WASHINGTON, July 3, 2011 -- AMANPOUR: This week --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the Constitution.
AMANPOUR: A tug of war over the Constitution. The 200-year-old document that still inspires people all over the world. It's a reflection of America's past and its promise, and it's now at the heart of a fierce political debate. We examine the cornerstone of the U.S. government and the American dream, making sense of the melting pot as the country of immigrants grapples with tough times.
And then the dream deferred.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything was so insecure from what I thought. Everything changed.
AMANPOUR: As the rich get richer, millions of Americans are finding hope harder to come by. They're down, but not out.
AMANPOUR: Live from the Newseum in Washington, "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour, starts right now.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to our special Independence Day edition of the program from the night studio of the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
This week, focus on the founders. With Washington tied up in knots, thousands of American troops fighting overseas, and millions of citizens struggling to get by, we go back to the original blueprint of this democracy, the Constitution. A document that endures and guides the United States and is now at the heart of a fierce political battle to define just what this country stands for. Here's ABC's John Donvan.
JOHN DONVAN, ABC NEWS: The original lives under glass, has no price tag, is the world's oldest operative Constitution at 223 years, and it's shortest in written length, 4,400 not entirely correctly spelled words -- sorry, Pennsylvania. And while it's our habit to speak of it in reverential terms--
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a covenant we've made not only with ourselves but with all of mankind.
DONVAN: In holy language.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It provides a compass that can help us find our way.
DONVAN: As something sacred.
SARAH PALIN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Constitution provides a perfect path towards a more perfect union.
DONVAN: Here's the other way we've long tended to treat the Constitution -- as wrapping paper, as in wrap yourself in it to make your case sound even better type of wrapping paper, to put a nice bow on it. Which is really nothing new. Every case that ever gets to the Supreme Court gets there because both sides argue they have the Constitution on their side. Richard Nixon, refusing to give up his tapes, said the Constitution protected him. He lost. Folks that want to burn the American flag say the Constitution protects them. They generally win. People who argue the Constitution protects the unborn have yet to win their battle.
The point is, the Constitution, which we think of as a set of rules, is really a departure point for a good, strong argument about the details. The details of who we are as a nation and what we stand for. Although this year, since the Tea Party arrived in force in the halls of Congress and actually launched its tenure with the reading of the Constitution--
REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER (R-OHIO), HOUSE SPEAKER: We the people of the United States.
DONVAN: The argument has become a more big picture thing. The Tea Party arguing that the country has slipped its constitutional moorings in a wholesale way.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-MINN.: I believe in the founding fathers' vision of a limited government.
DONVAN: It's an argument that income taxes and the Federal Reserve and government-guarantee health care and a government that just keeps on growing is not at all what was intended by the framers of the Constitution, those guys whose intellectual garb they honor at their rallies by literally garbing themselves just as they did. We need to go back to what they believed in, is the argument. But who is to agree on what that actually means?
HERMAN CAIN, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. There's a little section in there that talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
DONVAN: Actually that's not Constitution, that's the Declaration of Independence.
Lots of people seem to mix them up.
OBAMA: Drawing on the promise enshrine in our Constitution, the notion that we're all created equal.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN: It's a very slippery slope to start cherry-picking your favorite golden oldie from the founding fathers and slapping it on to political speeches today. Democrats and Republicans quote from the founding fathers, but we shouldn't act like they were somehow omnipotent.
DONVAN: The reality is that the framers, posed in paintings as though frozen on an American canvas, they were not gods. They were guys, guys who didn't give women the vote and who let slavery stand for the time being, and who, by the way, were trying to create at the time a stronger central government -- of course not too strong -- leaving to us a Constitution that we could fix as needed. Sorry, make that amend, which we've now done 27 times.
BRINKLEY: When you look at the founding documents of our country, they are elastic. They are meant to be pulled and bent in different directions as each era dictates.
DONVAN: So, today, right now, as we argue over whether it's constitutional for the president to send drones over Libya, for the government to make immigrants carry I.D. cards, for Congress not to raise the debt ceiling, which could mean the nation defaults, those arguments are only possible in a sense because there is a Constitution. As the framers wrote in its very first paragraph, they wanted to secure the blessings of liberty for our posterity -- that's us, we, the people. We are still here, thanks to them and this piece of paper.
For "This Week" I'm John Donvan in Washington.
AMANPOUR: So, as we have just seen, now more than ever, the Constitution is at the very heart of the political debate these days, and Congress is now requiring that every piece of legislation come accompanied by its constitutional justification. And the Tea Party is demanding a return to the kind of government that the framers envisioned. But just what did those men who lived 200 years ago really want? Joining me now for a discussion of truth and myth -- George Will, Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University. Harvard University history professor Jill Lepore, who is also the author of "The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History," and Richard Stengel, editor in chief of "Time" magazine and writer of the cover story on the Constitution, "Does It Still Matter?"
Thank you all for being here. Let me start with you, George. How do you explain the ubiquity of the Constitution today as a real living piece of political debate?
