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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Comprehensive Immigration Reform; Dishwasher's Life Savings Update; Viewer Comments; 'Ask a Mexican!'; How Does Immigration Impact U.S. Jobs?

Aired October 2, 2007 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yesterday, language. Tonight, jobs. This is really the story of those guys in this country who used to make $15, $16 an hour, but now they can't compete because of the immigrants who are doing their jobs for about half of that. American jobs, the American economy, this is what we're going to bring OUT IN THE OPEN tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The lower back is already starting to feel a little stiff.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Would you do this?

How about this?

CNN reporters telling these stories from the inside out. From cold, smelly fish to hard, green olives.

Our nation's commerce secretary, he says immigrant workers are a good thing.

(on camera): How do you explain to the little guy, though, who used to charge $15, $16 an hour for his craft, and now you have somebody else come along who is doing it for $10 an hour? How do you explain that to that guy?

(voice-over): It's an answer you'll want to hear.

Also, day laborers looking for work, thousands of them all over the country. You've seen them. But who's that guy? With a hidden camera, microphone, and an old pair of jeans I join the ranks for a day. Are they taking our jobs or helping our country's economy?

Eleven years as a dishwasher, he worked his Guatemalan tail off to save $59,000. Then it was taken away. Is that fair? We're the only ones who can speak his language. And we will.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez. If you hang drywall or you're a mason or you're a carpet manufacturer, these are the jobs that Americans used to take so much pride in, right? Chances are today, you're not doing that job. Somebody else is. Somebody with the last name usually like Rodriguez or Sanchez. If you're that guy, it might feel like you're being cheated right now, like somehow our country is not protecting you or your job. It doesn't seem fair, does it?

But then there's the immigrant's perspective and then there's the nation's economy perspective. This is a broad subject that we want to lay out for you tonight, because we need as Americans to have this conversation about this. By the way, last night, remember we had another conversation. We asked, should America be English-only? We got 17,000 votes in a period of about one hour, 17,000 votes, 74 percent of you said yes, it should be an English-only nation.

Tonight, we focus on jobs. And we begin where we should begin. This is a story of an American, a displaced American worker, his name is Tim Blancato (ph). He's 38 years old. He's -- third generation in his family, he has worked as a drywaller. Guess what, he's not working as a drywaller anymore. And he's going to explain to you why.

Tim, thanks for being with us. Explain to us why you lost your job. Tell America why you lost your job.

TIM BLANCATO, LOST JOB TO ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS: Too many contractors are hiring illegal workers to do work that I can't afford to do. It's not that I don't want to do my job, it's just that they're stealing all the jobs from us.

SANCHEZ: How do you say stealing their jobs from you? How would you describe -- you use that word, that's a very specific word. Why do you say that?

BLANCATO: They're coming in here illegally, doing the work cheaper than I can afford to do it. I have mortgages to pay, truck payments, health insurance to pay, and I have to pay taxes.

SANCHEZ: Let's break this down for the viewers who are sitting at home. Everybody understands dollars and cents, right? How much were you charging before this happened?

BLANCATO: I would make roughly $50, $100, to $2,000 a week. And now for the last six months I haven't even been able to make a paycheck.

SANCHEZ: And are the other guys -- is the work still out there or has the work just dried up? Are other people doing the work?

BLANCATO: There's plenty of people. If you go on any job site today, the majority of the workers are illegal immigrants.

SANCHEZ: How tough has this been for you? What has happened in your life?

BLANCATO: I mean, it's devastating to my family. We're down to the bare minimums. I mean, I don't collect unemployment because I'm a subcontractor originally. So I don't have rights to unemployment because you can't afford to pay it because you can't charge enough wages with all the competition out there of illegal workers. SANCHEZ: Have you ever thought about the possibility that maybe what you ought to do is be one of the contractors yourself? After all, you know an awful lot about this. And hire other people, other immigrants perhaps, Hispanic immigrants who come to this country and make them work under you.

BLANCATO: And then I'm just taking work away from someone else like me, if I do that.

SANCHEZ: So you're saying under no circumstances will you hire somebody who you can't vouch is in this country legally?

BLANCATO: No, and I think all businesses that do should be penalized. I mean, it doesn't make the competition fair.

SANCHEZ: So you're saying, on principle alone, you're willing to give up this thing that has been in your family for three generations now, and you're willing to do something else, on principle, because you think it's wrong for illegal aliens to be here doing that?

BLANCATO: Yes, I've currently enrolled in truck driving school, and now I'm worried about that being taken over with the open border situation.

SANCHEZ: It's an amazing story. Tim Blancato, you're a brave guy to come on and explain this to us, we wish you the best, my friend.

