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Senator Jon Kyl updates on the status of the immigration bill, and news about the amendments being offered.

Thursday, June 21, 2007
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HH: And that [immigration cloture] decision took a big turn today when Senators Isakson and Chambliss both announced they would not be voting for cloture. To discuss that and other issues related to the immigration reform bill, I’m joined now by our favorite Senator, Jon Kyl of Arizona. Senator Kyl, welcome back, good to talk to you.

JK: Hugh, thanks very much. I appreciate that you still introduce me that way. Thank you.

HH: Oh, it wouldn’t change, no matter how often we disagree, because I know you’re working out of principle. We just disagree on some aspects. But what do you make of the pure politics of it, losing your colleagues Chambliss and Isakson from Georgia on the cloture vote?

JK: Well, I hated to lose them, because Saxby Chambliss had, and Johnny Isakson both, had helped us to write key provisions of the bill. They’d been very cooperative. They’re both just very fine Senators, and they were just catching a lot of heck from back home, and we’ve known for about ten days now that they were not likely to be supportive of it. But you know, it’s a loss, but I certainly appreciate their point of view.

HH: Now Senator, I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about specifics in the amendments. I’ve got a lists of amendments leaked by the Democratic side today, but I don’t know for sure what they have, and just a couple of quick questions. Does the length of the fence that would serve as a trigger increase in any of the amendments?

JK: No.

HH: Does the bill provide for any separate treatment of aliens, illegal aliens from countries of special concern, relative to those from Spanish-speaking countries?

JK: It’s going to, as a result of your lobbying efforts to me. I’ve added language, it’s in the process of being drafted now, that will be included in a so-called enforcement amendment which we fully expect to pass.

HH: Excellent. And John Thune is going to be offering an amendment on 601h, the probationary status amendment. Do you expect that’s going to pass, Senator Kyl?

JK: I don’t think that it will, because if I recall that amendment properly, it would not allow the probationary status. So basically, people would be left in limbo until they qualified for a Z status. And there has to be some way to check them in and get them fingerprinted and so on in the interim. I doubt that it will pass.

HH: Do you expect that any of the Republican amendments are going to pass that would substantially change the enforcement, or just any of the Republican amendments?

JK: Yeah, I certainly hope so, and I think there will be. The first one that I mentioned is an amendment that Lindsey Graham and I, and some others worked on that will substantially enhance, oh, it’s about fifteen pages of enhancement on enforcement. For example, you have spoken of the problem, and others have, about the so-called 24 hour period within which to do the security checks. That 24 hour limitation is being dropped. There will be another amendment that provides for mandatory detention for any visa overstayer. There will be another amendment that Senator Coleman has that makes the sanctuary cities, well, it preempts it, and says that we can’t have the separate policy of sanctuary cities anymore, contrary to federal law, so that local officials have to cooperate with federal law enforcement in enforcing the law.

HH: What about social security benefits for years worked illegally, Senator? Will that be an amendment?

JK: That is an amendment that Senator Ensign has, and I fully expect that to pass. In fact, if he didn’t insist on a roll call vote, it would probably pass by voice vote. That’s a good amendment.

HH: What about the tax amnesty for back taxes not paid while in the country illegally?

JK: That’s already…the elimination of that tax amnesty is already in the bill.

HH: Okay, there’s been a dispute about that, whether or not when Senator McCain added something back in, whether it was really effective. Do you consider it to be a genuinely effective cancellation of the previously announced amnesty?

JK: I think it is. It was fully intended to be. If it’s not, somebody would have to tell me the technical reason why, and it has not been a matter of controversy that I know of. So my assumption is that it’s effective.

HH: Okay, now talk to me a little bit about the Democratic amendments. Are there any deal killers in there that if they do pass, would, from the perspective of the conservatives in the Senate who support this, kill the deal?

JK: Well, the conservatives in the Senate who…you mean who support the agreement?

HH: Yes.

JK: Yeah, folks like myself?

HH: Yes.

