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Senators Rubio and Flake on Immigration Reform

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Senators Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake joined me on today’s program to discuss the bipartisan immigration reform propoals released today.  The transcripts will be posted here as soon as they are available:

Snator Rubio Interview:

HH: Joined now by United States Senator Marco Rubio of the great state of Florida. Senator Rubio, thanks for joining us, congratulations. This immigration reform set of proposals have got a lot of people saying this time, it might actually work. So congratulations on a good start. 

MR: Well, thank you for that. I mean, it’s a good start, I think, to the principles. Obviously, the details are going to be very, very important. And that’s going to be much harder.

HH: Let me begin with one of those details debated much on the web this afternoon. The border commission, consisting of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders, and I’d be happy to be one of those, is that an advisory commission? Or do they actually have authority over declaring the border security to the extent that individuals begin their regularization only when they say so?

MR: Well, that’s one of the things we’re going to have to discuss. I mean, that’s part of turning a principle into a bill, into a law. And here’s my goal, okay? My goal is to ensure that the enforcement stuff happens, because this is not about being tougher than anybody else. This is about the following. If we do not, if the enforcement stuff does not happen, in essence, of the enforcement at the border, the workplace enforcement, the visa tracking, if these things don’t happen, then we are going to be right back here again in five to ten years with another three, four, five million people who are undocumented. So I think…and the only way that I know to guarantee that it happens is to use it as a trigger, to basically say that the path towards a green card does not begin until we can certify that the border is secure, that workplace enforcement method is in place, and the visa tracking system is in place. And I think the commission is a critical part of that. Whether they issue recommendations, whether they judge whether that’s the case, that’s one of the things we’ll have to discuss. But it’s important that we have input from the people that are affected by the border, because it’s one thing to say that the border is certified from, you know, an air conditioned office in Washington. Another thing is to have to deal with it on the ground as a law enforcement person. So we need to figure out their role, but it has to be valuable role.

HH: Yeah, I believe that you’ll find that you’ll get a lot of support for this bill if people actually believe a commission including the AG’s of Texas and New Mexico and California, and the governors, and then community leaders, if they actually have a trigger. Advisory? Not so much. That could be a break point. But tell me, assume for a moment that those things happen, since I think there’s a lot of support for border security happening. Will then the 11 million individuals in the United States who are here illegally become on a path to citizenship or a path to permanent residence?

MR: Well, first of all, there’s no such thing as a path to citizenship. What there is, is a path to permanent residency, a path to a green card. That’s what we have in this country. Nobody can come here and say I want to come in as a citizen. What you get is a green card, which you have to qualify for through a process of applying. Ultimately, if you have a green card, five years after you get it, you can apply for citizenship, which is something you have to qualify for. As you know, you have to pass an exam and a series of other things that you have to do. And there’s a wait for citizenship as well. And so what we’re saying, basically, is that we’re going to allow people access to the green card path, but only after a number of things happen. Number one, they’re going to have to come forward, and they’re going to have to undergo a background check, and they’re going to have to pay fines and back taxes. As a result of that, what they will get is a probationary status, which will give them a work permit. But it will not allow them to have access to any federal benefits or anything like this. They’re going to have to stay in that probationary status for a significant period of time. And once that significant period of time has elapsed, and the security measures are certified, then all they will get is the opportunity to apply for a green card, just like anybody else would – by getting in line, by waiting their turn, and by then having to qualify for the visa that they’re applying for.

HH: Now Senator Rubio, Senator Flake was just on and he thought that in the real world, that process could probably take 15 years until someone starts pulling a lever in a voting booth. Do you think that’s a fair approximation of how it would actually work?

MR: Well, a lot of that will depend on the backlogs that we have in the green card programs. And again, how we deal with the existing…that really is more of a function of how we modernize the legal immigration system. And I believe that immigration in this country should be driven by economics. That is, you know, the higher the unemployment rate, the slower the immigration needs to be. And in addition, I think I’m a supporter of family-based immigration. That’s how my parents came. I have said in my principles that I think in the 21st Century, we can no longer afford to have only 6 1/2% of our immigrants come here based on job skills and so forth. So you know, we need to change that as well. But all that being said, I think what’s important here is that those backlogs is what’s going to largely determine the length of time. But it will be a significant period of time.

