WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – For the first time since the race for the Republican nomination for the 7th Congressional District got underway in North Carolina, one candidate is explaining his role in lobbying for a bill that included amnesty for illegal aliens.
During a debate this week in the WECT studios, the issue of immigration reform sparked a conversation between Ilario Pantano and Sen. David Rouzer. The issue dates back to a political advertisement Pantano ran early in the 2012 campaign. Pantano's campaign attacked Rouzer on illegal immigration, saying Rouzer "advocated amnesty for illegal aliens" during the 2007 Agricultural Jobs Act.
Rouzer first responded to the assertion during the interview with WECT in February. "The (2007) AgJobs Bill is a very interesting situation because back in 1999, Senator Helms, Senator Paul Coverdell, Senator Thad Cochran, Senator Trent Lott, all Republicans and all Southern members, came together and sponsored the AgJobs Bill," Rouzer said. "It was almost identical to the same piece of legislation that I'm being attacked for today."
Pantano brought the issue up again in the recent forum. Rouzer gave the history of his activity with the 2007 legislation.
"When I left the Bush administration and came home, I did some work for clients that had North Carolina interests, largely tobacco interests," Rouzer explained. "I had some farmers who came to me and said 'David, you know how bad this immigration issue is. We cannot get the legal labor we need to get the crops out of the field.' They said, 'Will you work to pull together the N.C. farm leadership to see if we can find something, our best opportunity to get the reforms we need to our legal guest worker programs so we can actually use it?' So I pulled together the leadership and said these are what your options are. President Bush had his national immigration package moving forward, I said my best advice to you, if you are going to get the majority of what you want is to get behind the AgJobs Bill and work to get it included in the plan. All this 'going to various senators and so forth,' that actually never happened."
Pantano pressed Rouzer, saying "federal documents say you're registered as a lobbyist, say you were paid thousands of dollars to work on this bill, and the federal documents say Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein and Ted Kennedy are part of this bill."
"The vast majority of my work was consulting work providing advice," was Rouzer's response. "Mt. Olive Pickle (Company) got involved, and I thought their involvement was going to be significant, so I registered them as a lobbying client to be on the right side of the lobbying disclosure law. But all of that is irrespective to what had to be done here. We've got to have a solution. What's my opponent's solution to immigration? Agriculture is a huge component to the 7th congressional district. You just can't go out there and pack them up and ship them all home, and not expect to pull the rug out from underneath a $75 billion industry in North Carolina."
"This isn't a black or white issue, but there is a path forward," Rouzer continued. "The path forward is to take those who are working, and let them continue to work. Then its much easier to identify those who are not here for the right reasons, who are causing trouble, who are driving drunk, and deport them immediately."
WECT's Jon Evans continued the discussion, asking both men whether they thought the DREAMS Act is a solution to the illegal immigration issue. Both said no, with Pantano once again pressing the question raised during the attack ad.
"Illegals only represent about 14% of the agricultural space," Pantano said. "There are folks who are taking jobs away from Americans in every sector of this country. But, the original question of where I launched the criticism of my opponent is this: It's not a conservative position to be paid to do something that is antithetical to the conservative value. That's the question that I asked, and I'm not sure we've ever gotten an answer to."
"I worked for a solution, what's your solution?" Rouzer asked Pantano in response.
"Senator, were you paid to lobby for the AgJobs Bill?" Pantano asked again. "I just want to be clear because when we made the assertion, my opponent responded that we were being far-fetched and preposterous, and I think what we've seen is that we were being very accurate."
When Evans asked Sen. Rouzer whether he wanted to offer once more response before moving on, Rouzer answered.
"That question is irrelevant. Yes, I did work to provide a solution and I gave advice in terms of what options were available to them."
"Thank you," was Pantano's response, before Evans moved the discussion on to Pantano's answers to the issue, which include support for a national border fence, re-allocating U.S. forces from places around the world and placing them along the country's southern border, and establishing the E-Verify program.