JK: Yeah, there are a couple of very problematic amendments. In fact, we continue to work on a couple of them. One of them, amazingly, would eliminate the real ID act as one of the documents, excuse me, the real ID act driver’s license, in other words, a secured driver’s license, would eliminate that as a document that could be used for identification when you’re seeking employment. You know, the whole point, people have said why not just enforce existing law, and existing law is very weak in the employer sanctions and employee verification system. So we strengthened the employee verification system in many different respects. And there are two amendments which would substantially weaken it. One amendment would eliminate the use of real ID in driver’s licenses, and the other is just a potpourri of things that would weaken it, just a whole lot of different ways in which it would be weakened.

HH: Deal killers. What is the Senator Domenici federal judgeship increase? And what’s that got to do with this bill?

JK: Well, you’d like the amendment, and I hope it passes. It adds, I forgot now, how many federal judges, pursuant to recommendation of the national judicial commission for those states which have had an extraordinary increase in cases due to immigration, because of a lack of enforcement of the border, primarily the border states. But there are other states that get an increase in some federal judges as well.

HH: Are you going to get a deal out of Senator Leahy and Senator Reid that if this passes, we get some votes on people like Peter Keisler and other stalled nominees, Senator Kyl?

JK: No, that will not be a part of this, although you know I very strongly support that.

HH: Is there no leverage to obtain that, because they have been bottling up our guys as a pace that is far more…

JK: There is leverage, to be sure, but it’s not in this bill. I mean, as you know from all the discussion, this bill is, I think it’s going to pass, but it’s not a sure thing, and there’s no leverage in it for us to threaten that we won’t pass it unless the Democrats agree to be more cooperative on federal judges. That leverage just does not exist with this bill.

HH: Now Senator Kyl, why the attacks on talk radio from your colleagues, Senators Lott and Graham? It doesn’t, in any event, it cannot possibly help the party, and it can’t help the bill. What are they thinking?

JK: You know, I hate to speak for my colleagues, but I can suggest in the case of Senator Lott, because I’ve talked to him about it, is just said in frustration. If you look at it from his standpoint and mine, there is so much misinformation, and by the way, a plug for you, whatever your feelings on the legislation, you’ve tried very hard to get facts out. I mean, you just asked me a series of about eight questions that are designed to elicit information.

HH: Right.

JK: Well, not all talk radio is quite that constructive. And I’m afraid that there’s some of my friends who, for ratings or whatever purposes, have chosen to ignore some of the facts, and stress some things that were incorrect. And it gets a little frustrating after a while, and I think that it was just out of that frustration that Trent spoke, but he and I talked about it today, and he recognizes that it’s not helpful to impugn anybody’s motives, and he certainly didn’t mean to do anything like that. So there shouldn’t be any…you know, the reality is if it were anybody else that had said it, it would be long since forgotten. But I do think that sometimes, some folks in talk radio need new subject matter every day, and when they get criticized, it’s pretty easy to jump on whoever criticized them. So I really treat it as nothing more than that.

HH: And can I ask you again, why didn’t we increase the fence at all in this latest iteration as a trigger, Senator Kyl?

JK: With all of the other things that there were to do, I didn’t press it. I know that it is important, you’ve raised the issue before. I know that we can do 371 miles of fencing within the next 16, 17 months at a minimum, probably more than that. I wasn’t sure how much we could do beyond that, and I just never pressed the point, because I do have a commitment from the Secretary of Homeland Security that they are going to keep on building. So they’re not stopping at 371. But he did tell me that it would be, that there would be a substantial increase in cost if he tried to hire additional people to build additional miles of fence in addition to what’s being done already.

HH: And we’ve got about 30 seconds, Senator Kyl. What is your prediction for both the cloture vote, the actual vote on the bill, and then the closure of debate at the end of it?

JK: I think that perhaps on Tuesday, the cloture vote to take the bill back up again will be voted on and will pass. It’ll be fairly close. There will then be votes on amendments, and there are some key amendments that need to pass, many of the ones that we talked about here tonight. There are others that need to be defeated. There will then be a cloture vote on finishing the bill, and some of the amendments will be voted on after that cloture vote. So it’s not going to shut off debate and amendments. But it will result in 30 additional hours, and then the bill coming to a close. And my guess is at the end of the day, there will be more votes for final passage even than there are for cloture.

HH: Senator Jon Kyl, thanks for joining us. I look forward to talking to you about whatever the result is when I get back in mid-July.

End of interview.

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