There are jobs considered by some to be perfect for immigrants but not for Americans. We're going to take you inside some of them tonight as we explore what's going on in this country when it comes to jobs. First here's one for you. Fish gutting and fish cleaning. You're not going to believe what this looks and smells like through the eyes and the ears of CNN's Dan Lothian. We sent him out to see what it was like in Boston to do some of this and he spent a lot of time with some cod today.

What was it like, Dan?

LOTHIAN: Well, Rick, I can still smell the fish. In fact, it took me three cycles in the wash to clean my clothes. I had to use one of those wipes to get the smell off of my watch and my glasses. This job issue, as you've been talking about, has been so heated in the immigration debate, some people say, pay enough money and all workers will line up. Well, I decided to find out and I ended up in a cold warehouse with a lot of fish.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): The moon is still up when they arrive for work, immigrants, mostly from South America, getting an early start to a long day, processing fish at this plant in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

It's a job that owner Lou Martins, himself a Portuguese immigrant, says most Americans often reject. LOU MARTINS, FISH PROCESSOR: There are a lot of companies out there that need hard workers and we just can't find them, unless they're foreigners. We've tried advertising. It has got to be the immigrant, really, because no one else wants to do it.

LOTHIAN: Anyone who thinks otherwise, he says, should spend a day at his plant. So I did. My job is to remove small blemishes by hand from cod and haddock.

(on camera): Just any ugly thing like this?

(voice-over): Then use this machine to remove the skin. It doesn't take long before this process becomes uncomfortable.

(on camera): Back's getting a little sore. Hands get cold. Feet get tired. There's a lot of repetition going on here.

(voice-over): Fish after fish after fish. Hour after hour.

(on camera): I think I'm ready for a break but it's not break time yet.

(voice-over): Around me, workers who the company says are here legally fillet fish, remove bones, and package the stock for delivery. The fish odor is strong. That I can sort of get used to. But everything is wet, with cool temperatures and ice to keep fish fresh. My hands aren't getting any warmer.

(on camera): Here are my frozen fingertips. Nice and cold.

(voice-over): When it gets too bad, a dip in a can of warm water helps. My Portuguese partner says this job doesn't get any easier over time. It's one reason Martins says he can't retain non- immigrants.

MARTINS: If I see them one day, they usually don't come back.

LOTHIAN: It's not just the hard work, it's the unpredictability.

CORRIN WILLIAMS, COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CTR.: One doesn't know, one week you could work 20 hours and the next week 30 hours, or 40, or 50 hours. So you don't have the stability of a regular paycheck in these jobs.

LOTHIAN: After six hours on my feet, 2,000 fish processed. The supply runs out.

(on camera): I think that's it. That's it.

(voice-over): If I had been paid, my total take would have been $60.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: That's amazing. You know, as I'm watching this, I'm thinking of the stories my dad used to tell me and I'm sure other people's parents have told them the same thing. My dad left Cuba, brought us to this country. He was a lawyer in Cuba. But when he came to this country, he couldn't find any work. He didn't speak English. So he became a dishwasher and worked in restaurants.

So let me ask the question this way. And I think this is kind of a personal thing, Dan. But if you were ever so down and had lost your position where you had to do something, could you see yourself doing this every single day of your life?

LOTHIAN: You know, that's a very good question, because I asked myself that. And I've done a lot of hard work in my lifetime. I grew up in Florida where I had a lawnmower business when I was a teenager working in 100 degrees under the hot sun. So I'm not afraid of doing the hard work.

But it would be very difficult to do this kind of work, day in and out, because as I mentioned, just after a few hours of doing this your hands really do get numb, your back gets achy, you're bent over. The job really doesn't change. I mean, you're doing the same thing over and over and over again. And the only thing that changes is the fish.

SANCHEZ: Dan Lothian, good stuff. By the way, on the comment as to whether or not some of these people are legal, that's what's difficult to say as well. When you ask people, are you legal, they're going to say, yes, my papers are being processed. But you never really know. And we're going to be getting into that part of the conversation as well.

Good job, Dan.

SANCHEZ: If the argument is, they're taking American jobs, well then, let me ask you this, would you as an American do this job? Here's another one. Would you spend hours in the scorching sun picking olives? Or waiting all day on a street corner, hoping that someday, someone will come and offer you a job, even if it means being there for seven days? Wait a minute, who is that guy? Who is that guy?

Then, he washed dishes, he saved $59,000 only to have the government take it from him. He washed dishes for 11 years. How can you not be allowed to keep your money if you do that?

Also, if you want to sound off on any of these topics that we're talking about tonight, this is really getting a lot of energy folks. Last night, 17,000 people going to our Web site, well, here's your chance tonight. We're going to give you a number to call as well. It is 877-648-3639, 877-648-3639. Latino labor. Are they taking our jobs? Or in Spanish, (SPEAKING SPANISH)?

