EM: Joining me now on the line, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Welcome to the show, sir, great to speak with you again.
MR: Thank you, Ed. Thanks for having me on.
EM: Senator Rubio, obviously we’re going to be talking a lot about the Corker-Hoeven Amendment. The language of this dropped on Friday. It has been criticized among conservatives for not being tough enough on actually making sure that the border fence will be built. I know that this one particular piece of language people are very concerned about. The language says, “Notwithstanding paragraph 1, nothing in this subsection shall require the Secretary to install fencing or infrastructure that directly results from the installation of such fencing in a particular location along the Southern border if the Secretary determines that the user placement of such resources is not the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain effective control over the Southern border at such location.” Senator Rubio, the criticism that is coming up on this is that this language allows a very large exception here that could mean that the Secretary might determine that none of the border fencing is really the most effective use of resources in terms of securing the Southern border. Is this that big of a loophole? Because it does appear to be a bit of a concern.
MR: Right, it’s not a loophole at all, and let me explain why. First of all, they’re reading that paragraph in isolation from the rest of the section. The section mandates that there has to be 700 miles of fence. Period. There has to be 700 miles. The only discretion the Secretary has, and whether it’s this secretary or a future one, because the fence is going to take a number of years to build, the only discretion they have is where the fence goes. So for example, they’ll have discretion about not having to build a fence on the top of a 5,000 foot mountain. They can say look, maybe the fence shouldn’t go here, it should go in some other part of the border. But 700 miles of fence must be built. That, it does not change at all. There must be…if there aren’t 700 miles of fence, there are no green cards available for people that have violated our immigrations laws. It goes one step further, by the way. The way the amendment is written, it actually requires them as the first option to replace existing vehicle barriers. Here’s what’s happened. In 2006, they passed a law that said there had to be 700 miles of fencing. The next year, the Congress defunded that.
MR: They said oh, you can only do, you don’t have to do double fencing. You can even do vehicular fencing. So you’ll have a road, and what they do is they put up some barriers to a car. So maybe you can’t drive a car through that, but someone can just walk right past that stuff. The bill actually requires that that be replaced with a real fence, a real pedestrian fence. So here’s the bottom line. They’re reading that wrong. You must have 700 miles of fencing, no exception, period. The only thing that the Department gets to choose is where that fence goes along those 700 miles.
EM: Senator Rubio, and this is a good point that you bring up about the fact that Congress defunded the fence. And this is something that’s also come up, is that Congress, you can argue that Congress lost their nerve on the border fence, or changed their mind on the border fence, and didn’t enforce that. And so they, the criticism, or at least the concern here might be that Congress is going to change their mind again, and not insist that that border fence get built before the second wave of normalization goes through in this process. What is it that prevents that from happening, and the border fence being shelved again?
MR: Because in the bill, we’re actually spending the money. How it’s worked in the past is they will pass a bill that says you must do this, but they don’t fund it. They leave it up to the appropriations process, to the budget writers to put the money in. So basically, if a budget writer doesn’t like the law, they just don’t fund it. They don’t put the money in there. In this bill, we actually put the money in the bill so the money’s in there now. It’s in there in a trust fund. And so the money’s already there. We don’t depend on a future Congress to fund it. We are funding it as part of this bill so that they can’t do that. That was put in the bill specifically to keep that from happening again.
EM: And in this particular case, I mean, just to complete that thought, the previous bill was just a border fence bill. This is a bill that requires a border fence as a trigger in order to get to the next statutory phase of normalization. And so you have to have one to get to the other. That’s the idea of the trigger. Is that correct?
MR: That’s correct. I keep hearing from critics of the bill that what the Democrats want, and I don’t doubt this, that what some Democrats want is they want to be able to give, to get people to become citizens so they can vote for the Democrats. I don’t agree that that’s what’s going to happen. But I believe that America changes immigrants more than immigrants change America, and that once people get fully vested in the American economy and American life, they start to realize that big government is bad for them. But putting that aside for a second, if that’s really what the Democrats want, the only way that they can even dream of that, the only way that that even becomes possible, meaning people can even get a green card to begin with, is if all five of these things happen. Not one of these things, five of these things – mandatory E-verify, something that conservatives have been asking for forever, 700 miles of fencing, something that conservatives have been asking for forever, an entry/exit tracking system, because 40% of the people that are here illegally are just overstaying their visas, and we have no idea who they are. With an entry/exit tracking system, you will. 20,000 new border patrol agents, hired, trained and deployed, doubling the size of the border patrol, and a mandatory set of minimum technological advances. And we went one step further. We didn’t just mandate technology, we mandated the specific technology and where they had to put it, not leaving any discretion in that regard to the secretary now or in the future. We actually told them that at a minimum, you must put these specific technologies, these radars, these sensors, these night vision goggles and cameras, in these specific places.
