girls.

We said OK, what we are going to do is we are going to use the same process of booking the girl. The girls used to be booked for marriage, now they're just being booked for school.

We go through the exact same ceremony. We monitor the girls, when they are six another blessing is done and we are given the girl to take to school.

We are not saying the girls should not get married, we are just saying marry them off later.


To date, Margery's school has "booked" 800 girls for education.

The school has a 98 percent completion rate.

Source: Christian Children's Fund


KABUYA: We have managed to delay -- at least delay -- the female genital mutilation.

We will grow up into responsible girls, right?

I think the best thing is that it has given them opportunities that they would never have had. It has opened them and their parents to a different lifestyle.


ZAHN: Very strong and generous woman. If you'd like to know about Margery's work, go to our website, We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Before we leave you, we wanted to bring you a very quick update on our breaking story that led off the hour. A Brazilian airliner with anywhere from 140 to 170 onboard, crashed while attempting to land at an airport in bad weather in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Reports say the TAM Airways plane skidded of a runway, struck a building and exploded. Still, no word on casualties although one report says 10 people inside that building were killed.

That is it for all of us tonight, we will be back same time same place again tomorrow night. We hope you will join us then.