There you go, you get it in two languages. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Here's another story we've been following that turns this whole argument on its head. Pedro Zapeta's story. He spent 11 years washing dishes, saved $59,000, wanted to take it to his family. Suddenly the government takes it away from him. He's going to join us in just a little bit. Is that fair? Then, we want you to tell us, should Pedro get his money pack? You can vote on this by the way by going to cnn.com/uncoveringamerica.

Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez. We are OUT IN THE OPEN. The question tonight, how do you compete with immigrants so desperate for work? Now they'll do it for nine bucks an hour as we were having in that conversation at the beginning of this newscast, or less, six, seven bucks an hour. In fact, on street corners all over the United States, they're actually going to be seen there. You'll see them. They'll wait for days, just on the chance that somebody will come by and perhaps offer them a job. It seems crazy. But this is reality in the United States right now.

And I wanted to know who these people actually are. Are they like my parents when they came to this country poor? Maybe like your grandparents or great-grandparents, or are they any different? I bring you this story from the inside out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ (voice-over): You see the guy in the hat? The blue shirt? The jeans? Carrying a bag over his shoulder? That's me in Palisades Park, New Jersey, trying to blend in with the scores of day laborers looking for work.

(on camera): My goal is to try and mingle in with one of the thousands of groups of day laborers that assemble all over the country, at street corners, just to try and make a buck. There's a camera that's hidden right there. There's a microphone right here. My goal is to walk in their shoes. To tell this story, their story, from the inside out.

(voice-over): It is 7:00 a.m. and the waiting has begun. These guys are hoping for a job, any job. Sheetrock. Gardening. Moving. I approach them as Ricardo Sanchez. My birth name. Speak to them in Spanish.

(on camera): (SPEAKING SPANISH)

SANCHEZ (voice-over): I tell them I'm Cuban. I ask them how it's going. Then I ask, this is where you wait? What do you tell somebody who possibly wants to give you a job?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You ask how much they're paying.

SANCHEZ: I wondered if he asked in English.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, in English, mostly in English.

SANCHEZ: I ask him, what specifically do you say? I mean, what do you ask?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Because I can't speak English, it gets complicated for me sometimes too.

SANCHEZ (on camera): (SPEAKING SPANISH)

(voice-over): What I want to know is, how do you know when someone's going to give you work? Do they signal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, they signal.

SANCHEZ: So I ask him, what, they say, listen, come over here? Then they talk to you? Then what, you negotiate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Of course.

SANCHEZ: Sometimes they don't want to pay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, sometimes they don't pay.

SANCHEZ: It's amazing. These guys can spend all day standing on these street corners and they're lucky, lucky, if they get two jobs a week. The rest of their time is filled waiting and hoping. But they have to be here, they say, to feed their families and pay the rent. By the way, the going rate is about $90 a day. If it's a smaller job, they try and get 9 to 10 bucks an hour.

(on camera): (SPEAKING SPANISH)

(voice-over): I ask him how much he charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Well, it depends. Whoever goes for 10 goes for 10. Me, I don't go for 10.

SANCHEZ: He says the pay should be daily and he shoots for $100 a day. The last thing these guys need is more competition, yet they welcome me, and even try and give me a lesson on how to negotiate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): How much do you charge per hour? Up front. How many hours are you giving me? It's 10 hours, $100. No, eight hours is $100, if you like it.

SANCHEZ: After four hours, I saw few job offers. This homeowner needed his furniture moved. I walked the 20 minutes to his apartment for a job that paid only 9 bucks an hour. Unfortunately, it was only about an hour's worth of work.

By the way, only one of these workers noticed that I wasn't the real deal. He knew I just didn't quite fit in. But even then, his honesty both surprised and saddened me. He tells me all he wants to do is work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Of course, supposedly that's what it is. All it is. You want to work for at least as far as I go. If I can work for at least a year straight, then what my going to be in this country for? I'd rather be in my country. All you get in this country is bitterness and sadness and loneliness.

SANCHEZ: But he tells me he needs the money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Of course that's true. First place is, that's the money. That's why we come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good technique here. Just pull them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, just...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Run your fingers, it doesn't...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: That is one of our correspondents. Next, how immigrants in agriculture get along. A Latino laborer supposedly keeps low-cost food on our tables. We'll talk about that.