EM: Senator Rubio, one of the other questions that’s come up in the last couple of days is whether or not this bill is actually going to reduce illegal immigration. This is one of the, obviously, it’s related to the border security issue. It’s related to whether or not we can trust whether the fence gets built. But apparently the CBO was not able to really score this with any sense of other than generally of whether or not this bill is actually going to significantly reduce illegal immigration. And I was wondering if you had a response to that, because that was another one of the big concerns over the last couple of days.
MR: Well, a few things. The Congressional Budget Office a week ago, when they came out with their report, they said that the bill as currently written back then would only reduce illegal immigration by 25%. Now I would say to you that that was one of the catalysts that proved the point I had been making for weeks, and that is we have to improve the border security. As you recall, I’ve been saying that now for more than four to five weeks, and some on the left have criticized me for that, saying that I was trying to, you know, derail the bill. I was just pointing to the obvious. Well, they came out with a new letter yesterday, right before the vote, and in their new letter, they said that with this amendment, with this change to the bill, the border security is substantially improved. Now they didn’t put a number on it, but they said it’s substantially improved. So we know that the Congressional Budget Office, without having done an in-depth study, already realizes that this new amendment, these new additions to the bill, substantially improve border security.
EM: Well in that case, why not wait on this for another week or two and let the CBO do a more substantive study so that we can get a determination as to how, what the extent of the improvement is, if it’s 100%, if it’s 90%, if it’s 80%? Is there time to do that?
MR: There is. There always is. I’m not in a hurry. I’ve always said we need to do this right rather than do it fast, and I think we may get more from the Congressional Budget Office before the end of the week. I would also remind people that there’s another chamber here that hasn’t even begun working on this, yet, which is the House. And I’m sure they’re going to be interested in those findings as they build their own border security elements of it. But I would also say that if you go down the list of things that conservatives have been asking me for, for the better part of two years that I’ve been here, we’ve done them all. Now is there a way to make E-verify better? That’s what Senator Portman is working on. Is there a way to improve the entry/exit tracking system? Well, for example, we’ve made it now biometric in the 30 largest international airports in the country where the vast majority of this traffic comes through. On the border security side of it, you know, the mandating of the 700 miles of fence is something that people have been asking for, for a long time, doubling the border agents. And by the way, these things all work together. One of the things that brings people across that border is the jobs. But if you have mandatory E-verify, finding a job is going to get a lot harder. And last but not least, something no one is talking about, one of the things that drives illegal immigration is that legal immigration is broken. If someone can’t get here to work on a farm for six months legally, they come illegally. There’s no incentive to do that anymore if you reform the legal immigration process the way we are to create a process that now works.
EM: Senator Rubio, we have just a few seconds left here. Tell us a little bit about what you think the prospects are in the House for a look at this bill.
MR: Well, again, I think the House is going to follow its own process. I don’t think they’re going to pass the Senate bill. They’ve made that abundantly clear. And I’m not going to dictate to the House, nor would I even try, on what they should do or how they should do it. I think they’re very concerned about security as well. I think they’re going to focus on that element of it. They’re going to learn from the things we put in our bill, and they’re going to try to improve it, and I welcome that process. I think that continues to be the critical element of this bill, is people are only willing to even consider immigration reform if they believe that this is never going to happen again. This only works, by the way, if we can ensure this never happens again.
EM: Indeed. I mean, but does the fact that the House really hasn’t even begun putting together a comprehensive plan to mirror up to this, I mean, does that concern you about the prospects of this passing both chambers?
MR: Well, you know, obviously, we would prefer to be working on simultaneous tracks, but that’s not the way it’s worked out. The House is focused on some other very important issues as well. But we should not forget, the single biggest impediment to immigration reform is the rightful lack of trust that people have in this government. It’s something that’s only gotten worse over the last six months. And all I would say to people is I get, I understand that, and that’s one of the reasons why I support immigration reform, because if we don’t put these things into law now, you’re going to leave this entire issue into the hands of an administration that we already don’t trust. You’re going to leave it in their hands for the next three years. I promise you, this administration is not going to unilaterally push for E-verify or more border agents or more fencing. They argue that it’s secure now.
EM: Senator Marco Rubio, thank you very much for joining us today.
End of interview.