WILL: Well, first of all, American politics always has a retrospective cast, always looking back to the Declaration and the Constitution. All of our arguments get litigated through these documents. Did Jefferson have the power to make the Louisiana purchase? James Madison, his successor, the architect of the Constitution, vetoed an internal improvements bill because he thought that went beyond the powers of the federal government, right then to today, when the most novel new development in our politics, the Tea Party movement, is named after something that happened in 1773. So there's a retrospective cast naturally built into our politics.
But what has happened today is a large number of Americans, this one included, believe that the somewhat promiscuous expansion of government power in recent years raises questions about whether we still have a government of limited, delegated and enumerated powers. That is, is the Madison project still viable.
AMANPOUR: You say over the last few years. Do you mean particularly now in the Obama administration?
AMANPOUR: What do you say to that very categoric --
DYSON: Well, I think that this retrospective cast that George Will refers to is absolutely right. But there's some gaps, some holes, lacunas, gulfs, abysses. You know, you read the Constitution in the Congress, but oops, I forgot the part about slavery. You talk about women and people of color who have been elided, distorted, relegated to the margins, and altogether seen as marginalia.
I think that the Constitution is a powerful, living, vibrant document. I think it's been hijacked by people with narrow, vicious and parochial visions. And I think the assertion that now we, of all people, this generation is somehow vulnerable to rebuff of the Constitution is like a Hagelian problem. You think your generation is the greatest generation, and the apotheosis of history finds its resting point in you. Slow down.
The point is that the Constitution is durable, it's powerful. Because of its flexibility, black people and others were able to argue their way into an American identity and a vision for democracy that initially they were barred from. So I think that it's powerful.
AMANPOUR: But you do say hijacked by a vicious band of people. Do you think that's fair? I mean, is that what is going on right now?
LEPORE: I think it's the case that the Constitution has always been a subject of contest. Each generation of Americans struggles to inherit the mantle and claim the mantle of both the revolution and of the Constitution.
What is actually to me been unusual about this political moment, is that a lot of people are trying to claim both the revolution and the Constitution. It's usually been more of a kind of an oscillation. The revolution is more often claimed by the left; the Constitution is more often celebrated by the right. The Tea Party movement has really embraced both, and in a certain kind of way collapsed the two, which is interesting as a historical phenomenon. But it's not -- it's neither novel nor sinister.
AMANPOUR: Let me go back to George, then. You say that it's become so important right now, because of what you think is the excesses of the Obama administration. So you both are saying that it's because of Barack Obama, but from different positions.
WILL: Yes, that indeed, Mr. Obama has claimed for the federal government the power to do things that are simply unprecedented. Even the people who say that the mandates require American citizens as conditions of living in America to buy health care, no one denies that that's an unprecedented expansion of federal power.
STENGEL: George, you look at -- I mean, every president expands federal power. Their view is from where they sit, and the Oval Office looks pretty great.
George Bush was the greatest exponent of the expansion of executive power probably in American history, you know, with the exception of course of FDR and Abraham Lincoln.
So I think the idea that Obama is somehow exceptional in this regard rather than just a continuation of what the tradition has been is kind of crazy to me.
I mean, one of the things that the founders did, which I think we sometimes forget about in this discussion of the founders, you know, didn't actually create a large federal government. They didn't. What they created was a very weak executive. I mean, Article 2, about the -- about what the president does is about half the size of Article 1. They didn't want a very strong executive, because they feared kings. But pretty much every president since then has been expanding executive power, and there are all kinds of reasons, both good and bad, for it, which we can discuss.
AMANPOUR: Jill, as a historian, Rick Stengel brought up the idea of big government or small government. Didn't the Constitution actually give more power to a federal government, to a centralized government after the Articles of Confederation?
LEPORE: It's suggested it's centralized and strengthened the role of the federal government, especially in reference to the Article of Confederation, which was a very loose confederation of states, 15 separate currencies, and each state could have its own Navy.
We talk about big government and small government. It's a little bit hard to do that in the abstract. I mean, the Postal Service in 1790 was six people. I mean, I think it's really easy to get kind of tangled up in the intensity of our own modern political rhetoric.
WILL: Yes, yes, the framers of the Constitution wanted to strengthen the federal government, but they knew that government is, A, necessary, and B, inherently dangerous. And therefore, in the act of creating a more competent federal government, they sought to limit it.
James Madison, the architect in the definitive commentary on the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, specifically in Federalist 45, said, the powers delegated to the federal government by the proposed Constitution are few and defined. That's either true or it's not.
STENGEL: That is the continuing shift in balance that's been going on throughout our history.
AMANPOUR: You just raised this. Obviously, two different held views on the size of government and the strength of the central versus the state. So, the question then is, is it an absolutist document? Is it open to interpretation? Is it something that the letter of the law and the actual words have to be followed today, 200 years later?
