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Rep. Raúl Grijalva: Strict Focus on Secure Border Fences Is ‘Naive Thinking’

July 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Unwilling to consider the Senate's comprehensive approach to immigration, House Republicans are instead working on four options that stress security and enforcement. Ray Suarez talks to Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., who advocates the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship along as part of a complex and lasting solution.
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RAY SUAREZ: And we continue our look at immigration reform, as GOP leaders repeated for a second day that there’s no clear consensus on a path forward for comprehensive legislation.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: We got a broken system that needs to be fixed.

RAY SUAREZ: House Speaker John Boehner insisted today the vast majority of House Republicans do want immigration reform, but on their terms.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Through all the conversations that have occurred from — with my own members, with Democrat members, it’s clear that dealing with this in bite-sized chunks that members can digest and the American people can digest is the smartest way to go.

RAY SUAREZ: In other words, the House will not take up the comprehensive bill that passed the Senate or anything like it.

That bill includes a path to citizenship for some 11 million people already in the country illegally. Democrats insist on including that step. House Republicans have focused instead on border security, but they’re under growing pressure to relent on the citizenship question, and after a two-hour meeting yesterday, they displayed a conference divided.

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REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-Calif.: There are three categories that those 11 million people go into, people that we all agree should remain here, people that we all agree should be removed, criminal aliens, people who have committed crimes and so on, and then people who may be in between.

REP. STEVE KING, R-Iowa: I made the point that anything that is legalization ends up in citizenship. And if that’s the case, I’m opposed to it, because it destroys the rule of law. You could never reestablish the rule of law in this country, at least with regard to immigration, again.

RAY SUAREZ: This morning, the lead authors of the Senate bill, Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican John McCain, talked hopefully, after meeting with President Obama at the White House.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Once you say doing nothing is not an option, you have to move in a direction to be bipartisan. And once you’re bipartisan, you’re going to get some progress that can get something done. So, again, it’s not going to be the same exact thing as we believe, but, at the end of the day, hopefully, it will be close enough that we can come to an agreement.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: We are in no way bigfooting the members of the House of Representatives. We’d like to see legislation along the lines of ours, but we can work with them on different pieces of legislation. We want legislation that we can go to conference on, that we can get a majority vote in both houses.

RAY SUAREZ: House Republicans will now consider four separate bills, with a concentration on border security and enforcement of existing laws. None offers the possibility of citizenship.

But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned today of the consequences of not acting quickly.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: I think delay can create problems, but I’m ever optimistic. So I believe that we will have immigration reform for the simple reason that the American people want us to have it, and that, if it doesn’t happen in this year, it’s unlikely that it’s going to happen in an election year.

RAY SUAREZ: Republicans have talked of voting on immigration before the month-long recess that begins in early August. But Boehner seemed to leave some wiggle room today.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: I’m much more concerned about doing it right than I am of meeting some deadline.

RAY SUAREZ: If action on immigration slides to the fall, fiscal battles over the federal budget and debt ceiling could sideline the issue indefinitely.

And to the next in our immigration conversations.

Earlier this week, we talked with House Republicans Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Raul Labrador of Idaho, along with Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez.

Tonight, another Democrat, Arizona’s Raul Grijalva. He is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and serves as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I spoke with him yesterday.

Congressman Grijalva, welcome to the program.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA, D-Ariz.: Thank you, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: A lot of attention is being paid to whether Republicans will go for the Senate bill in the House, but I thought, since you’re co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, we should ask you whether Democrats in the House are happy with the changes that were made to the bill to get it through the Senate?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Well, I think a great deal of discomfort, some outright opposition to the surge, the Corker amendment that added $30 billion-plus, doubled everything that was already in the bill.

And, for many, for environmentalists and people that care about those public land laws, clean water, clean air, the waiving of all those laws along the border and public lands, people have difficulty with that. The issue of just militarizing the border to an extent that it becomes almost a combat zone will change the texture and the life in that community forever.

I think it’s excessive. I think it’s overkill. I think we need to define what security is. And I think it includes much more components than boots on the ground and drones and helicopters and sensors and towers and fences. It includes much more.