HH: Now as to the security issue, of that 11 million, let’s say one tenth of one percent, or a hundred thousand, are really bad actors.

MR: Yeah.

HH: Cartelistas, or Hezbollah, or whatever. How are we going to find them?

MR: Well, first of all, they won’t be able to find, I mean, that’s a problem we’re going to have no matter what we do with immigration. And that’s an issue that we’re going to have no matter what. And I think the initial stages, of course, is anybody who’s undocumented after this process goes forward, anybody who’s undocumented will be deported. I mean, it won’t have any of these other exceptions that are in place, which is my argument, now, for why what we have is a de facto amnesty, because we have 11 million people in this country that are out of status, and there really is no enforcement. I mean, some states might enforce more than others, but by and large, there’s no enforcement mechanism. So my point is we’re better off fixing this once and for all. And so what you raise is a very valid point. And one of the things we’re going to have to consider is okay, once this is in place, and we have created a method for people to come forward, what’s going to happen to the people that refuse to come forward? And the only answer to that is…

HH: We’ll continue that conversation after this break with Senator Marco Rubio on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

– –    –  – 

HH: Senator, when we went to break, we were talking about the people who refuse to come forward under a regularization process. How do we, those aren’t really the ones I’m worried about. I know how you’ll get them. But how do we determine whether or not someone who is applying for regularization status, who doesn’t have an arrest record, but who might be part of one of the syndicates, one of the cartels, one of the groups of people we don’t want in the United States? How serious an effort will we make at background checking?

MR: Well, that’s another good point. I mean, again, since we’ve been dealing with principles, these are the level of details that we have to have input on. And that’s why it’s so important that this bill…here’s what I don’t want to see happen. I don’t want to see a bunch of principles become a bill, and then the bill be brought to the floor, and basically everybody be given a take it or leave it type proposition. I hope that we will go through a serious process, that we’ll have some real public hearings, some real public input, and that questions like the ones you’re raising be addressed. So I think that just confirms my desire for stuff like that to be taken into account, because you’re right. There are a lot of people that are not, ever been convicted of a crime. But if you can prove that somehow they’re involved in a criminal syndicate, you don’t want them in the country. And I think no one would disagree with that. It’s just a question of how we do it.

HH: How we do it with the resources. Senator Cruz, your new colleague from Texas, put out a statement this afternoon saying he has deep concerns with the proposed path to citizenship. Do you think he’s misunderstanding what the principle is, because permanent residence is not citizenship.

MR: No, look, I think what he’s saying is fair. He hasn’t seen a bill. He’s just seen a bunch of proposals on an outline of principles. And I think his concern is my concern, that we don’t want to see anything happen that encourages illegal immigration in the future. That’s unfair to people that are doing it the right way. And so I think what he’s saying is I’m concerned about it, because I want to make sure that that’s not what this process ultimately does. I do think, and not him, I do think he understands it, but in general, I believe that there is a misunderstanding out there on both sides. People don’t realize that there is no such thing as a path to citizenship. There is such a thing as a path to a green card, and then it’s up to the individual to decide whether they want to apply for citizenship or not after they get their green card.

HH: There is an argument, though, that individuals who entered originally illegally ought never to be able to vote. And I don’t know if you’ve even crossed that bridge yet, or if it’s been debated within the bipartisan framework. Was that debated?

MR: No, because here’s the problem with that, and that is the law today is that if you are in this country, and you violated our immigration laws, you have to wait ten years, and you have to wait ten years before you can apply for legal entry. And so the reality of it is that that’s the existing punishment for having violated our immigration laws. What I don’t think is good for this country, ultimately, is to have 11 million, 10 million, 9 million people who are living here, and will live here for the rest of their lives, but have absolutely no stake in the future political process of this country. What I predict will happen is as people live in this country for a significant period of time, they start to move up the economic ladder, they start to own things and run things. All of a sudden, these folks start caring about the size of government. All of a sudden, they start to care about the weight of government on them and on their lives. And that’s why I’m so confident about our ability to sell the principles of limited government and free enterprise to anybody who will listen to us reasonably, because I think from a historical perspective, from an analytical perspective, there is no way that anyone can with a straight face argue that big government is good for the people who are trying to make it.