WILL: It's one thing to say it's open to interpretation, which it obviously is. It's very open-textured language. On the other hand, I mean, when you say unreasonable searches and seizures, what's reasonable? We argue about that. But to say that the Constitution is a living, evolving document, as you did, is almost oxymoronic. A Constitution is supposed to freeze things. It is an anti-evolutionary device as Justice Scanlon (ph) said. It is intended to put certain things beyond the reach of transient majorities. That's the language of Justice Jackson in a famous case.
The point of the Constitution is that majorities are dangerous, and we have to protect against them. Hence, what Oliver Wendell Holmes said, if my fellow citizens want to go to hell, I'll help them, because that's my job. He was saying the Constitution exists to enable majorities. That's exactly wrong.
DYSON: That's all great on paper, I mean, which is where it's written. But when it makes the transition from parchment to pavement, there, again, is the rub. The reality is that that document, when I talk about it being living and vital, I'm talking about the interpretation of it, I'm talking about the meaning of it, I'm talking about the symbolic power of the cache, the purchase of notions of freedom, justice, equality and democracy. They mean nothing if they are simply entered in ink. They must travel into our common humanity. And I'm suggesting that that document is critical to the reinterpretation of people of color and women. We were rejected into the mainstream of America. Were it not for some vibrant reinterpretation of that document and appealing to its living legacy, none of us could be here. I wouldn't be here talking to you, not as an equal, at least.
STENGEL: One of the misnomers in our society is that most people -- a lot of people confuse the Declaration with the Constitution. The Declaration is the music. The Constitution is the libretto. And those values that we cherish are really in the Declaration and they are also, by the way, in the amendments, I mean, which -- and the Bill of Rights, which people forget, was not part of the original Constitution.
AMANPOUR: But we're here today, and I want to know what you think about this, George, and actually Jill as well. We do get a sense, certainly from the Tea Party, certainly from the big political leaders now, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin -- she hasn't jumped in but nonetheless -- they are framing this debate around the Constitution, that this is a document that is under siege. Is that, do you think it's under siege?
WILL: Has been for a century. Woodrow Wilson, Crowley (ph), the rest of the progressive movement, set out to say the Constitution was all very well once, but now we're a more complicated society with more grand ambitions for the government, and therefore what the founders did, which is put the government on a short leash, has to be undone. We have to cut the leash on government, and that's what the progressive project has been for a century.
LEPORE: Therein lies the origins of this particular impasse that we are in now. I mean, this is a very old impasse. I think the sense of crisis is grossly exaggerated. We have a very adversarial journalistic world in which we're going to hear more about crisis than not, but the framing of that debate does indeed date to the progressive era when there was a set of arguments made that the document is a document, a piece of parchment, and it needs to be worshipped as such in the way that we might worship other documents that have different kinds of meaning to us in a kind of more epistemological way. That idea goes much further back, and I think indeed it can in many ways be traced to the founders themselves. When Jefferson said the Constitution should never be looked at as the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched, we find other kinds of --
AMANPOUR: You bring in sort of the religious aspect of it. And, today, again, it is something that so many people talk about it as if it was a religious document. There is no word "God" in the more than 4,000 words of the Constitution. Was it -- is it possible to say that it was divinely inspired, though it does not say--?
STENGEL: The Constitution, again, I go back to the comparison between the Declaration and the Constitution. The Constitution is a blueprint for the house. It doesn't tell you what color curtains to have or whether to have it two stories or three stories. It's a guideline, it is a road map. It's a kind of guardrail. Doesn't tell you where to be in the road, but how to prevent you from straying off.
I would say that the Constitution is resolutely irreligious, or outside of the Christian framework that the founders were working in with the Declaration and other things. I mean, it really is -- when people read it, it doesn't have any poetry in it. Right? It's just a guideline.
DYSON: See, the amendments -- this is why -- I get the point about the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But I would still argue that the amendments to the Constitution suggest that we are having doubts, skepticism. We are rethinking, we are trying to include a broader circle of privilege for those who have been historically locked out. Which means then that the exclusion of some people and the inclusion of others suggest politics, negotiation. The document itself, if Rick is right about being a blueprint for and not telling us what color the curtains are, but it does suggest that that fundamental document has to be opened up.
WILL: The framers were not narrowed and blinkered men. They were men of the enlightenment. They believed in progress, to which end they included in this document an amendment provision. They said there will be changes made.
The difference is, do you amend the Constitution by the casual weak interpretation of it, or do you candidly, when you want to change the structure of the government, change it by the amendment process they provided?
AMANPOUR: We're going to discuss that after a break and we're going to discuss some of the specific issues that are being really used in the political debate right now. So up next, we'll talk about war, taxes, health care. How does the Constitution address the great issues of our time? The roundtable weighs in. And later, living the American dream. The immigrant experience at a crucial crossroads.
AMANPOUR: You'd be hard pressed to find an American who doesn't see the Constitution as the foundation of government. But after that, things get murky. Would the Constitution for instance allow a law requiring people to buy health insurance? Do Second Amendment gun rights hold up in the age of the assault weapon? And when the First Amendment was drafted, could the authors have ever dreamt that one day it would protect violent video games? Let's bring back our roundtable.