Then later, Pedro Zapeta, the Guatemalan dishwasher who earned and lost $59,000 because the government took it away from him, is it fair? Tell us what you think. Is Latino labor helping or hurting America? The number, 877-648-3639.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back to OUT IN THE OPEN. I'm Rick Sanchez on this special project we're working on, looking at jobs. There's an argument that's made by many economists that says that the jobs that many immigrants in this country handle are vital to our economy. One area where this argument is most pronounced is in agriculture. And California, of course, is right smack dab in the middle of this argument. That's where one of our correspondents spent the day picking olives. Ted Rowlands is joining us from Lindsay, California.

What was the hardest part of your day, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Probably maneuvering the large ladder, climbing way up into the trees, and then also getting on your hands and knees and picking all the olives that you don't get into your bushel, your bucket that you have in your gut. You have to get on all fours and pick away. I couldn't imagine doing strawberry picking because that's probably the most difficult part of it.

SANCHEZ: By the way, is there anything that you saw out there that would lead you to believe that there are other people other than Mexican immigrants, interested in doing this type of work?

ROWLANDS: No. In fact, we talked to the folks that organized these workers and they say that 99 percent of the folks are from Mexico originally. And some live here locally. But that's the bulk of it. They've had people throughout the years say, I want to do it, they do it a couple of days tops, and that's it, they stop.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We usually just have Mexicans working out here, because nobody else wants to come and do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: That is the owner of the organization that basically assembles workers. They come here to pick olives. They go do oranges. They go across the state or across this region looking for people. We talked to the mayor of Lindsay, California, the city here a lot of the folks worked in, and talked about the reality.

What if you up the wages? What if you increased the amount you pay these people? Would more people be interested? He said basically, no, and here's also what he said about what it would do if they paid more in this industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to look, say, OK, well, it's too expensive raising it here in America, you start paying somebody $25 an hour. Let's import it in from another country. Before long the growers here would go out of business, you would not have the crops here, consequently all of our food would be based on importation from foreign countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: The guy that was picking olives next to me throughout the day was with his wife, he said he'd been doing it for about 25 years. Living locally in this country or in this town here in Lindsay, he said he had been deported a couple of times about 20 years ago but he is legal now. He says he still does it. He has got five kids. And he makes about $100 a day. If his wife is here, it's about $160 a day.

I worked all day and made about $25, because of my lower skill level. It is tough work, no doubt about it, Rick. And you work your butt off. And you don't get paid a lot.

SANCHEZ: Hey, don't be so hard on yourself, you did fine. Let me ask you a question, just because I think the audience heard you say this and we went through it kind of fast. So let me make sure we got what you said. What these folks are saying, including the mayor, is that if the immigrants weren't there to do this work, that industry would pretty much dry up?

ROWLANDS: Well, that's what they say, is that -- and they've had problems with it since the increased protection on the borders. Two years ago we did a story up in Northern California where pears rotted on the trees because they didn't have enough workers, because it was difficult and there was a lot of fear at that time.

Right now they say they have enough workers for the olives but they're always concerned about it. And when you say, well, what if you paid more? Wouldn't people do it if you paid more? They say, no, because what would happen is the American people, as much as they don't want to do this work, the other thing they don't want to do is pay more at the grocery store. Then you would get into a situation where we'd be importing our food, something that nobody would want to get into.

SANCHEZ: Something to think about. Ted Rowlands, well done, good report. Thanks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Those jobs, those low- skilled jobs that people did 30, 40 years ago, have not gone away. If anything, they have increased.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: All right. That guy right there is the big kahuna when it comes to anything having to do with commerce in this country, that's the secretary of commerce, his name is Carlos Gutierrez. He says much what Ted Rowlands was just saying, that immigrant labor is vital in this country if you need to keep finding workers. So we're going to break this down for you and give him some tough questions as well. We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: All right. This is what we're concentrating on today. By the way, welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez. This is OUT IN THE OPEN. If it seems like Spanish-speaking immigrants are starting to muscle into some of the industries in this country that used to be dominated by some of the other groups, you're right. In fact, I want to take you to the wall and I want to break this down for you, because nothing reflects this like the actual numbers that you're going to see on the screen here.

For example, let me start with this one for you. Who do you think does most of the drywall work today in the United States? Fifty-one percent are Hispanic immigrants. Who do you think does most of the masonry work? These are the guys who work with stone and bricks to finish houses with concrete and such. Again, 51 percent are Hispanic immigrants. I mean, this is remarkable. Roofers in this country today -- the numbers that we found, this is by the way from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These are the government's own studies. The roofers in this country, 46 percent of them are Hispanic immigrants. And then the textile workers, same situation. These are people who sew in factories and the fashion industry, 49 percent Hispanic immigrants. These are amazing numbers when you think about it.

