GWEN IFILL: We return now to the topic of immigration reform and what’s next on Capitol Hill.
Ray Suarez has that.
RAY SUAREZ: As we heard earlier, House Speaker John Boehner says he prefers a step-by-step approach to the reform, rather than the comprehensive bill passed by the Senate, which includes a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
So what are the alternatives?
For more on the options being considered by the Republican-led House, we’re joined by South Carolina GOP Congressman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. He serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security within the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, welcome to the program.
You’re the sponsor of the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, or SAFE Act. What does it propose and how does it differ from the Senate version?
REP. TREY GOWDY, R-S.C.: Well, if you think of security in three different components, there’s border security, there’s E-Verify and then there’s internal security.
In other words, visa overstays or folks who may not have been detected at the border, the SAFE Act deals with the internal — internal security component of that. And I think the part — one of the parts that I’m proudest of is it gives state and local law enforcement, which, incidentally, have a role in all other forms of criminal justice enforcement, it gives them a role in enforcing our country’s immigration laws as well.
So it’s part of that tripod of security that we have to have before we get the other part of immigration reform.
RAY SUAREZ: By giving that kind of authority to state and local law enforcement, do you run up against the Supreme Court’s decision last year when looking over Arizona’s SB-1070?
REP. TREY GOWDY: You can if you don’t do it the right way.
Of course, what the Supreme Court said is when Congress intends to fully occupy a field, and they have a constitutional basis for fully occupying that field, then states and local tease can’t play in that field.
When Congress, however, evidences an intent or dual jurisdiction or to allow state and law enforcement entities to also have a role, there’s nothing constitutionally infirm about that. So this doesn’t disregard the Supreme Court decision. It just expresses Congress’ intent and goal to have partners with state and local law enforcement, like we do, frankly, in every other category of crime, whether it be narcotics trafficking or murder.
Look what happened in Boston. You had Boston city police officers working hand in glove with ATF and FBI. And if it’s good enough for terrorism cases and child pornography cases and narcotics cases, I think it ought to be good enough for immigration cases.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, your bill’s intent is certainly clear when it comes to knowing who’s in the country, when they got here and when they leave. Does it allow for a path to citizenship?
REP. TREY GOWDY: My bill doesn’t.
However — and I stressed to my friend Luis Gutierrez and Zoe Lofgren and others on the other side of the aisle — you made reference in the introduction a step-by-step approach. Necessarily, you have to start with a first step. I think, because there is so much distrust, at least in my district, of government, they’re going to be really reticent to want to discuss legalization and citizenship if we can’t guarantee them that this is going to be the last time we’re going to have this conversation.
So I think it’s important to start with security, whether that’s border security, internal security, employment security. Reasonable minds can differ, and some folks may want to start with legalization. But I can tell you, in my district, before I can convince folks to have a conversation about the 11 million, they want to have a conversation about the 300 million American citizens who are desirous of this being the last time we enter into the realm of immigration reform in their lifetime.
RAY SUAREZ: Before they took a vote, the Senate added a doubling of the size of the U.S. Border Patrol, significantly more money for electronic detection at the border and a significant lengthening of the fence.
Did that sweeten the pot enough to attract your attention and possibly your vote?
REP. TREY GOWDY: No, sir.
The Senate bill is not going to pass in the House. And I don’t know how to say that any more plainly than that. That’s not necessarily a criticism of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, who, by the way, are in the minority. But it’s not going to pass in the House. And keep in mind, of the 11 million undocumented immigrants, 40 percent didn’t cross any border, southern or northern. They were visa overstays.
So you can put 200 Border Patrol agents, and unless you deal with the internal security and the E-Verify, you are not going to solve the problem. So I’m fully in favor of anything that makes the border more secure for national security reasons and a host of others, but simply adding 20,000 Border Patrol agents without also adding prosecutors and probation officers and pretrial service officials is symbolic — and symbols are important.
That’s why I wear a wedding ring. They’re important, but it strikes me as being something of a political remedy, as opposed to a real remedy.
RAY SUAREZ: Today, House and Senate Democrats got together, returning to town from their recess, and they announced that they wouldn’t vote for any bill coming out of the House that didn’t include a path to citizenship.
Does that mean that this question is basically for the moment dead?
REP. TREY GOWDY: I don’t think so.
You know, I always smile when I hear, immediate citizenship for 11 million aspiring undocumented immigrants. Surely to goodness, no one, not even Chuck Schumer, thinks that all 11 million desire citizenship. Polls indicate that as many as 40 percent would prefer just to have a legal working status, as opposed to citizenship.
Surely to goodness Senator Schumer doesn’t think all 11 million can pass a background check. There’s not any group of 11 million in the United States, immigrant or otherwise, who can pass — who all can pass a background check.
So what I prefer to do is look at the 11 million in natural subgroups. You have what are called the DREAM children. I would think most people would advocate for an accelerated path to citizenship for children who, through no fault of their own, were brought here at an early age. I would have a shortened path to citizenship for those who serve in our armed services.
And then you can have a sliding scale based on your years in the country and contributions you made to society. Again, I don’t know anyone who would advocate that a person from Ecuador who has been here for 20 years and made serious contributions to our society should be on the same path to citizenship as someone from Ecuador who’s been here for 20 days.
So this notion that it’s 11 million all at once before you do anything else is so overtly political and so transparently political, surely to goodness Senator Schumer doesn’t really believe that. And if he does, then he’s right. There won’t be a bill.
RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, thanks for joining us.
REP. TREY GOWDY: Thank you. Appreciate it.
GWEN IFILL: We will get a different view on immigration reform when we speak with Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., later this week.