So let's get to some of these specifics, which is so much part of the conversation around the country today. We touched briefly on health care. The whole debate about President Obama's health care act is being called unconstitutional in some quarters. So is that going to be challenged at the Supreme Court?
WILL: 26 states, more or less, (inaudible) 26 are in various courts around the country in a case absolutely certain to be decided by the Supreme Court.
The question is, has the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce been so loosely construed that now Congress can do anything at all, that there is nothing it cannot do.
Let me ask the three of you. Obviously, obesity and its costs affect interstate commerce. Does Congress have the constitutional power to require obese people to sign up for Weight Watchers? If not, why not?
STENGEL: Justice Vincent's opinion about Obamacare, saying that the government can't regulate inactivity and that we're stretching the Commerce Clause too far -- I think it's kind of silly. Everything having to do with health care does cross state boundaries. Even that notion of the Commerce Clause as regulating among the states is a kind of antiquarian idea. The government can ask you to do things. It asks us to --
WILL: It's not asking us, it's mandating.
STENGEL: It asks us to pay our taxes. It asks us to register for the draft. It asks us to buy car insurance if we want to drive our car around.
WILL: -- to buy a car.
STENGEL: If something is unconstitutional, people out there tend to think like some alarm will go off if something is unconstitutional. It's unconstitutional if the Supreme Court decides it's unconstitutional. And by the way, this can go to the Supreme Court, and we can see whether that happens.
WILL: Well, does Congress have the power to mandate that obese people sign up for -- do they have the power to do this?
STENGEL: I don't know the answer to that.
WILL: You don't know.
DYSON: Well, the beauty of that is, the not knowing -- and we can predict that Rick would say that because he's saying that's the color of the curtain. The basic foundation is set.
WILL: Is that a yes, Congress does have the power to mandate?
DYSON: It's open. If they decide that they will, they will have the power to do so.
LEPORE: Can I just sort of offer up a sort of a slightly different vantage on this question, because I think it's an important one. But I think, again, just sort of sound the note again, that this debate is what the Constitution is about. Right? We can have this debate. This is evidence that the Constitution is working.
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask also, because obviously, so much has changed and it's obvious to say that, but in 200 years -- could the framers have ever imagined assault weapons or violent video games or whatever, when it was written, not in stone, on parchment -- what about for instance this very contentious Second Amendment, which is also the hot potato in today's political world? It was for regulated militias, but also it was also pre -- it was in the time of the musket.
STENGEL: It was. In fact, George Washington, I believe in 1791, signed a bill asking Americans to buy muskets and buy ammunition. I think the Second Amendment is one of those issues where the way it's been interpreted over 200 years affects exactly the way it is now.
I don't know that anybody really knows the exact meaning of the Second Amendment, in terms of what is absolutely -- what the clear intent of the framers was. In fact, I would argue that whatever that was, it's been adapted to this new world that we're living in now. So if we're talking about the Second Amendment or we're talking about the War Powers Act, George Washington would not have known what to do about whether drone warfare qualifies as an act of military engagement and therefore engages the War Powers Act. The War Powers Act itself may be unconstitutional. It has never been tested in the Supreme Court.
WILL: In the first decade of the 21st century, that 18th century amendment, Second Amendment, pertaining to bearing arms, was settled in this sense -- the Supreme Court finally said, based on extraordinary scholarship on both sides, that it does protect an individual right, not the collective right of militias.
The founding fathers didn't know anything about telephones, but they did say in the fourth Amendment that we should be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the court applying the values of the framers, applied that to wiretaps, and a whole set of law has evolved around that. So the fact that the framers didn't envision a particular technology by no means disqualifies what they wrote from being applied to modern conditions.
DYSON: See, here we are agreeing, finally.
DYSON: Because the point is that they couldn't have anticipated things that they didn't know existed. So as a result of that, it leaves -- it's left up to us to interpret what they meant.
See, I think that the Constitution is like the Bible. And some Christians' relationship to the Bible. Some people are literalists, so they think every I must be dotted, every T must be crossed, and they believe in the literal interpretation of the word. Some are more liberal and progressive in thinking that this is a suggestion about the moral content of one's identity, that one must not adhere strictly to that. But we, in light of those constitutional values, can interpret them and apply them in ways that I think are edifying, and we have to make arguments about that. We can't assume we know the one-to-one correlation between the founding fathers, the Constitution and what we do today.
AMANPOUR: For instance, the First Amendment, the controversial in some quarters ruling by the Supreme Court this week regarding violent video games for children. There are many parents who have been sort of outraged about that, and yet, it's framed in a basic First Amendment right. Is that an example of something that is obvious? It should be like that? Or is that also part of the struggle to figure out how to match 200 years with today?
LEPORE: I think it was important not to collapse the distance between 200 years and today and to understand all the history that's come in between the two. There's this great moment, in Franklin's writings when he says, if I could be preserved in a vat of madeira wine and be reawakened in 100 or 200 years, I would really like to see how this country turns out.