Somebody who started with a job like many of those that I was just describing is a man who now runs our nation's Department of Commerce. His first job, he delivered Kellogg's Corn Flakes out of a truck, his last job with CEO. Today, he's the U.S. secretary of Commerce. And a man trying to administer and explain even to those who don't seem to want to listen why we need comprehensive immigration reform, and he says immigrant labor. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

How do you explain to the little guy, the guy who's in Georgia, or Alabama, who's hanging drywall, who used to charge $15, $16 an hour for his craft, and now you have somebody else come along who's doing it for $10 an hour. And, by the way, according to the latest statistics that we found Hispanics now make up just in that sector, drywall installation, 51 percent of the market. How do you explain that to that guy?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, COMMERCE SECY: Yeah. Well, this is why immigration needs to be legal. So that everything is above board, that you don't have these, you know, informal cash economies, so that people are doing it in the same -- with the same legal framework. And that will put everyone on the same competitive level. But that's exactly why we need a comprehensive immigration reform, so that you don't have that kind of competition.

SANCHEZ: Are there some Americans who simply won't do some of the jobs that the immigrant labor force will do?

GUTIERREZ: If you go back 30, 40 years ago, one-third of our population did not have a high school diploma. So, you know, those folks went out and worked in low-skill jobs, they made a career out of it, they worked very hard, they retired and it was enough to have -- put their children through school, and you know, their children today have gone on to bigger and better things. And that's the way our society has grown.

Today, only about a little less than 10 percent of our population does not have a high school diploma. So, you know, our people have moved on. They have greater ambitions. There are jobs that they would have done 40 years ago that today they'd like to do something else, something other than that.

The other thing is that those jobs, those low-skilled jobs that people did 30, 40 years ago, have not gone away, if anything, they have increased. So, that is our reality and unless we deal with it and recognize it, we are not going to be able to be as strong as we need to be from an economic standpoint.

SANCHEZ: You're the guy who helps to crunch the numbers for this administration. As we look across the United States, in places like the carpet industry and the construction industry, and some parts of the service industry, have the immigrants who have been in this country over the last 10 years provided a net gain for our country economically? And maybe if you can explain it to our viewers this way -- where would we be as a nation if they hadn't been here?

GUTIERREZ: You know, some nations of the world where you can't find a plumber, you can't find someone who do some work for you, you can't find very basic fundamental jobs that we have grown to rely on in our economy. And that's something that could very easily happen to us if we're not careful about what we're doing from the standpoint of immigration. The other important statistic about our economy is, 50 percent of the jobs that we create are done so by companies that are less than five years old. So, entrepreneurship, innovation, small business is the lifeblood of our economy. Immigrants, disproportionately, are involved in small businesses, entrepreneurship, opening up that little restaurant, opening up that little service store. That's also part of the vibrancy of our economy.

SANCHEZ: I love my mom and I love my dad and they don't speak English, for example and it hurts me when I hear people criticize them and other immigrants in this country. Because I know this their heart all they're trying to do is feed their families and help out. Does it hurt you as well when you hear some of the demagoguery that we hear in this country about the immigration crisis that we seem to be going through right now?

GUTIERREZ: You know, we go through this debate very often. And the great thing about our society, the great thing about our country, is that wisdom has always prevailed. And I believe it will eventually prevail in this situation and we will go on and be the greatest economy of the 21st century, because we have this unique advantage that other countries do not.

SANCHEZ: Secretary of commerce Carlos Gutierrez, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

GUTIERREZ: Thanks, Rick.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Then there's the story that seems to turn everything on its head. He washed dishes, that guy you're looking at right there, for 11 years, saved nearly $60,000. All he wanted to do was go back to Guatemala and build his mother a house. Why did the government take away every penny, and now they're asking him for more? Should they give it back? You tell us. It's our quick vote question at cnn.com/uncoveringamerica.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back. Washing dishes in a restaurant is one of those jobs that really nobody wants to do. It's like some of the other jobs that we've been talking about tonight -- the day laborers, the farm workers, the fish processors. So, think about how back- breaking and grueling it would be to wash dishes for a living for 10 or 11 years, Like Pedro Zapeta whose story we have been following.

He was here illegally, but he saved every penny while he was here, only to have the government then seize it all when he tried to go back home to Guatemala. A lot of questions about that seizure, by the way. In a moment I'm going to be talking to Pedro live, because a lot of people have been saying, look, he may have made some mistakes, he may have done some things wrong, but taking the guy's money?

First, John Zarrella who's been digging into the story, first brought it to us and he's joining us now live once again from Miami. Big John, what do you got?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Rick. Actually, you know, we're up in Stuart, Florida, and this is where Pedro Zapeta has been working as a dishwasher for more than a decade. Now you see Pedro's here with us and he's finishing up his night shift here at the restaurant.