But the definition is very narrow. We will make an effort to try to expand that definition, but the bottom line, Ray, has been that a lot of the swallowing and bitterness of some of these additions by the Senate and even some of the components that were in the Senate bill before Corker were being swallowed because of the importance of a path to citizenship.

RAY SUAREZ: So, you call it a bitter pill to swallow. Does it still have your vote as written if it came to the House floor?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: If it came to the House floor and there were — at this point, I have a great deal of discomfort with it.

I feel that I have — I have been reluctant to state what I would do in that situation, so that we wouldn’t marginalize the opportunity to try to improve it.

But a lot will depend on what the Republicans do here. If we start to redefine the path, then the only sole reason for any compromise or swallowing any of this has been the millions of people that we would add comfort and protection to. If that starts to leave, then, quite frankly, there’s no compromise.

RAY SUAREZ: Is the path to citizenship, some path to citizenship, a necessary precondition for this bill or a version of it to get your vote?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: My vote and I think a great number of Democrats.

The sentiment I’m giving you, Ray, about we don’t like this part, we don’t like that part is pretty prevalent, but the golden opportunity to do something about these families — and I represent 350 miles of border communities, Nogales, San Luis, Somerton, all those communities, and constantly every day dealing with those families, the deportations, the split families, children left in foster care because their parents are gone.

I mean, the human toll sometimes makes you makes you believe that that has to be the ultimate goal. And if that path isn’t there, then what are we settling for?

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier in the week, Congressman Trey Gowdy, your Republican colleague from South Carolina, was on this program.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Right.

RAY SUAREZ: And he said the path to citizenship is not as important to him as securing the border right now, because unless you secure the border, you end up back in the same problem we’re in now, with newly legalized residents and more people coming over the border trying to achieve that status.

How do you reply to that?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: I think that within the Senate bill, there’s E-Verify that’s going to make a demand of employers that people must have the proper documentation. Otherwise, the penalties on those employers that hire unauthorized people is going to be huge.

Beyond that, you know, people are coming out of the shadows, declaring themselves, starting that process, family unification, much — 40 percent of the people that are right now in this country overstayed their work visas or overstayed their visas.

And as you seal this border and as you try to feel that the only way you can provide immigration reform is by zero-tolerance, secure border fences, double links, Border Patrol agents shoulder to shoulder, that’s naive thinking. That’s not the reality of the border.

And the reality of the economy of this nation and this world, the effect of poverty, there’s root causes here. And merely building the fences, symbolism, it’s pandering and good political rhetoric, but it is not going to fix or accommodate the issue that we’re dealing with here, which is the people that are here already and what do you do about them? He doesn’t answer that question.

And his idea of — his idea of keeping people here with a provisional legal status is something that’s so un-American, to have a second class of workers and people in this country with no access to citizenship and, more importantly, with a different set of rights and protections than the rest of us have.

I don’t think that’s American. I don’t think — we have never been about that. And I think he misses the point on that value. But securing the border, from somebody from a state that doesn’t have to deal with it on a daily basis, it’s not just overreach. I think it’s oversimplification.

RAY SUAREZ: So very, very quickly, before we go, Congressman, is there a compromise floating out there that will leave people like Congressman Gowdy satisfied about the border and its security and leave the members of your Progressive Caucus satisfied that you have done well by the people who are here struggling, trying to get legal status?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Yes, I think a path has to be integral, redefining what you mean by security, so that we make it comprehensive, so that the issues that the gentleman from South Carolina is concerned about, we use — part of security has to be economic development.

Six million jobs in this country depend on direct trade import and export from Mexico, in the country. And so this is about jobs. This is about a vitality that we need in the borderlands in terms of an economy. We need to redefine that.

I think that’s the compromise, that you expand the definition of security from the simpleton stuff that we’re talking about right now, fences and boots, to the more complex and lasting solutions, which is the economic development, good ports of entries, increased trade, increased visitorship.

It’s a win-win for everybody. And if there was an opportunity to sit down and have a rational discussion without posturing, I think that’s a potentially good compromise.

RAY SUAREZ: Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona, thanks for joining us, sir.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Thank you, Ray. Appreciate it.