AMANPOUR: Wouldn't you also say, and you wrote about this, he was amazingly perspicacious when this Constitution was signed. He stood up and he said, well, I don't know whether it's the best, it might be the best, and because it might be--
LEPORE: A lot of these guys were really -- they were very conscious of the judgment of posterity. They really thought a lot about how this document would be understood. We're talking (inaudible) Franklin, who was going to make a joke about it, you know, talking about madeira wine, but you know, he did not preserve himself. He is not available for us. But what he did sort of to make sure to put into the record of the proceedings on that last day when the Constitution was signed, you know, this quip about he stole from someone -- always with the jokes -- that you know, the only difference between the Church of England and the Church of Rome is that the former is infallible and the latter is never wrong.
This was Franklin trying to say, we -- I will change my mind. If I were around long enough -- I am at the end of my years here -- I would change my mind. And so other people will change their minds, and that is how this document works.
STENGEL: He said right after that, remember, in that speech, he said, let us all doubt a little of our own infallibility. That's great advice for our politics now, because this discussion of the Constitution that happens between the Tea Party, between progressives, between everybody, everybody thinks that they have the God's honest truth about this, that there's absolutely one way of interpreting it. Even Franklin, the founding, founding father said let us doubt a little of our own infallibility. That's what the Constitution is for. When Marshall said, it's basically you have to adapt it to the current times, he set that in motion for the rest of our history. I think we do have to adapt it.
AMANPOUR: I want to get your final thoughts through the process of asking each of you which is your favorite founding father. Who is your favorite founding father and why?
STENGEL: Well, I would have to say, Madison, because he really was -- not because he was the shortest founding father -- he was only 5'2 by the way -- but he really was the architect of the Constitution. And he tried to balance the more centralized vision of Hamilton and the more decentralized vision of Jefferson. And because the document ultimately was and probably is the greatest product of compromise in human history.
AMANPOUR: Compromise, isn't that a word we hear a lot right now? Jill, your favorite.
LEPORE: Benjamin Franklin's sister, Jean, who on July 4th in 1786, the 10th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, thinking back on what the revolution had accomplished, wrote her brother a letter. She had been reading Richard Price, the English philosopher, political philosopher, and she said, you know, I think what I've realized is that in this world, there are very few people who are able to break through the barriers of poverty and ignorance. There are people, there are Isaac Newtons all over the world that we'll never hear from.
She I think represents the great lesson of the promise of the revolutionary era.
DYSON: I would have to say Thomas Jefferson. I mean, in his life, the genius of self-individualized (ph) expression. The incredible contributions of the Declaration of Independence, though he didn't want it to be in any way revised. Redactors prevailed. His commitment to the flourishing of democracy, despite his own individual flaws, and I think the beauty of his being tethered to Sally Hemmings, is at the end of the day, after all the ink, and the parchment, and the abstract discourse, it's about flesh, it's about engagement, it's about the lived realities. And Sally Hemmings' flesh and her lived reality are in part responsible for us understanding the arc and the beauty and the luminous intensity of the documents we have and the contradictions we must live with in order to realize them. So I think Thomas Jefferson.
WILL: The framer who towers over all the rest is Little Thomas, little James Madison. Someone said of him never so much a high ratio of mind to mass. And the argument we're having today is whether James Madison, of the Princeton class of 1771, can save the Constitution from Woodrow Wilson of the Princeton class of 1879 and the progressive movement. It's an intramural argument at Princeton.
AMANPOUR: Thank you all so much. That was very enlightening. And up next, will the melting pot boil over? Grappling with the immigrant experience as demographics change and politics struggle to keep up.
AMANPOUR: They are words that every American and many immigrants know by heart, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
Those lines inscribed on the Statue of Liberty greeted new immigrants at the dawn of the last century, and now the conversation has changed, and so has this melting-pot nation.
Today's newcomers are not being welcomed with open arms. The new immigration wave presents unforeseen challenges but also unexpected opportunities.
And joining me to discuss the way forward, George Will, Michelle Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor and founder of the group Students First. She is a first-generation American. Mel Martinez, the former Florida senator and one-time chairman of the Republican National Committee. He emigrated from Cuba as a boy. And Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The Washington Post who recently published an article acknowledging that he's an illegal immigrant.
Thank you all for being with me today.
Let me go to you first. About two weeks ago you've written this article basically coming out as an illegal. What were you trying to accomplish?
I mean, it's a pretty risky strategy.
VARGAS: Risky and, a lot of people have said, like, irrational. In many ways, the goal was to expose just how incredibly dysfunctional and irrational the whole system is and has been for quite some time.
You know, in many ways, I represent, kind of, as with a lot of people, just how broken the immigration system is. And we've never, this country, Republicans, Democrat, journalists, I think, have yet to, kind of, come to one table and tell the truth about where we are about this issue.
AMANPOUR: You spent most of your youth basically lying about it...
