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Sen. Rand Paul on Balancing Legalized Immigration With Improved Border Security

June 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Protestors interrupted a House hearing on a Republican immigration bill focused entirely on law enforcement. By contrast, the Senate bill combines enforcement and a path to citizenship. Ray Suarez talks to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., about his stance on legalization of undocumented immigrants being contingent on border security.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to the politics of immigration. Even as the legislation makes its way through the Senate, John Boehner raised major new hurdles today, affecting its prospects in the House.

Ray Suarez continues his ongoing coverage.

RAY SUAREZ: The depth of feelings on immigration were clear, as protesters interrupted a House hearing on a Republican bill focused entirely on enforcement.

As written by South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy, it would empower state and local officials to enforce federal immigration laws and make passport and visa fraud felonies that could result in deportation.

REP. TREY GOWDY, R-S.C.: If people don’t like this bill, don’t vote for it. Just make sure that whatever you do vote for ultimately is enforced, because the selective enforcement of a law is destructive to our system.

RAY SUAREZ: Democrats strongly disagree. California Zoe Lofgren said Gowdy’s approach is wrong in every way.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN, D-Calif.: It would turn millions of undocumented immigrants into criminals overnight. It would turn state and local enforcement officers around the country into immigration agents.

RAY SUAREZ: By contrast, the Senate immigration bill encompasses both enforcement and a path to citizenship for some 11 million people. But House Speaker John Boehner dismissed talk that he will let the House vote on that measure.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Any immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have majority of both parties’ support if we’re really serious about making that happen. And so, I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have the majority support of Republicans.

RAY SUAREZ: Hours later, the Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, said Boehner may yet have to change his stance.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: No matter what he has said, there is going to be significant national pressure on the House to do something on immigration. I’m only worried about what is going to happen here.

RAY SUAREZ: Reid has set July 4 as target for finishing the Senate bill, and more amendments were debated today.

They included a proposal from South Dakota Republican John Thune. He wanted to require 700 miles of double-layered fence be built along the Mexican border before letting anyone apply for permanent legal status.

SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.C.: It is important in my view, Mr. President, that we have a visible, tangible way in which we make it very clear that this is a deterrent to people coming to this country illegally.

RAY SUAREZ: Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and other Democrats objected, the fence plan is just another roadblock to granting citizenship.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt.: It can’t be rigged by some illusive precondition. We should treat people fairly, not have their fate determined by matters beyond their control.

RAY SUAREZ: Thune’s measure was ultimately defeated.

We’re speaking with lawmakers for a sense of the different perspectives shaping the legislation as it makes its way through the political process. The conversations begin with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Senator, thanks for joining me.

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: Glad to be with you.

RAY SUAREZ: Should an eventual immigration reform plan include a way for the millions of undocumented people currently living in the country to eventually become citizens?

RAND PAUL: I think there are two stages of what we need to decide.

For those who are here who are undocumented, should we give them a legal status? Should we document them, so they can pay taxes and live legally and come out of the shadows? To that, I say, yes. I think, also, though, as we allow that to occur, that should be dependent upon the border becoming more secure, so we don’t have the same problem again in 10 years.

So legalization is the first step. Now, what I would propose is, instead of creating a new pathway to citizenship, I would allow people who are here on work visas to also simultaneously stand in the same line that a person in Mexico City is in right now. So, if you’re in Mexico City, you want to come to our country and you want to be a citizen, there is a line.

I would let them stand in the same line. I just wouldn’t create a new line. This may sound like semantics, but it’s important to a lot of us that they not be given a privilege for breaking the law, but that they be given something that would be equivalent to someone new coming into the country.

RAY SUAREZ: If you uncouple legal residents from the path to citizenship — because, currently if you’re legally a resident in the United States, you can embark on the citizenship process.

RAND PAUL: Right.

RAY SUAREZ: Does that discourage people who are already in families there are of mixed status, that have citizens in them, people who have already committed to life in a community, work lives here from playing by the rules, as we now want to bring people in out of the shadows?

RAND PAUL: I think what would discourage them if we don’t have enough work visas.

