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Rep. Raul Labrador Discusses Immigration Proposal From House Freedom Caucus

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump's immigration plan faces resistance from some conservatives in Congress. Earlier today before the White House released details of their plan, I spoke with Republican Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho. He helped found the House Freedom Caucus. That's one of the most conservative groups in Congress. And he's co-author of an immigration bill he would like the House to take up. It would offer a three-year legal status for DREAMers. It could be renewed over and over but no explicit path to citizenship. I asked Congressman Labrador why he believes that's the way to go.

RAUL LABRADOR: What my bill does exactly as it gives them a three-year visa that can be renewed indefinitely. But it also allows them to participate in the existing pathway to citizenship. I just think it would be wrong for us to give them a special pathway to citizenship when there are millions and millions and millions of people that are waiting to do it the right way. So what I...

KELLY: So you don't rule out that they could eventually become U.S. citizens.

LABRADOR: No. If they get married to a U.S. citizen, if they get a job that requires a labor certification - if they can get in the back of the line of the existing pathway, they would be able to do that. But I think it's fundamentally unfair to give people that are here illegally a leg up over the people that are trying to do it the right way.

KELLY: On the other hand, this would leave these young people in limbo, not sure of their legal status. They would have to be renewing every three years with it expiring. Tell me why that's a good idea, a good plan.

LABRADOR: 'Cause that's the way our immigration system works. I was an immigration lawyer for 15 years.

KELLY: Yeah.

LABRADOR: We had people who came to the United States legally who applied for different visas like the H1 visa or the B visa or any of the other visas that are available to people. And they did it the right way. And they were in limbo. So why should we as Americans give people that enter the country illegally, even if it wasn't through any fault of their own - it was because of their parents - why should we give them an advantage over the people that are trying to follow the law? I think that's fundamentally unfair.

KELLY: These are people who didn't make a choice, though, who were brought here as children.

LABRADOR: It doesn't matter. Are we going to have a policy in the United States that if you come here as a child, you have a right to be in the United States? I think that would be the wrong policy for the United States to do.

KELLY: One more piece that I want to ask you about, and that is the wall. You have proposed spending more than the president's calling for. You've proposed something in the neighborhood of $30 billion. He called last night for 25 billion. What would this money buy? I mean, as you envision it, what does the wall need to be?

LABRADOR: Remember. When you're talking about either the 25 or 30 - whatever the amount is, and I think that is negotiable - you're not just talking about a wall. You're talking about everything that Homeland Security has - says they need to protect the border. So that includes new employees. That includes actual structures. That includes things that are not structures. We're not asking for a structure wall all the way across the border. There are areas...

KELLY: You are not.

LABRADOR: ...Where you're not going to be able - we're not. I mean, if you look at the bill, you're actually letting Homeland Security determine what the needs of each sector are. Our goal is to ensure that we don't have another group of DACA children 10 years from now, 20 years from now. If we don't do the things that are necessary to stop and prevent illegal immigration from happening again, then we're going to have this discussion again in 10 or 20 years. You're going to have another 700 to 2 million children that have come into the United States illegally.

And what we're trying to do is we're trying to close the loopholes that are in the law, the holes that are in the wall right now. That will prevent this from happening again. We're a welcoming nation, but you should be coming to the United States in the legal process.

KELLY: Your bill faces a battle to be passed in the House, and I won't be telling you anything you don't know if I share that there's extreme skepticism that it or anything close to it will pass in the Senate. What are Democrats and more moderate members of your party missing?

LABRADOR: They're missing exactly the dynamics of the House of Representatives. In the House, we are willing to look at the DACA population. And think about this. When they say that Republicans haven't moved - I have people that are co-sponsors of my bill that a year ago were saying that they would never vote for any type of legalization of any person that's here undocumented. And now they're co-sponsoring my bill that is actually giving legal status to people that are here without documentation. Those people have moved quite a bit. The president has moved in some ways quite a bit.

But what we have is Democrats still taking the same position that they were taking eight years ago, that they were taking six years ago, that they were taking four years ago. And they're saying that they're not willing to negotiate. That to me is preposterous.

KELLY: Congressman, thank you.

LABRADOR: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Republican Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.