Return to Transcripts main page


President Obama Wants to Fight Climate Change; Immigration Reform Examined

Aired June 25, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Among President Obama's very first promises to the American people was bold action on climate change and immigration. Now five years later, he's trying to make good on those promises. Support is gathering in the U.S. Senate for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. And remember, there are 11 million living and working illegally in the United States and they depend on this reform.

And in a moment, we'll show you exactly why it's so vital, with a special report on the people who pick America's food. We'll tell you about the appalling conditions and even violence that these secret laborers are forced to endure.

But first, to climate change and the major new plan the president unveiled today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind, not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.


AMANPOUR: The president has issued a call to action now, this time pledging to use his executive powers in the face of a recalcitrant Congress. Early in his first term, the Senate simply killed his first climate change initiative. The president's new plan centers on lightening the carbon output of existing power plants, those coal-burning behemoths that dominate the American Midwest.

As one supporter says, the fewer emissions the U.S. produces, the slower the planet cooks.

America is the world's number two polluter after China.

But this plan, too, is bound to hit a brick wall, especially with local politicians and businesses. And most Americans don't support global climate change moves anyway. Only 40 percent see it as a major threat, fewer than in any other part of the world.

And so I'm delighted to welcome back to the program Professor Richard Alley, a paleoclimatologist and a member of the U.N. team that won a Nobel Prize for its working on climate change.

Welcome from Penn State. So Professor, you know --


AMANPOUR: -- nice to see you again. You know what the president has outlined.

Firstly, is this going to make a difference? Obviously the naysayers are going to say, oh, it's not enough or it's too little too late. What is your historical, objective assessment of it?

PROFESSOR RICHARD ALLEY, PALEOCLIMATOLOGIST: Right. So the energy system is huge. It's 10 percent of the economy; it's over $1 trillion a year just in the U.S. You don't turn something like that instantly; you don't want to. If you're the captain of a big ship and you see the iceberg way ahead, you start to turn very gradually and then you keep a firm hand on the tiller.


ALLEY: So the economists have said over and over the wise path is to let people know what's coming, to start slowly and then to keep the firm hand on the tiller.

AMANPOUR: So is this the firm hand? Is this the slow start, tackling existing power plants, the president also outlined innovative new technologies, plus trying to get more efficiency out of cars, household appliances and all of that? Is this now seeing the iceberg and starting to move around it?

ALLEY: I think it is. If you look at the scholarship, if you look at the people who have been studying this, the actions that the president has taken are on a whole lot of the lists of what are the things that we could start on that would start us into making a difference.

Certainly resiliency for people we will see some changes no matter what we do, because it takes a while to turn. You go after the big sources of carbon first. And you do it with a somewhat gentle hand. So this is not, you know, the president has not outlawed coal. The president has not outlawed coal-fired power plants. The president has said we are going to move in the direction that rights regulations, that will take the ones that are emitting the most and moves them on the fast track towards something else.

AMANPOUR: So if he's taking this slightly gentler approach, do you believe that will have success? And I know you're not in the business of setting policy. But you've seen how politicians and business lobbies are constantly throwing up roadblocks.

Do you think this is a way to bring them into the solution as well?

ALLEY: I think this may be a way to bring them in. Clearly it is in play at this point. We can take -- start the turn and then come back. Or we can start the turn and then keep that steady hand going. But this one right now, I think, has been clearly not we are going to change the world instantly, not we are going to go stomping forward on to something. But the president's saying we're going to see what's possible. He has not even issued the regulations. He's said we're going to set up the process that will issue the regulations. So I'm sure you'll see a huge amount of discussion between now and when things happen. But I think it is the kind of step forward which is consistent with a whole lot of the scholarship in this field.

AMANPOUR: So clearly we're talking about the art of the possible, given how very difficult this is politically.

But how much longer do we have to turn this around? Many scientists have been really raising a red flag for a long, long time, saying that if we hadn't started five, 10, 15 years ago, we are in deep trouble.

Do we still have time to turn this around?

