The president has told the House to forget about voting on immigration bills until after the fall elections, blaming Democrats for being uncooperative and blocking progress. But, Republicans are struggling to find common ground on the issue themselves. Senior Correspondent David Cruz spoke with Republican Congressman Leonard Lance.
Cruz: Congressman thanks for taking a few minutes with us. Yesterday, your Republican colleagues had an opportunity to pass two bills. One of them went down and the other was postponed. Tell me a little about what’s in this second bill that is still in play and what you support and what you don’t support in it.
Lance: David, I did not support the bill yesterday. It was defeated on the floor of the House. Forty-one Republicans voted against it and I was one of the Republicans to vote against it. It did not provide a pathway to citizenship for the so-called dreamers, and I believe there should be a path for that group. These are residents of our country who came here as infants or toddlers or as children with their parents and I think that they should be given the opportunity to gain citizenship. And, then there is a compromise bill that is still being written. It has further amendments and I hope that we’re able to vote on that bill next week and that bill does have a pathway to citizenship for dreamers.
Cruz: So, what else is in there? Does it commit the United States to paying for the construction of this border wall and what else is in there in terms of a policy either encouraging or restricting immigration?
Lance: It does contain funding for greater border security. I’m not sure that there would be a wall at every place at the border, but greater border security, it’s roughly $5 billion a year or so over the next five years. The point of discussion at the moment is regarding agricultural visas, which of course are very important for members in Congress in largely agricultural districts. My district in suburban New Jersey has some agriculture, but this is of particular importance to people in the agricultural middle west and the central valley in California for example. That is in discussion now, and we have not seen the final text on that aspect of the compromise bill.
Cruz: The issue of immigration is very emotional obviously, but it really is an economic issue. Is it not? I mean aside from all the other things that it affects, it really is an economic issue. You touched a little bit about some of the folks in your district, but in other areas around the country where immigrants are a huge part of the workforce.
Lance: That’s absolutely correct, David. And we welcome legal immigration in this country. It’s the lifeblood of this country moving forward. I am an opponent of separating children from their parents, and I think it was appropriate for the president to reverse himself on that issue. I am becoming the co-sponsor of a bill sponsored by a Democratic colleague of mine from the Philadelphia area, Congressman Boyle to make sure that children are returned to their parents as quickly as possible.
Cruz: Congressman, you touched on this operation of children from their families. These scenes of crying children almost literally being ripped away from their parents, just not a good look for this country.
Lance: I agree with that as well David. And, I think that children should be with their parents. I think that is essential in our society and this has been a challenge over several years. Secretary Johnson of Homeland Security in the Obama administration discussed it this week that certainly I don’t think any administration should try to separate children from their parents. And, I am very strong on that issue as I believe it’s true of a majority in the Congress of the United States.
Cruz: You mentioned the president. What has his role been in all of this? And by that I mean has it been constructive or not constructive, in terms of what signals he sent to Republicans on the immigration bills, and also the role that he played in reversing the policy on separation of families.
Lance: I was relieved that he reversed the policy on separation of children from their parents. I don’t think that should have been put in place at all. I attended the conference where the president spoke with Republicans here in the House of Representatives. He indicated he would sign into law the compromise bill. He has tweeted more recently that he thinks this should await the general election in November and I disagree with that. I think we should continue to work on this issue, and I hope to vote on a compromise bill next week. I would encourage Democratic colleagues to come to the table with their ideas and I extend a hand of friendship to Democrats in the House and I was very pleased to see that Senator Feinstein and Senator Cruz are working together on this issue in the Senate. And, as I understand it, their bill would say that we need to have many more immigration judges. That’s part of the challenge. There are about 350 immigration judges in this country, and we need to double that number and we need to do it as quickly as possible.