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Sen. Tim Kaine: Let’s Not Make Path to Citizenship Dependent on Border Security

June 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The Senate continues to work on a sweeping bill to overhaul the nation's immigration system, moving toward a final vote before the July 4 deadline. In a one-on-one conversation, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., talks with Ray Suarez about his immigration bill priorities and working with the House on comprehensive reform.
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RAY SUAREZ: We turn now to politics and the ongoing debate over a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people.

The Senate today continued work on a sweeping bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, moving toward a final vote before July 4.

We have another of our one-on-one discussions with lawmakers.

Last night, I spoke with Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky for his views of the legislation. He told us he would like to see more conservatives have a hand in shaping the measure, but he does favor a pathway to eventual legal residence and citizenship.

Tonight, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. I spoke with him a short time ago.

Sen. Kaine, welcome.

As debate continues over the gang of eight’s draft proposal and lots of amendments are being proposed, are there some bottom lines that you have going into this process, some things that you feel must be in a reform bill for you to vote for it?

SEN. TIM KAINE, D-Va.: Well, Ray, I think the bill does a very good job of balancing a lot of bottom lines: visa reform, path to citizenship, border security, family reunification, the status of a lot of Central Americans who are here under a TPS, temporary protective status.

But the thing that I think is most important is that, as we look at certain things like border security — and I’m open to amendments — we shouldn’t use those to delay the path to citizenship. That’s the thing that I’m very concerned about as we focus on the amendments that are being offered on the floor even as we speak.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what’s wrong with having it phased in, that path to citizenship?

Last night, Sen. Paul was on the program, and he said, “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.”

In other words, give them legal work visas to remain in the country while they pursue their goals of legal residence and citizenship on the same track as people who are doing it from outside the country.

TIM KAINE: Ray, because some of the proposals I have seen about phasing, for example, involve repeated returns to Congress to ask Congress to specify, OK, enough has now been done on border security. And I view that as a potential, just a delaying technique.

It’s hard to get stuff done in Congress. I think, instead, what we should do is make the commitments on the border security steps that we will take. We already spend $18 billion dollars a year on border security and the — and we have had great success in recent years in reducing the number of illegal border crossings.

This bill authorizes up to an additional $6.5 billion dollars a year for border security, along with other steps. And I think let’s go ahead and take those steps and take them now, but not make the citizenship path dependent upon future votes in Congress, as we know how filibuster and other rules can have a way of delaying action.

I think the moment is now for decision, and the bill represents a very good balance of the various interests.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, how should we handle oversight of border security? By many metrics, the border is a tighter, better-policed area than it had been in the past, but it’s a kind of subjective thing whether the border is absolutely safe and sound.

TIM KAINE: Yes, I mean, it is tough. So you can look at numbers of arrests.

And if you’re doing more arrests, does it tell you that you’re doing a better job or does it tell you that more people are trying to cross? There are some challenges. But I do think the pros who do this, the combination strategies of prosecution and new security techniques, along especially the commitment to greater investments — I’m not the border security professional myself, so the way that those additional dollars are best used to help secure the border, I want to leave that to key officials in the relevant agencies and have them come report to Congress how they’re using the moneys.

But if we provide them those resources, given the track that we have already seen where we’re reducing illegal border crossings, I think this bill gives them the tools they need to take that even further.

RAY SUAREZ: One thing Sen. Paul last night and many other Republicans in both chambers have talked about, when it comes to the future of immigration enforcement, is how to deal with the people who are here already.

TIM KAINE: Right.

RAY SUAREZ: And, as Sen. Paul said last night, they shouldn’t be given a privilege for breaking the law.

How do you respond to that?

TIM KAINE: Well, I agree.

And so, if this was a proposal that was just an amnesty proposal, I wouldn’t be in favor of it. But instead people who are here without documents who have broken the laws, they have to undergo a pretty rigorous 13-year path, with a whole series of requirements, from learning English, to having criminal background checks, to making sure that they’re paying taxes, to paying an additional fine because they have violated the law.

And I think that that list of consequences is as stiff as we have had in any piece of legislation before the Senate. It’s a longer path to citizenship than was in the bill that was considered and ultimately not adopted by the Senate in 2007.

So, I think the — I think it’s a fair point that someone who is here without documents shouldn’t be able to do that without consequence, but I think we have built consequences into this bill that are significant.

RAY SUAREZ: Your leader, Sen. Harry Reid, is pushing for a vote in the Senate by the Fourth of July, while in the House the majority backs a security-only bill.

Is there enough common ground for the two chambers to even talk to each other, to begin a conversation that ends with comprehensive reform of some kind in 2013?

TIM KAINE: Well, Ray, that’s a — that may be the big question.

My sense is this. And even hearing all that’s being said in the House, if we are able to pass legislation in the Senate with a significant vote margin — I hope that we’re going to get over 60, and, gosh, I would love it if we could get near 70 votes — if we can have a significant margin for comprehensive reform, then we send that bill to the House with a very strong message: This is not a Republican bill. It’s not a Democratic bill. It’s a bipartisan bill and an American bill.

And I think if we send that comprehensive package to the House with a strong vote margin, I think that will send a message and I think it will affect how the House acts and will create that space for common ground for comprehensive reform this year.

RAY SUAREZ: This week’s CBO scoring that demonstrates some potential economic benefits for reform, does that strengthen your hand?

TIM KAINE: It does. It’s been — it was interesting, Ray.

Most people wouldn’t understand this, but everybody waits around on the CBO scores because no one knows what they’re going to say. They are truly independent and, quite frankly, often very unpredictable. When that score came out yesterday suggesting that over the course of two decades, there would be potential savings of up to a trillion dollars, $200 billion-plus dollars in the first decade and then over $700 billion dollars in the second, that added a significant bit of data to the proponents and supporters of reform.

But it was in accord with what we were feeling. Throughout our history, waves of immigration of talented and dedicated people have been a great spur to the American economy. Just look at the CEOs of major technology companies that have been started in the company — in the country in the last 30, 40 years, and you see that immigrant spirit is still very much alive in helping grow the American economy.

RAY SUAREZ: Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, thanks for being with us.

TIM KAINE: You bet, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: My interview with Sen. Rand Paul is on our Immigration page. You can also watch my series of conversations explaining what’s inside the immigration legislation and review our in-depth coverage of the issue.