ALLEY: Well, you're certainly correct. I mean, the -- our estimate of how much warming we get from CO2 is essentially the same as the 1979 estimate. It's 25 years since this was laid out for the Senate very clearly by Dr. Hansen (ph). And so the easiest turn we've already missed. But until you hit an iceberg, you can always turn and we're cautiously optimistic that there isn't an immediate iceberg. And this is the analogy that I like to use, is that this is sort of like saving for retirement. All delay is costly, but it helps you whenever you start.

AMANPOUR: And given what the president has announced today -- and he says he's going to use his executive powers to move this along -- what will that do globally because America is the second biggest polluter. You've got the rising economies in places like China, India and obviously the U.S. and others have done a lot of work trying to get them on board.

And you've been in the intergovernmental team that did climate change.

How much is on America's back and how much is on the rest of the world's back?

ALLEY: Right. We clearly are all in this together. But it's equality clear that it's really hard for the world to move forward if any big chunk of it is saying, no, no, no. So I think that -- I suspect that this will viewed internationally as the United States stepping up to the table. We will see, clearly, how this will play out.

AMANPOUR: So leadership?

ALLEY: It certainly is -- we can't do it alone; we -- no one can do it alone. We have to do it together and countries, peoples really do have to step forward.

AMANPOUR: And I'm not asking you be political about this. I'm asking you to be scientific about it. The fact that the first initiative was defeated, couldn't get cap-and-trade, all of that, how much has that set us back? And is that still something that one should -- or the politicians should -- try to go for?

ALLEY: Long term across virtually all the scholarship of this field, ultimately putting a price on carbon emissions is viewed as a very straightforward way to move forward. I have to pay to throw away my garbage. If I had a wind turbine that broke, I'd have to pay to recycle it or to throw it away. I certainly have to pay to have my human waste treated. But I don't have to pay for the CO2 that I put up that caused costs for other members of society by changing their climate. And long term, what you'll find is people over and over saying getting rid of that subsidy for fossil fuels will level the playing field. It will quit distorting the market.

AMANPOUR: And, again, do you need the American people behind any ability to move forward? As I said, 40 percent don't see it as a priority; is that because there hasn't been a genuine national conversation? Or what?

ALLEY: I think that the president now will have moved the conversation forward. We have spent a lot of time arguing about whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that's physics that we've known for a century. And that is underlying the sensors on heat-seeking missiles. At this point, we can have the discussion on what is a wise response to the real physics, recognizing how much good we get now out of fossil fuels. And so by moving this discussion to the level of what are wise responses, I think you'll see society engaging with this.

AMANPOUR: Professor Alley, thank you so much for your insight. Thanks for joining me.

ALLEY: It's my pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And for all the residents of Utok (ph), Alaska, the impact of climate change is all too easy to see.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): But as the sea ice retreats, Native Alaskans are losing their homes to flooding and erosion. They're forced to evacuate land they've occupied for centuries. And after a break, the predators who target the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows in this country, the very people who put food on our table. We'll have that when we return.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And now to immigration reform here in the United States, affecting about 11 million undocumented people. Reform could be a step closer after a measure to tighten border security passed the U.S. Senate yesterday.

But rarely is attention paid to the insecurity that female migrants face doing America's vital work in the fields. Women, like the ones you see right behind me, say they are raped and sexually harassed by their bosses and often are too afraid to come forward for fear of being deported.

And a new documentary shows us what happens when they do dare to step out of the shadows.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): I didn't say anything for a long time because of my job. But the time came when I said, "No more."

I made a complaint. They called me and said, "Here is your check. We don't need you anymore."


AMANPOUR: And so how many of these cases are ever reported or prosecuted, and what consequences do the accused face? And who is looking out for the health of these migrant women?

Joining me now is journalist Lowell Bergman, who reported this story, and also Dr. Emily Hartzog, who spent more than a decade providing medical care to undocumented immigrants.

Welcome to both of you.

And let me go straight to you, Lowell. It's an amazing documentary and you have reported something that almost never gets reported.

How many women would you say face this kind of abuse? What are we talking about on a scale?

