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Politics & Government

Some House Republicans Optimistic About Passing Immigration Reform


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

House GOP leaders are saying this about the idea of overhauling immigration policy: Let's slow it down and take it step by step. Republicans held a closed door meeting yesterday. They emerged saying they do not want everything all rolled into one bill. That appeared to dim prospects for a comprehensive bill that passed the Senate last month.

Despite that, Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican John McCain, two key Senators who helped craft that Senate measure, expressed optimism this morning after a meeting with the president.

Here's Senator McCain.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I could have drawn you a scenario where the Republican conference, would have just said: We're not taking up the legislation - we're not having anything to do with it. That's not what they said. They said, we recognize the problem. We're ready to work with the Senate in coming up with a solution. And yes, it will be difficult.

CORNISH: Joining me to talk more about this is Florida Republican Representative Mario Diaz Balart. And Congressman Diaz Balart, are you as optimistic as Senator McCain that something might pass the House?

REPRESENTATIVE MARIO DIAZ BALART: I am. I'm actually optimistic that we're going to get a bill. You know, this is a very complicated process. And the issue itself is very complicated and very controversial. But ultimately, I think the important thing is that we get a bill that is a good bill; that we get a bill that fixes the broken immigration system, does it away that's enforceable and enforced. And I ultimately think we're going to get there.

CORNISH: And I believe you've been working with a bipartisan House group, trying to draft its own kind of comprehensive immigration bill. Did you win anybody over to your point of view of doing something in one big package?

BALART: You know, I - to me, the issue of doing it in one big package, or doing it in smaller bits and then, eventually, you know, getting it all together - whether it's passing it all together or not - is really a tactical decision. What I am concerned about is fixing what is evidently a broken immigration system. Getting there is going to be a slow process because I think what the House is going to insist, is to make sure that we get it right.

Why? Because we've been promised, for example, border security in the past and it was never delivered. In the past, we were promised that, it was never delivered. I think getting it right is the key. And when we get it right, I think we will pass a good immigration bill.

CORNISH: When you went back to your district in Miami, I mean, what are you hearing from constituents? And isn't it really going to be a lot different from what your colleagues are hearing who are from districts that are far less diverse?

BALART: Yes and no. Look, this is not Hispanic issue. This is not a minority issue. This is an issue of national security and this is an economic issue. It affects the entire country. We have millions of people who are here undocumented. Getting there and the details of getting there, I think there are a number of different ideas.

I think we'll get there. But again, I think this issue that, well, this is a, you know, an issue of a certain community is just not quite accurate. I think the American people demand that we fix this broken immigration system.

CORNISH: There are several Republican bills in the House, these kinds of step-by-step pieces on the immigration issue. None of them establish a way for these folks you are talking about - the 11 million undocumented - to earn citizenship. Is that a sign that you've got to take this off the table, or that it's off the table for the House Republicans?

BALART: It's interesting because I am, you know, citizenship is an issue that is up to interpretation. I'm not quite sure what...

CORNISH: Or, say, earning a Green Card in X-amount of years or something like that.

BALART: Right, what is true is that in the bills that so far have passed the Judiciary Committee, there is no bill that deals with in any way the folks who are here.

CORNISH: Right, so that's what I'm asking. I mean, is this discouraging to you as you're trying to work on something, on a comprehensive bipartisan package, that you don't see anything from your party that would work for the people who were here already?

BALART: No and I'll tell you why. Because this is a long process, and obviously I've been working with a group - a bipartisan group - to deal with that issue and other parts of the issue, as well. I'm assuming that there are going to be other proposals that deal with the people that are here.

CORNISH: Have you heard any yet?

BALART: I've heard of different conversations. I have - I know members that are - other members that are looking at coming up with proposals. Here is where I am optimistic. For the first time since I've been to Congress with - well, the second time 'cause clearly President George W. Bush tried to get this done. Other than that, when Republicans were in control and when the Democrats were in control, there has not been an effort to solve this issue. There's been a lot of...

CORNISH: Well, there has not been a successful effort.

BALART: No, there's been no effort, except for President W. Bush's efforts.

The reason I'm encouraged is because, for the first time, there are efforts. The Senate clearly has shown that they want to get it done. And there are efforts in the House - some that I agree with, some that I disagree with - to try to deal with this issue. That's very encouraging.

CORNISH: Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BALART: Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.