AMANPOUR: ... having to lie, deciding to lie about it, even when you were a reporter. And at one point, you were told you were illegal. You didn't know that, actually?
VARGAS: No. I mean, I found out. Like a lot of undocumented, you know, youths who come to this country, I didn't find out until I was 16 years old and went to the DMV to get a driver's permit. That's when I found out.
... the first instinct was, you know, don't let anybody think that I'm not American. And thank God for television. That's how I learned how to speak American...
... you know, like, learned slang and figured out that I needed to read The New Yorker and Newsweek and Time magazine, you know, to, kind of, assimilate and adapt even further.
AMANPOUR: Senator Martinez, you're obviously working on this issue. You're trying to achieve something rational in the immigration reform. You just heard what Jose said, that it's an irrational situation. Is it?
MARTINEZ: Well, it really is. I mean, we have a lot of people who have lived in our country for many, many years, some of them brought here as youths, as Jose's example.
The fact is that we have a system that hasn't really been working either for Americans or for the poor immigrant people that may be in this country in a way that want to just become Americans.
AMANPOUR: Mayor Bloomberg has called the lack of immigration reform and particularly with the more highly skilled people, sort of, national suicide. Is there a route to changing this now in today's political climate?
MARTINEZ: Well, I think perhaps a piecemeal approach could be obtained, and there's some things we need to do just for the good of our country, for the good of our economy.
You know, we have a tremendous shortage of people in the high-tech fields, the STEMs, as we call them, science, technology and mathematics, where we really need people from other countries who are learning these skills to be able to come here and create jobs.
So creating numbers that are adequate to fill the demand is something that we ought to do at any -- it's good for America. We ought to just do it.
AMANPOUR: Michelle, let me ask you, on a very human level, somebody like Jose got through because his teachers -- some of them knew; some of them had to lie to protect him, or at least not tell the truth.
How difficult is it for educators around the country right now when faced with situations like Jose's?
RHEE: I think it's very difficult. Because, as educators and as, you know, public employees, people know that they have certain responsibilities to the government.
But at the same time, our primary responsibility as educators is to the children and ensuring that we are -- are acting within the best interests of the kids that we are serving.
And, you know, when you look at it from a very humanistic standpoint, you have so many teachers out there who are teaching kids; they may know that some of them are illegal immigrants and -- but you see, sort of, what the kid needs, what the potential of these children are, and you just want to make sure that they're taught properly and that they -- you know, they can move forward to be successful.
And so that's, I think, the mindset that most -- most educators and most teachers in this country have.
AMANPOUR: Give us a little idea -- you're a first-generation American.
AMANPOUR: What was it like for you to be here, your parents from South Korea? I mean, how did you assimilate?
RHEE: You know, for me, it was -- it was very interesting. But I think it was probably also very similar to what most immigrant kids experience, which was, sort of, living in two different worlds.
My parents left South Korea and, sort of, wanted to raise us in the world that they had been raised in. And one of the things I find very interesting is that my cousins who grew up in Korea are more liberal and were raised in, you know, much less a conservative way than we were, because Korea was moving along.
In my parents' mind, though, Korea stayed the exact same, and that's how they raised us, in the Korea that they grew up in.
And so that -- there was a very stark difference between their mindset of what kids should -- should do and be like, versus what my friends were experiencing every day.
AMANPOUR: George, when we've discussed immigration, you have an issue with the idea of assimilation, compared to the first waves of immigration here to today.
WILL: Well, a century ago, we were undergoing, in 1911, a torrent of immigration. But there are big differences.
First of all, they came across the Atlantic Ocean, which served, as has been said, as a kind of psychological guillotine. It severed people from where they came from, so they looked into America and said, we're going to become Americans.
It's very different when you are the only developed nation in the world with a 2,000-mile border with a developing nation. And people can walk across and go back and send money back. There's no, again, severing of the connection to the old country.
Second, back in 1911, our economy could absorb an almost unlimited wave of unskilled labor. The American economy is very different now. And there's another problem. I don't know how to quantify this, and it's hard to measure, but today immigrants are emigrating into a welfare state. We don't know the extent to which -- it's hard to measure -- but to some extent, this may be a magnet to people coming to this country for different reasons.
MARTINEZ: But I would say, George, that part of that problem, in breaking ties, is not being allowed to become an American.
MARTINEZ: I was, because I came legally and...
AMANPOUR: You came in '62 from Cuba?
MARTINEZ: In '62, right, right, under political circumstances. But at the end of the day, I became an American, because this is a welcoming place, and because I felt I was part of America, once I made that threshold and crossed the path.
AMANPOUR: I mean, I'm a direct beneficiary of being an immigrant, getting the H-1 visa after having been in college here.
But I think the debate also and the, sort of, view is, kind of, shifting here in the United States.
I'm struck, George, by something that Benjamin Johnson of the American Immigration Council told The Washington Post. Basically, he said that "Too often the immigration debate looks like and is driven by images on television of people jumping over the fences" -- as you mentioned, that 2,000 mile border. But, in fact, a new Brookings report has said that, for the first time, highly skilled immigrants are now outnumbering low-skilled or unskilled people coming over here. It's shifting.