LOWELL BERGMAN, JOURNALIST: Well, all this is estimates because no one has any real numbers. We know that somewhere over 600,000 women are working in the fields in the agricultural sector. And a majority of them are undocumented. How many of them are undocumented, we don't know. How many of them are sexually harassed? We don't know. We got into this story because, again, hearing about it anecdotally and the way in which people were saying, well, that's the price of going to work. That's what we need to do. And we were able to find some civil cases filed by an obscure U.S. agency called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which you only hear about in the background. And they have developed a record of cases that gave us some guide into reporting on this.

AMANPOUR: And how many -- you found, for the first time, these people to come out of the shadows and talk to you. And it's pretty amazing, the stories they tell.

What is the retribution rate? What is the prosecution rate?

BERGMAN: Well, for the civil cases that we looked at, that we could records of, and in the words of people from the commission itself, none of them have resulted in any criminal prosecutions.

AMANPOUR: None of them?

BERGMAN: So this has gone -- none of them. And we went around the country from the state of Washington, Florida, from North Carolina to California and the Central Valley. And we found almost no prosecutions related to any -- there were none related to these allegations. And in general, it's very rare. And we found no federal agency other than the EEOC who looked at this as a priority or in their jurisdiction.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you, Dr. Hartzog. How difficult is it for women, undocumented -- and you've treated a lot of them -- to actually find care, to actually dare to get health care?

DR. EMILY HARTZOG, OB/GYN: It is very difficult. I feel like they are confused about where to go, the American medical system is confusing enough people who are sophisticated. They're afraid they often -- they don't have insurance. They often -- they don't have insurance -- the expense is great. And there's no safety net for them. So they have no idea where to go.

AMANPOUR: And you have had a clinic in Mexico and also when you were living in Cortez in Colorado. You dealt with a lot of migrant laborers.

HARTZOG: I did, about 10 percent of my practice was --


AMANPOUR: And where do they get help?

HARTZOG: You know, eventually through family. They can find their way in, but they're never screened. So when they're in the hospital, they're usually in for emergencies because they don't get screening for cervical and breast cancer. They're not protected from sexually transmitted infections or domestic abuse.

So they've got no screening. So often they would show up in the emergency room with a ruptured tubal pregnancy, you know, a torted ovary, a twisted ovary, bleeding that we would need to do a hysterectomy from. But they have to wait until they're big problems and they're desperate.

AMANPOUR: Did you ever see these kinds of cases? Do people complain to you about these appalling violence and conditions in the workplace? (Inaudible)?

HARTZOG: Cortez was small, so we didn't have large agriculture. So I didn't. But that didn't mean that it didn't happen.


AMANPOUR: And let me ask you, Lowell, because obviously we all want to know what are the consequences for the alleged perpetrators. And you did ask -- you asked straight out to some of the men whether they had caused violence or committed rape. Let us play a little bit of a clip, and I'll get your reaction.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Do you consider yourself innocent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Not innocent -- the problem is we were going out (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): You never raped her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): I was going out with her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): So you never raped her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): You know, there is no reason for this. It's been so many years since my case. The case is closed.


AMANPOUR: Wow, that is a silence that speaks volumes.

Lowell, he couldn't even answer a direct question. Tell me about this case, though. It was a landmark case.

BERGMAN: It was a landmark case in that a woman named Olivia Tamayo (ph) went for -- in central California, working for a company called Harris Farms (ph). If you've ever been on Highway 5 in California, driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles, you've seen Harris Farms, a huge operation by the side of the highway.

And she worked in there and was caught -- she came forward about 10 years ago and reported that she had been raped serially by that man, Rene Rodriguez (ph), one of her supervisors and that she had finally decided to come forward. She contacted the EEOC because he continued to threaten her, because she didn't want to continue to have sex with him.

He would later testify in the civil proceedings that he had sex with her over 1,000 times. And as you'll see in the documentary, the lawyers cross-examined him on that. He was unable to even describe her body and, as she said, it happened three times that he was armed with a knife and a gun.

Now in the wake of that case, where there was a million-dollar judgment, he was allowed to retire from Harris Farms. We tracked him down in South Texas. And you heard his response.

AMANPOUR: Yes, indeed, we did.

Let me ask you both, first, you, Dr. Hartzog, with this whole debate over immigration reform, how will it actually impact women, women like these, if it passes?