And you know, when you look at Pedro's situation, there are a lot of people out there who say that Pedro is really very much like what President Bush envisioned for a guest workers program. There are other people out there who say, absolutely not.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Pedro Zapeta, an illegal immigrant, maintains he never intended to stay in the United States.

PEDRO ZAPETA, DISHWASHER (through translator): I never expected this to happen. I came here to make something of life. Not to fail.

ZARRELLA: There is irony in Pedro's saga. He appears, his attorney says, to be exactly the kind of person President Bush envisioned for his proposed guest worker program.

ROBERT GERSHMAN, ATTY FOR PEDRO ZAPETA: That's all he wants to do is self-deport and go home and stay home. I mean, he is the perfect example of a guest worker program, where they just come, they do the work, and they go home. And that's what he was doing, just self-deporting at no expense of anybody.

ZARRELLA: Adding to the irony, it was in Guatemala, Pedro's homeland, where the president, last March, spoke about his plan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there is pretty widespread consensus that there ought to be a temporary worker plan that says you can come legally to the United States, to do a job Americans are not doing, for a period of time.

ZARRELLA: But Pedro did not come to the U.S. legally, he did not pay taxes on his 11 years of earnings as a dishwasher. And when he was leaving the country with his savings, $59,000 in cash, it was seized by U.S. Customs because he had not filled out the required declaration form. That was two years ago.

Pedro didn't get his money back. And the president didn't get the guest worker program he wanted either. Opponents said it would amount to government-sanctioned amnesty and wouldn't stop people like Pedro from coming to America illegally and staying.

ROSEMARY JENK, NUMBERSUSA: They're not going to go home. We know that. We've seen it over and over again. Once they get here and they get a job, as long as it's easy for them to remain here illegally, they will do so, in large numbers.

ZARRELLA: Whether Pedro is a poster-boy for the possibilities of immigration reform depends on who you ask. In the eyes of the law, he's simply an illegal immigrant who got caught.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Now, Pedro's case is on appeal. And of course, you know, one of the interesting things about all this, Rick, is he's agreed to leave the country at the end of January and while he's here now, he's earning money so that he can buy a plane ticket to go home, because the government has all his cash -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: John Zarrella who's been doing a magnificent job bringing us that story. Thanks a lot John.

While John and Pedro switched microphones, so I can have a conversation with Pedro, let me bring you up to date with some of the phone calls that we have made and some of the information that we have learned about.

We talked to some of the folks who used to work for the old INS, they're the ones who know about this information. And they say the spirit of this law was based on the fact that some of the folks who first approached Pedro at the airport thought, thought, that he was a drug dealer, because he had so much money that was stashed away that he was taking home. But when they investigated they found out he's not a drug dealer, he's a guy who actually was a dishwasher for those 11 years.

Pedro Zapeta is good to join us now.

Pedro (speaking foreign language). Let me ask you a question. (speaking foreign language) What is it that you want them to give you for this thing to be resolved?

Hey Pedro, (speaking foreign language).

ZAPETA: Oh, OK. (speaking foreign language)

SANCHEZ: He says he wants the government to give -- hey Pedro (speaking foreign language) -- he says he wants the government to give him all his money and then he just wants to get out of here. He says he doesn't like the problem he's been in.

Pedro, (speaking foreign language) if they can't give you all of your money, would you settle for half, $30,000? (speaking foreign language)

ZAPETA: (speaking foreign language)

SANCHEZ: He says no, he says he wants all of the money because he says he's worked hard for that money and he deserves to have it.

Pedro, (speaking foreign language) You should pay your taxes, you were in this country for 11 years. Shouldn't you pay those taxes even if it's $10,000 or $12,000? (speaking foreign language).

SANCHEZ: He says he's willing to give about $5,000 but certainly not $10,000 or $12,000. He thinks that's simply too much. (speaking foreign language) Some people have come forward and given you money, donated money to you? (speaking foreign language)

ZAPETA: (speaking foreign language)

SANCHEZ: They have, people with good hearts. (speaking foreign language).

ZAPETA: (speaking foreign language)

SANCHEZ: (speaking foreign language) How much money have they raised for you?

ZAPETA: (speaking foreign language)

SANCHEZ: Eight thousand.

ZAPETA: (speaking foreign language)

SANCHEZ: He says $8,000 the last time that he talked to his attorney. So, that's what they've been able to raise so far. It just doesn't seem fair if he worked for the money, he should be able to keep the money. If he has to pay fines he should pay fines. If there are taxes, he should take away taxes. But taking money away from a man who's worked for 11 years just doesn't seem right.

By the way, what do you think of this?

(speaking foreign language) Thanks a lot.