WILL: And we should have more of them. An enormous portion of the people who are seeking advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are from overseas. They come to our wonderful universities. We equip them to add value to our economy and then deport them.
It's madness. Every American advanced degree should come with a green card stapled to it. Let them stay.
AMANPOUR: On the political level, then, how does -- and on the social level, too, how does this country grapple with that quite startling fact, that, in 2050, it will be a majority minority country?
MARTINEZ: Well, I think the demographic changes are not followed immediately by political change. I've seen it happen in Florida. Florida has become a very demographically different state than it was in 1962 when I got there. And the change comes slowly. I was reading about whether in California there will be as many Hispanic majority districts in the new congress as a resort to reapportionment as there should be.
And, you know, the political system tends to hold on, an incompetency and things like that. So I think it does come slowly and it is undoubtedly part of the change of the future.
AMANPOUR: And Michelle, you know, one often thinks, and certainly when you talk to people about immigration and precisely this kind of statistic. People here tend to think that it is about illegal immigration, that because these numbers exploding, it's because of illegal, but apparently it's not. It's about immigration, legal and also the birth explosion here.
RHEE: That's right. And I think we have to find a way to see the positive in this. You know, in the next 20 years in this country, we are going to have 125 million high skill, high-paid jobs. And at the rate that the current public education system is going, we're only going to be able to produce 50 million American kids whose have the kills and knowledge to take those jobs. That means that we are talking about, you know, potentially outsourcing the rest of those jobs, the majority of those jobs overseas.
Why wouldn't be we look at our immigration policy and ensure that those people that George was talking about who are coming into the country, who are taking advantage of our institutions of higher ed, that we keep them here. The -- you know, illegal immigrants even, I've seen children who graduated from DCPS, who are actually incredibly talented at math and science not able to go on to college because they couldn't fill out their FAFSA forms, et cetera.
Why wouldn't we take advantage of that talent to solve some of our problems long term?
AMANPOUR: And meantime, in this area of global competition, students from other countries, are upping their graduation rate as here they're sort of declining.
George, what then is politically possible to try to address some of these very real problems?
WILL: The first thing you have to do is secure the borders. A secure border is not a weird aspiration, it's an essential attribute of national sovereignty. Once you do that, and the American people think you've done it, they will be -- they're not xenophobic, they're not anti-immigrant, they just say let's establish order and then we'll come to terms with this.
Then you can tell them the following, suppose there are 11 million -- we don't know within a million how many -- suppose there are 11 million illegal immigrants here, I did the arithmetic. To depart them would require not just police measures, we'd never tolerate. The majority have been here five years or more, they've had children here, the children are citizens. But to depart them would require a line of buses bumper to bumper extending from San Diego to Alaska.
Not going to happen.
And as soon as people come to terms with that, then we'll get on with settling...
MARTINEZ: And George, the cost of due process, too, because they would cost would be enormous.
AMANPOUR: And last thought. Immigration is the very essence of this country. People all over the world look at this country yearning, how to rationalize that immense strength of the United States, with this issue right now, the political security, and other issues?
RHEE: Well, I mean, I think that every, everyone has an immigration story. From way back in your family's history to somebody that you know and care about. And I feel like part of what would have to happen, we have to humanize this. We have to know that the majority of this point deporting all of those people, the impact that would have in terms of breaking up families, there isn't a parent anywhere who would say that that makes sense to do.
And I think to the extent that we can begin to humanize this and handle it in sort of a rational way of understanding what has to happen, securing the border, having a rational policy for these 11 million illegal immigrants and a path to legal status, I mean, we just -- we just need to understand the human aspect of this.
AMANPOUR: Well, the human aspect is sitting right here. Jose, what should happen to him?
VARGAS: Well, let me just say, by way. We're talking to two people who have made common sense. I mean, I remember reading a column of yours in '06 where the headline was like, guard the borders and face the facts too. I mean, today we're not facing the facts on this issue. I remember interviewing with RNC, you know, when I was still a reporter, and the question was, how are Republicans going to deal with this issue?
Like this is not an abstraction, I mean, these are people who are very much woven into the fabric of our lives in every possible class.
WILL: Let me give you another reason why we need immigrants not just for the work force that you're talking about, when we started Social Security, there were 42 workers for every retiree. Today we're were down to three point some. The Baby Boomers have all retired to Florida in 2030, we'll be down to 2.1. We need, and the Social Security trustee's report assumes, a continuing high level of immigration to replenish the work force to make the entitlement system work.
AMANPOUR: So what should happen, last word to Jose. Here he is sitting illegally.
MARTINEZ: Difficult problem. And I think what we need to do is to find a way in which Jose can contribute to this country. He wants to be an American. This is a great thing. This is Fourth of July. We need to talk about the fact that this is a country that people still yearn to come to. People love this country and when they come here, they get invested in America. They want to become Americans. Allow this man to become an American just like we've done with so many people who served in our military. You know, one of the moving things is to hear about ceremonies in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the Fourth of July where Americans who are there, not American, illegal immigrants who are now becoming Americans as a result of their service to our country.
