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Senator Jeff Flake on the immigration compromise principles

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HH: Joined now by United States Senator Jeff Flake from the great state of Arizona. Senator Flake, welcome, congratulations. I hope you’re enjoying your new job in the world’s senior deliberative body.

JF: You know, I just cast my third vote, so we’re still pretty new at it.

HH: Well, it took you less than a week to throw yourself into the biggest controversy. You’re part of the bipartisan group of senators who have introduced principles on immigration reform, which I applaud broadly. They make a lot of sense to me. Let me ask you a couple of specifics. There’s a commission in here on border security. I’m hereby applying to be on that commission. What’s its role? What’s its importance in this process?

JF: You know, this is something that myself and Senator McCain, you know, being from a border state, certainly insisted on. Folks on the border, particularly the ranchers, property holders who have seen violence, we have the murder of Rob Prince a couple of years ago, people there want some input. And often, they’re told by Janet Napolitano and others that the border is more secure than ever. And I can tell you they don’t feel it. And so they want to make sure they have input and some kind of leverage to make sure that border security happens in a way that it didn’t after the 1986 law. And so this commission is put in place, and before anybody is going to achieve citizenship, or adjust their status, then this commission, it’ll be made up of governors, attorneys general, some community leaders, will have to sign off and say that the border measures that have been put in place are effective.

HH: So A) I want to be that community member. I’m raising my hand. But Senator Flake, seriously, maybe I am serious about that. We’ll see. Is it a mandatory signoff before any change in status occurs? Or is it advisory? Because this has become quite the debating point on the web today.

JF: No, that’s, as envisioned in the principles, now we’ve not drafted legislation, but I can tell you that what I’m going to be pushing for, and Senator McCain when the legislation is written, to comport with these principles, which are it’s a signoff. It has to occur, that there has to be some kind of certification that the border measures that have been put in place are effective.

HH: Will those border measures include increased miles of fencing?

JF: Oh, yes. And it talks about aerial equipment and resources, and more border agents between posts. And it’s beyond that, though. If we want to be effective, we’ve got to do what we did in the Yuma sector. In the Yuma sector, which is about 88 miles of border in Arizona, we have what everyone agrees is some form of operational control, meaning that if somebody crosses, you have a reasonable expectation of catching them. And that had to do not just with manpower and resources and technology, but perhaps most importantly, swift and sure prosecution for those who came across. And that hasn’t been done yet in the Tucson sector.

HH: Now Senator Flake, you also mentioned in our conversation citizenship or adjust their status. Now that is, that’s a key difference. Permanent residency does not, I think, bother anyone, provided they’re not bad actors. Citizenship and the right to vote, and eligibility for all federal and state benefits, gives pause to many. What is the guiding principle here, and how long a period of time until somebody votes?

JF: You know, I can just liken it to the Strive Act that I introduced a few years ago. We went through this exercise, and the provisions here are similar in that we are saying that anybody who wants to adjust their status to become a citizen can’t get their green card, which allows them to then petition for citizenship, until everybody who is in line right now going through the legal, orderly process has gone through it. That’s a pretty long line right now. And unless we expedite it, it would likely be 15 years or so before anybody has the opportunity to petition for citizenship, so it’s a long time.

HH: All right, that’s what I think a lot of people will want specificity on that part. And I think if it is 15 years or something like that, most people will say I understand that. Now I want to focus on the younger people. Is there any way that the young people impacted by that, under the age of 18, can not only have their status adjusted so that they can stay, and stay without threat of being sent back to the country they do not know very well, but get into a decent school? Can you marry vouchers somehow so that kids who get, under this program, get to go to a decent public school?

JF: You know, wouldn’t that be nice. You know, in Arizona, we’ve expanded school choice quite a bit, so you may see that move faster than elements of this legislation. And I should note that within the principles are provisions that say for the so-called Dreamers, or kids who were brought across the border by their parents, no fault of their own, that they would have an expedited process to adjust their status, or for citizenship. And yes, they would be able to stay. But in terms of marrying that to vouchers or parental choice, I don’t think we can do that in this legislation.

HH: Now that brings me to a tactical question. The immigration train is moving. I think a lot of Republicans are going to support it. Why don’t we, Senator Flake, get some things that will obviously do more than regularize status, but will help these people actually become, as Arthur Brooks of AEI likes to say, folks interested in earned success, and empowered in their educational choices?

JF: Well, I’m a big advocate of parental choice, and choice and accountability and competition. So whatever we can do to forward that, I’m in favor of it.

HH: Now in terms of the amount of support that you have for this, and I’ll come back to the choice thing later with Senator Rubio, in terms of the process going forward, how quickly do you see a bill actually being drafted, sent to the committee and debated on the floor of the Senate?

JF: The thought was today that there would be some time in March that we’ll have legislation. And as soon as we have legislation, then the hearings will start. Actually, the hearings don’t have to wait for the legislation. But the markup can begin. And so as far as a bill to be marked up, I would think late March or early April.

HH: And which committee, this will come through Judiciary, Senator Flake?

JF: Yes.

HH: I don’t know if you’re on it or not.

JF: I am. I’m on the Judiciary Committee, and will likely be on the Immigration subcommittee as well.

HH: And on that Immigration subcommittee, what’s the divide between Republicans and Democrats? And how collaborative a process, do you think we’ll…we can’t have a replay of that infamous Z visa fiasco. Will this really be transparent so people will see it before it’s said this, take it or leave it?

JF: I believe so. I think you’re going to see a very transparent process here, and because anything but that would just, you’ve got to move forward in good faith here. This is a big deal. And it’s important legislation. And trying to slip it through in the dark of night just isn’t going to happen.

HH: Senator Jeff Flake, congratulations on taking the point on this, and to the commitment to transparency and border security, and a lot of other good stuff, a great starting point for the immigration debate, Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona.

End of interview.

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