So, I am for normalizing all of the people here. I would do it gradually over about a five-year period, but what I would say is, is that legalization is the most important step. And then citizenship is a privilege. And I think we can discuss how we do that down the road.

And it could be part of this bill, as far as I’m concerned. But to me, the big step is, the “Gang of Eight,” they say legalization, the documentation part cannot be dependent on border security. And I’m sort of the opposite. As a conservative, I want the government to verify that they really are going to do what they say, because I have my doubts about government’s efficiency or willpower to secure the border.

So, what I’m saying is, we have to secure the border. We can do it sort of simultaneous with documentation, but I don’t think we should document everyone and then hope that the government later will do the border security. I don’t think it will ever happen then.

RAY SUAREZ: So, give people an example of how that triggering mechanism would work. If you have set up this security and verification system that eventually works to the satisfaction of the Congress, then another part of the process would be triggered?

RAND PAUL: My bill or my amendment to this bill is called “Trust but Verify.”

And I would allow documentation to begin. And there’s about 11 million people here. So, the first year, you would probably document between a million and two million. That may be the capacity of the system anyway, because we have to do background checks on all the people, find out why they’re here or not here, and then try to normalize them.

So I would do a million or two, but then at the end of the year, I would vote and say, is the border more secure than it was a year ago? And the process would continue as long as Congress keeps voting that the border is becoming increasingly secure.

I would also have some parameters, like certain miles of fence have to be built each year. Entry-exit visas have to be developed. We can no longer let people come and leave the premises if they have been arrested coming in illegally. They should get a very quick trial and if they came in illegally, they should be sent back home. So, all of these efficiency items would be voted on each year as to whether occurring, but I would allow the documentation process to go ahead and start.

Citizenship, I would just simply change the law to say you can be here on a work visa, and you can get in the citizenship line at the same time.

RAY SUAREZ: It sounds like you’re taking the oversight and verification out of the Department of Homeland Security, where it might currently reside, and putting it with the Congress.

And that’s a Congress that these days can hardly agree that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It’s going to have a yearly approval process that’s going to work?

RAND PAUL: The approval process wouldn’t be over voting over individual items. You would be approving an overall report as to whether or not the items that were in the bill are being adhered to.

The reason we do this — and there’s not much trust on what we do in Washington, and with good reason sometimes. So much of legislation delegates the authority to bureaucrats to do this, and then it never gets done. So, for example, in Obamacare, there’s 1,800, 1900 references to the secretary of health shall decide at a later date.

Well, really, you elected your representatives to decide these things. We should write into the bill how we secure the bill and then we should be the judge and jury on whether or not it’s actually happening. So, I think it’s a great way to get Congress involved, because when you get Congress involved, you’re getting the people involved through their representation. It’s better than letting unelected bureaucrats do it, I think.

RAY SUAREZ: Senator, before we go, today, Speaker Boehner affirmed that he wouldn’t let a vote come up on his side of the building without a majority of the Republican Caucus prepared to vote for immigration reform.

What does that do to the fate of comprehensive reform for 2013?

RAND PAUL: I think that means the bill that will come up be a much stronger and better bill.

And I like that attitude, because what that does is, it gives leverage to conservatives like myself who want immigration reform, but want it to be done in a lawful manner that is fair to everybody. And so I think if he holds to that, which I hope he will hold to that, we get a stronger bill.

And this is coming from somebody who wants immigration reform. I think the system is horribly broken. If we do nothing, it’s a big mistake. So, I want to see immigration reform, but I want it to obey a rule of law with a secure border, with securing that the vote only goes to citizens, and that welfare only goes to citizens. If all these things are taken care of, I think both parties could get behind a bill like this.

RAY SUAREZ: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Thanks a lot for joining us, Senator.

RAND PAUL: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: And, late today, the Congressional Budget Office said the Senate immigration bill would cut deficits by $197 billion dollars over 10 years. And it estimated roughly eight of the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally would gain legal status.

Tomorrow, we will have a different take on the immigration debate from Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine.