The Issues: Immigration

CBS News continues an election-year series titled "What Does It Mean To You?" focused on where the presidential candidates stand on major issues and how a vote for one or the other candidate might affect average people's lives.

In this report, CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker looks at the candidates' views on immigration.



We first met Donna Tisdale in 1997 when her desert ranch along the border east of San Diego was being overrun by immigrants crossing illegally from Mexico.

She shot video and counted 9,000 that year.

How are things today?

"The smugglers come and go at will. I really don't see any improvement," Tisdale says.

There is a difference, however: she carries a gun now and has less hope.

"I'll tell you right now, people keep hiring illegals," Tisdale says. "When the smugglers come through here and thumb their nose at us and laugh, how do you think that makes us feel? Neglected."

But this is a tale of two Americas.

In 1980, Luis Vidas fled civil war in El Salvador and illegally crossed the U.S. border near Donna Tisdale's stretch of desert. Since then he's worked hard, "seven days a week," he says.

Vidas is working at two jobs now: a waiter and a janitor in an L.A. high-rise, low-wage jobs he says few others want. After Ronald Reagan's amnesty, he became a U.S. citizen. He now owns a house, a car and his daughter is starting college.

"I found my American dream," Vidas says, "but it's hard."

But one American's dream can be another's nightmare, and appealing to both sets of voters has caused many political headaches. But this year, both presidential candidates promise a fix.

President George W. Bush proposes a guest labor program matching undocumented workers with U.S. employers who can't find Americans for the jobs.

"This program expects temporary workers to return permanently to their home countries after their period of work in the United States has expired," Mr. Bush says.

Sen. John Kerry wants a guest worker program too, but he then would clear a pathway to legal residency and, ultimately, U.S. citizenship, "so that those that work hard and pay their taxes and raise their children have a right to share in America," says Kerry.

Vidas thinks Kerry's plan would help others like him. Donna Tisdale has heard it all before.

"Yeah, yeah political speak," Tisdale says. "I'm not buying it. I don't see an immigration trail to the door of the White House, do you?"

Asked if there's any difference in her estimation between Bush and Kerry, Tisdale says, "No!"

On immigration, frustration and demand for political action are high, expectations low.