HARTZOG: If it passes, I think it will be 13 years before they'll be able to be eligible for health benefits, so it will be quite a while before they'd be able to get care. I do think with the Affordable Care Act the --

AMANPOUR: ObamaCare.

HARTZOG: -- yes, the federally qualified health centers will expand. So that will help some, because they are seeing some of the people here that are undocumented. But there are only 8,000 in the country. So I think that the need is great.

AMANPOUR: The need is huge. And the workers who you profiled, Lowell, were they depending at all on this immigration reform or for them is that just an academic exercise?

BERGMAN: Well, at this point, I think it's an academic exercise. By the way, Ms. Tamayo (ph), at that point, had papers. And many of the victims are documented. But a large number are undocumented and you'll see that both groups in the documentary -- it's basically a power imbalance situation, Christiane. And it's something that is in many industries across the United States, including the service industry. We saw that, for instance, in the situation around Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a hotel. That's happening in the cities and also in the countryside. The difference in the countryside is they have very, very few places to go to get help or support.

AMANPOUR: And finally, I just want to ask you a broader question about health. I was just stunned to read for immigrant families, their health gets worse, Dr. Hartzog, when they come to the United States, partly because of the food, partly because of a whole new agricultural and farming changes here in this country.

HARTZOG: Right. And I do think that the diet, the American diet isn't good for anyone. So the longer they're here and exposed to that -- because the diet in Mexico, in my experience, is fairly healthy. So I do think the longer they're exposed to it, the worse their health's going to get and they don't come in for screening. So those two things together make it a bad recipe for documenteds and undocumenteds. In this culture, there's not really a history of preventative care. So even if they're documented, they don't come in and get screened very often.

AMANPOUR: And Lowell, what do you hope will be the impact of airing this incredible report, a part of the "Frontline" series on public television here?

BERGMAN: Well, it's not, by the way, Christiane, just on public television. It's also on Univision. For the first time there's a joint broadcast of a documentary in English and Spanish.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's say, you're absolutely right and I should have picked that up. That is amazing that it will be broadcast to the very population that needs to know about their rights and what's going on.

BERGMAN: And it -- and as you know, they have 85 percent penetration of the Hispanic community. But they've also been doing related stories all week on this. And so what we -- what we assume is going to happen is we'll get some tests. No one's ever done a survey of the undocumented and documented female farm worker community on these issues that really could stand up. And supposed -- I would hope that what we'll get is some sense of how vast this problem really is, because it appears to be really widespread if you base it just simply on anecdotal interviews that we've done.

AMANPOUR: Lowell Bergman, thank you so much indeed.

Dr. Emily Hartzog, thank you for joining me.

HARTZOG: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And after a break, we'll have a final thought. Imagine a war that's lasted 63 years and counting. It started in 1950 and technically, at least, it is still going on. That's when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where the end of a war does not mean peace. The Korean War started 63 years ago today and it ended three bloody years later with an armistice, not a peace accord. So the U.S. and North Korea are technically still at war.

Coincidentally, perhaps, the world's most secretive nation recently lifted the curtain just a little bit. Now this may look like just another press conference at the United Nations right here in New York. But there was nothing routine about it because this was the first time in three years that North Korea's representative to the U.N. had met the world's press. Ambassador Sin Son-Ho began with unfailing good manners.


SIN SON-HO, NORTH KOREAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. How are you today? It is my pleasure to see you here and I thank you for joining me. Thank you for your coming.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Now North Korea is trying to engage the U.S. in high-level talks. But the velvet glove quickly came off to reveal the iron fist, because the ambassador blasted the U.S. for all the ills plaguing the Korean Peninsula.

SIN: All the generations have intensified the situation the entire cost by the United States of America. As you know, the Korean War ended in 1950. The armistice (inaudible) was signed 27 July 1950. How many years since the case (ph)? Sixty years have passed already. But still there are huge forces of America.


AMANPOUR: Still it was truly remarkable to see the Hermit Kingdom come out of its shell at least for a moment. Once it was over, the curtain dropped quickly down again. And so it goes: North Korea remains, as Churchill once described the Soviet Union, "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.