Morrow and Filner go head to head at immigration policy meeting


SAN DIEGO ---- When it comes to public policy on immigration, about the only thing that Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Filner and Republican state Sen. Bill Morrow seemed to agree on at a Friday meeting was the need to come down harder on those who employ illegal immigrants.

The two clashed on almost every other aspect of immigration policy, including using citizen patrols in helping to enforce the U.S.-Mexico border, granting amnesty to the estimated millions of illegal immigrants living in this country and allowing more foreign workers into the United States.

Addressing a group of about 30 academics, activist leaders and journalists at the University of San Diego, Filner, whose district includes border areas of San Diego and Imperial counties, said the federal government needs to focus on helping Mexico improve its economy.

Morrow, whose district includes most of North County, said that first and foremost, the United States needs to enforce its existing immigration laws.

The discussion was part of the four-day "Liberty and Justice for All" conference that started Thursday to discuss ethical issues surrounding the nation's immigration policy.

The atmosphere at the conference was far more calm than that of a Carlsbad immigration forum hosted by Morrow in August, when hundreds of people demonstrated outside the forum and police in riot gear roamed the crowd. There were no demonstrators outside the forum at the university.

Morrow said he adamantly opposes the suggestion made by some lawmakers that amnesty should be granted to some of the people who have entered the county illegally.

"You don't reward law-breakers; that (causes) disrespect for the law," Morrow said.

He said he defends the idea of a citizen patrol to help the government defend the nation's borders, adding that he is a member of a group that recently held a border watch vigil in the mountains east of San Diego to report suspected illegal border-crossers to the U.S. Border Patrol.

Filner said Morrow and others who oppose illegal immigration should instead be looking at ways to help Mexico transform itself into a First World economy, helping the country create more high-paying jobs and better roads and schools.

By focusing only on law enforcement, "you are taking your eye off the real issues," Filner said, adding that only when Mexicans can find good jobs and education options for their children will they stop coming to the United States in search of a better life.

"Anything we do that is not put in the broader economic context ... is doomed to failure," he said.

The one issue both men agreed on is the need for stricter enforcement of labor laws.

Morrow said that he would favor a three-strikes program for those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, a program in which employers would be warned on the first offense, fined on the second and jailed on the third.