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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador on immigration reform

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HH: Of course, immigration reform is in my opinion also about education reform. And how this bill is going to move, and when it’s going to move, and how it’s going to be developed, a lot of that depends upon the input of my first guest today, Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho’s 1st district. Congressman, welcome, first time I believe that I’ve talked to you on the air.

RL: It is the first time, but it’s not the first time I’ve talked about you. I just had lunch with one of my constituents yesterday, who absolutely loves you. And every time I see him, he talks about your show and your books. So it’s great to be on your show.

HH: We’ll we’ve tricked him. We tricked him, and I’m glad to know that. Congressman, Paul Ryan and many other people say as we proceed with immigration reform, we’re going to talk to Raul. And so what is, what’s your view of this? What’s the timing, the pacing, and your input?

RL: Well, clearly, we have a broken immigration system, and we have to do something about the system. I was an immigration lawyer for 15 years before I came to the House of Representatives. So I know a little bit about the system, how it works and how it doesn’t work. But one of my main concerns is that we do it in a way that actually modernizes the immigration system, that we fix the problems for the future, so 10 or 15 years from now, we’re not talking about the same problems that we’re having today. And I’m concerned with some people’s desire to have a pathway to citizenship, because what you do, in my opinion, by doing a pathway to citizenship, is you incentive future lawbreakers to come into the United States, because they know that every 15 to 25 years, the United States is going to do some kind of pathway program. So what I think we need to do is have a guest worker program, allow the people that are here illegally right now to apply for that guest worker program, and allow them to come out of the shadows so they can become full participants in society. We can treat them humanely, but we can also say that they can become guest workers or temporary residents, and they can avail themselves of the existing pathway, just like any other person can avail themselves of the existing pathway, but not create a new pathway for them.

HH: Now Congressman, one million of the 11 million people who are not in the country legally are under the age of 18.

RL: Correct.

HH: Four and a half million children who are here legally have at least one parent who’s not authorized to be in the United States. And so as we move forward with this, I am most concerned with those 5.5 million children. And most of them are stuck in the worst schools in America. Is there some way to craft onto immigration reform education reform so that we advance choice in schools?

RL: You know, I don’t know. I have to admit that it’s the first time I’ve heard…I read your column this morning, and I think it’s a great idea. But it’s not a conversation we’re having, but I don’t think it’s a conversation that we shouldn’t have. In fact, I liked the concept of doing school choice for these children. But in the broader perspective, I think this is how we’re going to win, actually, as Republicans, the vote and the hearts and the minds of the minority communities in the United States. It’s such an important issue when you look at the Hispanic community how poorly they’re doing, the African-American community. Their schools are failing. You look at the unemployment rate in those communities right now, and we know clearly that the last four years of Obama has not been good to them. And yet they still voted for Obama. So we have to figure out a way to reach their hearts and minds. And I think school choice is one of those ways that we can do that. I just haven’t really given it a lot of thought whether we should have that debate at the same time that we’re having the immigration debate.

HH: Well, I hope I can get you to consider that, and I hope you read that AEI study when you have a moment, because it’s just amazing what charter schools can do in assimilation and citizenship. But here’s the other issue, and it comes back to this tone issue. Arthur Brooks of AEI said over the weekend at the National Review summit, if you want the poor to be with you, you’d better actually want to help the poor. And if you really want to have people listen to your ideas about free enterprise, you’d better not be sounding as though you hate them. Is there a tone issue with the Republicans here, no matter what their position is on immigration?

RL: Absolutely, and Arthur Brooks is one of the great thinkers of our time. I’ve heard him give this speech three or four times already, and I never get bored by it. He is absolutely right. I come from a single parent home. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I moved to the mainland when I was 13. I became a Republican, because there was something in the aspirations that I could hear in the tone of what Ronald Reagan was saying. I listened to him, and I thought that’s the kind of American that I want to be. I want to become just like him. I want to be able to believe in the future of America. I want to be responsible. I want to be successful. I want to be able to achieve the American dream. We need leaders once again who can use that tone and that rhetoric. We don’t have to change our policies that much. But what we need to change is our desire to help people. The reason I’m a Republican is not to help rich people. Rich people will take care of themselves under a Republican administration or a Democratic administration. It’s the middle income and lower income people that I want them to achieve the American dream. And in my opinion, that only happens under Republican policies. And I think we need to show that we care about the, because they will not listen to us until they know we care.

HH: Now I am very glad to know you’re an immigration lawyer. I didn’t know that, because the 2007 law could have been written by a couple of drunks in the back room. And my friend, Jon Kyl, has admitted to me that Z visa series of provisions, I read it with a lawyer’s eye. It was insane. It was completely crazy. Is it going to be professionally done this time, not in a back room, but by true legal draftsman who know what they’re doing?

RL: Well, we have to do something, and I don’t think that we should do a big, comprehensive bill, you know, one bill. I think we can have a comprehensive approach to the immigration problem. We can have a series of bills that together, comprehensively, takes care of the issues that we have. We can deal with the stem issue, we can deal with the kids that are here, we can deal with the adults who came, we can deal with the future of immigration, guest worker program. So those can all be separate bills, so we can have a good, honest debate. And we can have each bill scrutinized in the committee process like it should be. I think we’re going to have some good legislation. The question for me has been whether the President and the Democrats in the Senate want to have a political victory or a policy victory. If they want to have a political victory, they’re not going to work with us. They’re going to say it’s my way or the highway, we’re going to turn down whatever their proposal is, and what you’re going to see for 2014, the whole battle is going to be about how bad the Republicans are with immigration. If they want a policy victory, and there’s a lot of good Democrats in the House that want a policy victory, then they’re going to work with conservatives in the House so we can craft legislation that actually fixes the immigration problem.

HH: I’m talking with Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho’s 1st district, who will be one of the leading architects of whatever emerges from the House. How does it actually unfold, Congressman? At this point, is there a working group in the House as there is in the Senate working on a comprehensive approach, even if it’s a series of bills? Or is it all still cloaked in secrecy?

RL: You know, there’s a working group. There’s different groups that are working on this. I’m working with a lot of different people. I’m talking to Republicans, to Democrats, to Senators as well, to see what we can get out of the House. My main concern right now is working with the Republican party to make sure that we can have a series of bills that actually passes the House of Representatives with a majority of Republicans voting for it. I think the only way immigration reform is going to be successful is if Republicans get behind it, and if we can actually craft legislation where Republicans feel confident that they can go back to their home districts, and they can explain to their constituents that this is something good for America, and it modernizes the immigration system.

HH: Congressman, I hope you will come back early and often as this unfolds, Congressman Raul Labrador. By the way, how did you end up in Idaho if you were born in Puerto Rico?

RL: You know, I moved from Puerto Rico to Las Vegas, then I went to college in Utah, and I met a young, beautiful woman from Boise, Idaho.

HH: And she tricked you into going to Idaho? I mean, I love Idaho, but that’s not exactly the warmest place…

RL: I thought it was fantastic.

HH: It’ s great place, but it’s not the warmest place in the world, so…

RL: You know, I actually like the weather here, and Boise is kind of a little bit a of banana belt, so you get all four seasons, but they’re all temperate. And it’s the best state in the Union.

HH: All right, Congressman, great to have you on. I look forward to having you often, and thank you so much.

End of interview.

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