We have been receiving a lot of e-mails on this. You sent us a lot of them. Whether Pedro should get his money or part of the $59,000 back from the U.S. government. Let's start with Charlene. She writes to us, here we go: "I think Pedro should get his hard- earned money back. The last time I checked slavery was illegal in this country. The IRS should take its percentage and let the man return home."

Stephen Emery writes to us: "I think it's disgusting that the U.S. (a rich country) would take a dishwasher's hard-earned money! It's stories like this that make me sorry to be an American.

But on the other side, we got Sharon Page who writes to us and she says: "My answer to this question is 'Hell no!" ...too many people like Pedro are not only working and getting paid, 'under the table' and not paying taxes, but are also draining the social system with welfare, food stamps, free medical and dental at the tax payer's expense."

And in a moment we're going to be taking your phone calls on Pedro's story, as well. You've been lighting up the lines tonight since we've been doing this story. It's obviously a story a lot of people are interested in. Here's the number, by the way, and we'll ask the question, Latino labor, are they taking our jobs in this country? (speaking foreign language) There you go, you've got it in Spanish, as well. It's 877-648-3639 -- 877-648-3639.

By the way, you have a thought about Pedro on your sound off? You can also go to our Web site. There we'll be taking your responses.

And then later, the guy behind one of the most talked about columns in the country, it's called "Ask a Mexican." We will.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back to OUT IN THE OPEN. I'm Rick Sanchez. All night long we've been talking about jobs in America. Who's been taking them, who deserves them, and now what we want to do is open up the phone lines. We want you, America, to call us and tell us what you think of this situation.

In fact, I'm hearing the phones from here. I understand they've just been crazy all night long, taking calls back there. Let's start with John in Connecticut.

John, I understand you have a construction company. You say what?

JOHN, CONNECTICUT CALLER: Well, I got a construction company, we're concrete craftsmen and I'm going to another labor hearing this week for a young White man who abandoned his job, hoping to collect unemployment so he can scam and collect under the table.

I don't have this problem with people of the Latin descent. They come in on time. They put in a full day and I pay them well, believe me. And they're above the table and paid with workman's compensation insurance. So, what's happening is through supply and demand, the economics of labor, they're filling the void because basically White men don't want the jobs.

SANCHEZ: Hey, let me just ask you a quick question. What about those people who say, yeah, you like those employees because you know what, they work cheap and you don't have to pay them as much?

JOHN: Well, that's nonsense. It's the -- up in this area they get paid well, $600 to $800 a week to start and if they get on prevailing wage jobs $25 to $35 an hour.

SANCHEZ: John in Connecticut thanks so much for the call.

Now let's go to Pablo, he's in California. This is line four. I understand you're a machine worker. You say what?

All right, my producer is telling me we're not going to go to Pablo. We're gong to go to Maria instead, and Maria's in California, she's a Mexican immigrant, now a citizen. Maria, you say what?

All right. Are we there? Have we got Maria, now? Maria, are you on the line?

PABLO, California CALLER: No, it's Pablo.

SANCHEZ: All right, Pablo, I was right the first time. You see? Pablo in California, machine worker, go ahead, tell us what you opine. PABLO: I say this, you know, Latino workers are, you know, very hard workers indeed. They're the only ones who, you know, who do the roofing, they'll put in wood floors, tile. Because other -- you know, Americans won't do it because physically they're just lazy. You know? That's all it is.

SANCHEZ: Wait a minute, come on, come to, come on. I mean, Americans are not lazy. That's kind of a stupid thing to say if you don't mind my saying that. I mean, you're making a hasty generalization. It's one thing to say somebody deserves the money, it's quite another to say that somebody's lazy. I bet you take that back, don't you?

All right, you're going to take off, that's OK. We'll continue the conversation, we'll go to somebody like Holly who's standing by, I understand, in Alabama.

Holly, you're in Alabama, you say what to this issue?

HOLLY, ALABAMA CALLER: I say (speaking foreign language)

SANCHEZ: Oh, you want to speak in Spanish? No problem, we'll do this in Spanish. (speaking foreign language)

All right, apparently we're having a problem with that connection, as well. And we're going to say there's probably no one -- by the way, we apologize for that. It's one of the first times we've tried to do this and apparently there's technical snafus that we're going to have to effects, as well.

Although from what I was reading in some of the debriefs there were some interesting people that had a lot to say. But we're going to try to again.

There's probably no one more popular in the entertainment circuit among comedians, right now, than Carlos Mencia. His show on Comedy Central is called "Mind of Mencia." This guy has a lot to say when it comes to both politics and immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLOS MENCIA, COMEDIAN: We can't blame immigrants for that. See, the truth is is this, had immigrants come to this country and nobody given them a job, they would have went back to Mexico or el Salvador a couple of years later and went, no, we go, we ask, no workee and that would have been it. But that's not what happens. You were talking about this earlier.