So there's many ways to serve our country. Allow these people to serve. I think it would be to America's enrichment.
AMANPOUR: On that note, thank you all so much.
And when we return, struggling to save the American dream as Wall Street pulls in record profit Main Street tries to survive. And the gap between rich and poor grows even wider. We take you to one city that's fighting back.
AMANPOUR: For millions of Americans, this year's Fourth of July will be bittersweet. In a gloomy economy, the great dreams of home ownership and financial solvency are slipping further and further out of reach. And cities like Pontiac Michigan are seeing a steady erosion of the middle class.
Now Pontiac is trying to fight back against increasingly difficult odds. Here's ABC's Jim Sciutto.
JIM SCIUTTO, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: At the shuttered GM site in Pontiac, Michigan padlocks outside, dead plants in the lobby, belongings left behind, everything but the people. It's a city full of empty monuments to its heyday: a truck plant now dark, and early 5,000 vacant homes, shops and businesses.
Today unemployment stands at 25% in Pontiac's once burgeoning middle class is, some fear, going the way of its namesake car.
Sam Carter Junior bought his house when he had a steady income and steady job.
SAM CARTER, JR: I got ten year in the company, so I'm thinking I'm going be there a while.
SCIUTTO: But in 2009, he lost his job and had to spend his entire 401(k) just to keep his house. When he did find work again after more than a year, his wages dropped to $11 from $16 an hour.
CARTER: I'm building a whole other retirement plan again.
SCIUTTO: Starting over at the age of....
SCIUTTO: In what was once a vibrant city automaking city, the tall grass in the front yard is the tell tale sign. People who lost their jobs, then their houses. You see this up and down so many streets in Pontiac. And speak to the residents here, and they don't believe the jobs or their neighbors are ever coming back.
Francis Davis taught at a nearby charter school then she lost her job and her house.
You're a dedicated teacher, educated. Never thought this would happen?
FRANCIS DAVID: No, not at all. Not at all.
SCIUTTO: Out of work for two years now, she's interviewing for anything.
DAVIS: I have looked at people, you know, you're not working. There's a million jobs out here. It's really not easy. Not at all.
SCIUTTO: You looked at them in the past and say, you can get a job.
DAVIS: Oh, yeah. If i ever lost my job, I was just so sure that it would never be a problem for me to find something, something.
SCIUTTO: The loss of jobs and businesses has wreaked havoc. When the plants were running, Pontiac City budget was in in surplus, now it's in the red.
Leon Jukowski is Pontiac's mayor in name only. He has no staff, no pay check, and no budgetary power.
LEON JUKOWSKI, MAYOR OF PONTIAC, MICHIGAN: I get most of my information at this point about what's happening in city government from the newspapers.
SCIUTTO: The new Pontiac is run by Michael Stampler, the emergency financial manager, appointed by the state. He's even proposed shutting the city down and folding it into the county to save money.
Still, there are scattered signs of hope here. On the site of that old GM plant there's a new movie lot and a new film production.
This weekend, there won't be any Fourth of July fireworks, but Pontiac's all-American spirit isn't broken.
Do you think thinks are going to get better? That it's going to get easier?
DAVIS: Yes, because what is the alternative for me to fail, and that's not happening. So -- and I have a 13-year-old, and there's no way. As hard as she works, I can't stop.
SCIUTTO: For This Week I'm Jim Sciutto, ABC News, Pontiac, Michigan.
AMANPOUR: More of our special edition when we come back. Stay with us.
AMANPOUR: And now, the Sunday funnies.
BACHMANN: Everything I need to know, I learned in Iowa.
STEPHEN COLBERT, COLBERT REPORT: Remember, she left Iowa at age 12. And has had the courage not to learn anything since.
CONAN O'BRIEN, LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN: Reverend Pat Robertson said that if more states legalize gay marriage, God will destroy America. Yeah. On the plus side, he admitted that gays will then come in and do a beautiful renovation, absolutely gorgeous.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jon Huntsman makes his entrance in the Republican presidential race.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he likely to become the anti-Romney candidate for the Republicans.
JON STEWART, THE DAILY SHOW: The anti-Romney. He's a handsome, Mormon ex-governor with perceived softness on social issues. He's not the anti-Romney, he's the candidate for people who would vote for Romney but are concerned Romney has too much name recognition.
AMANPOUR: More when we return, so stay with us.
AMANPOUR: And now In Memoriam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a long ways -- they won it!
AMANPOUR: We remember all of those who died in war this week. The Pentagon released the names of these service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
AMANPOUR: We'll be right back.
AMANPOUR: That's our program today. And remember, you can follow me any time on Facebook, Twitter and ABCNews.com.
And be sure to watch World News with David Muir this evening.
For all of us here at This Week have a very good holiday weekend, and thanks for watching.