HH: I agree with that 100%. Now I want to turn to those Dreamers, those kids who are under 18 who would be regularized by this bill. Is there anything that can be done for them to give them vouchers so they don’t end up in the worst schools, taught by the worst teachers, in languages they don’t understand? Can’t we give them vouchers to go at least to the best school in the city in which their parents have brought them, or maybe even private sector help to get into a Catholic school or another school? Because just regularizing them in a terrible school system, Marco Rubio, does not help them.

MR: Well, I’m for school choice for every child in America, so that won’t be a hard sell for me. I’ve never heard that discussed in the context of this, and it would be interesting if that proposal were made, what the reaction to it would be. But you know, I can tell you that I’m for school choice for every child in America. I think it’s outrageous that government has more say where your kids go to school than you do.

HH: Well, I think if the immigration reform train is moving, it’s a good time to add choice to it. What about, back to border security, Senator, a lot of people measure border security in miles of fence. Promises made way back in the Bush years were never kept in terms of miles of fence. Is that a good metric? And if so, how far away from it being at success do you think we are?

MR: Well first of all, let me tell you about border security. Border security is about immigration, but it’s even more so about national security and about sovereignty.

HH: Yes.

MR: Look, I’m not in favor of a housekeeper or a gardener coming across the border, but I’m a lot more worried about a terrorist. And I think if you have a porous border, where drugs and guns are being smuggled, it’s very easy for an organized terrorist cell to take advantage of it. So I’m just as concerned about it from that regard, and that’s why I think it’s the flow that concerns us. It’s not necessarily just measuring it by how much money we spend, or how many fences we build. It’s about how effective it is. Do you have operational control of the border? Do you know what’s going on at the border? There are countries that have been able to establish an operational control of their borders. You’re never going to make it 100%. And there has been improvement, but we have a lot more work to do.

HH: Fences do work. They work in Israel, they worked along the Algerian-Tunisian border in the 50s. They do work.

MR: Yeah.

HH: Did the group talk about that in your conversation?

MR: Yes, and you know, that’s a big priority of Senator McCain, being from Arizona. Let me say another thing about the border. What really happens on the border is not just the entire border. There are corridors on the border, and that is areas that are more navigable than others. And those are the corridors that are being used to traffic people, to traffic guns, to traffic drugs. And that’s the place we should focus first. And by the way, since the last time this issue has been considered, there have been significant technological advances that should be a part of this effort. And in fact, they’re discussed in our principles. Those should be employed as well.

HH: The last time this came up, I opposed the bill because of the infamous Z visa. The Z visa was basically a ‘you’re here, you’re fine’.

MR: A blanket. It was a blanket.

HH: Is that gone?

MR: Yes. It’s not a part, there’s no blanket effort here. I think everybody, obviously we want to reform the agricultural workers program. I mean, there are different components to it, but there is no such thing as just a blanket. I mean, by and large, people have to step forward, they have to qualify, they have to meet these requirements, and they get that temporary probational status. And then ultimately, assuming that they want to, they may decide they don’t want to, but many of those folks after some period of time has gone by, and the enforcement has happened, then some folks would qualify to basically apply through the regular legal immigration system. In essence, we’re going to give them a chance to ultimately do is what they should have done to begin with, and that’s apply via the existing legal immigration system, which is getting in line and qualifying for one of those visas that are available when your turn comes up.

HH: Senator Marco Rubio, thanks for joining us today to discuss, look forward to discussing it with you early and often throughout 2013, and good luck in making sure the debate stays focused on the specifics of a bill, not on people’s general angst about a problem.

End of interview.

Senator Flake interview:

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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