What happens is people come to this country and they start making descent money, for them, and they send money back to their families and their families over there are going, man, not only is he sending us pictures of all the great things, he has extra money to send to his family! That's when they look at their family and go, Ramon! Go, the fence is still not electric, let's get out of here!

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: We were supposed to do about a three-minute interview, we ended up talking about 12 minutes until finally our producers had to cut us off. He's funny, he's real funny. We're going to go even further inside the mind of Mencia, that's tomorrow at 8:00, right here -- Eastern.

Next, the guy behind the "Ask a Mexican!" newspaper column, it's the most popular on the Web. Also he has now written a book. Is he just reinforcing stereotypes, though? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back. Before we leave you, we want to bring in somebody now who deals with the issue of immigrant labor every single day. He does it with a sense of humor, by the way, in his newspaper column, it's called "Ask a Mexican!" Gustavo Arellano is a child of immigrants, himself, and his book, also called "Ask a Mexican!" this year, just came out.

Gustavo, this is a crazy idea. How did you get started doing something like this?

GUSTAVO ARELLANO, AUTHOR, "ASK A MEXICAN!": The column started as a joke between my editor at the "O.C. Weekly" and myself back in November of 2004. We figured since I'm an investigative reporter fore the newspaper, so I cover immigration a lot, and we figure let's take a light-hearted approach to it, let's take a sarcastic approach to it. So, let's create this parody column where people send me questions about Mexicans and then I answer them and let's see what happens and it just exploded immediately after that.

SANCHEZ: Let's give our viewers an example of one of the questions that you've received recently. This one says, go ahead and put that up if you've got it, Ellie, "I have no problem with immigrants...what I can't stand," he asks of you, "are a bunch of fence-hopping, river-wading, illegals telling me that I owe them a free education, free healthcare, free transportation, then making me speak Spanish at every restaurant, car wash, and public school." Am I finished, man? Wow. How do you respond to that?

ARELLANO: That was -- actually I gave him a really long response. There so many logical fallacies, there. For one, no one's forcing him to speak Spanish, he could totally speak English, too. He could go to Miami or wherever and just speak English and maybe the people won't understand him, but nobody's forcing him to speak Spanish.

And the same thing, nobody's stealing any jobs, none of that stuff. So, it really -- when it comes to the more racist questions I try to deal with them more sarcastically, try to deal with them by poking holes into logic that they may have and more importantly just going back with facts that prove that, hey, Mexicans do learn how to speak English, they do contribute to the economy, just putting out the facts and with a sense of humor.

SANCHEZ: Well yeah, and it's a great argument to be had on both sides. Tomorrow we're going to be delving into the tax question. A lot of people say, well, they live in the country for free, they don't pay any taxes and they get everything for free. Is that really the truth? Or is it somewhere in the middle? We'll get into that.

But back to you. I want to ask you this question, because as a guy who's been getting so many responses, what is it telling you about the people out there, all these questions and responses that you've been getting in your newspaper?

ARELLANO: Just that people are fascinated with Mexicans, right now. and that doesn't necessarily mean everyone hates Mexicans, because I don't always get racist questions. I get just genuine questions. People want to know why do Mexicans like to put salsa on everything they eat? Or, why do Mexicans -- why does Mexican music sound like polkas and waltzes? Those are earnest questions. But, I also do get racist questions, people want to know why is it in their nature for Mexicans to steal, or what part of illegal don't Mexicans understand? And so, really, America is abuzz about Mexicans, right now, for better or for worse. That's really what I'm sensing, right now, in the American public.

SANCHEZ: Did this come about just recently, or is this something that's been festering there in your area for quite some time? When did this really become heated, the conversation about Mexicans, as you describe it?

ARELLANO: Down here in Orange County, California, it's been heated for a couple of decades, already. Now, across the country, the immigration debate is really heating up, just as Mexican -- Mexicans, they've been spreading across the country, going into the South, going into the Midwest. But in a way, Mexico and the United States, they've always had it with each other. We do share a border, we've got into two wars with them. There's always been conflicts between both cultures. I think it's just something natural, but because of this illegal immigration debate, it exploded into something beyond our control.

SANCHEZ: And give me a quick answer on this. What's the biggest issue, jobs or language?

ARELLANO: For Americans, actually, I thing it's language. They don't care so much about jobs.

SANCHEZ: Language. Hey Gustavo, we're going to have to let you go because we're out of time. But you know what? It's been delightful having the conversation.

(speaking foreign language)

That's all for us, I'm Rick Sanchez. Thanks so much for being with us. We'll see you tomorrow. Hasta manana.

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