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Diaz-Balart Sees Chance for House Immigration Bill (Transcript)

Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican advocate for revising U.S. immigration laws, said in an interview with Bloomberg’s Hans Nichols, airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” that a comprehensive proposal can overcome opposition from his party and pass the House.

(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

HANS NICHOLS: Welcome back. I’m now joined by Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart from Florida. Congressman, thanks for joining us here in the Bloomberg offices.

Speaker Boehner put down a bit of a marker, the majority of the majority rule. Is that essentially the pre-obituary for immigration reform in the House?

MARIO DIAZ-BALART: No, absolutely not. Something this complex, this controversial has to be done, in my opinion, in a bipartisan way, which means I think you have to get the majority of the Republicans, you have to get hopefully the majority of the minority, of the Democrats. This is too complex, too difficult, too controversial to try to believe that we can ram it down anybody’s throat. You know, we’ve been there before with our previous bills -

NICHOLS: With 2006.

DIAZ-BALART: - and with Democrats - with the Democrats controlling. That’s just not the way to do this.

NICHOLS: OK. So give us a status update of the Gang of Seven. Where are you?

DIAZ-BALART: We’re working. I think we - I mean, we’ve -the bill has already been sent to drafting to leg counsel, legislative counsel. It’s back. Now we have to go through line by line, you know, comma, period. We’re doing that. And it’s a long, arduous, difficult process.

NICHOLS: Well, how long - how long is it going to be? How - I mean, what’s your timeline on this?

DIAZ-BALART: We’ve never had a real deadline. Our deadline - our - our -

NICHOLS: Deadlines can be forcing. They can help.

DIAZ-BALART: They can. But - but here’s the good news. We finalized it. It’s already now been drafted. We’ve just got to make sure that all the agreements that we made are reflected exactly as we agreed to them in the drafting. And so - and it just takes time. It just takes time.

NICHOLS: So total agreement, there’s nothing left in parentheses that you still have to work out?

DIAZ-BALART: Yeah, we don’t think so. We don’t think so. Now, again, once we might find things in the draft that all of a sudden we disagree with, but so far, everything’s going well.

NICHOLS: OK, give us some details of what’s in the draft. I know you can’t get too far out there, but - but show us what you can.

DIAZ-BALART: Here’s - look, this is what - what’s - what are we trying to fix? What’s the problem? The problem is that we have an immigration system that doesn’t work. You know, we don’t control who comes in, who leaves. It doesn’t work for our economy. We don’t have a visa system that works. You can’t, frankly, come to the United States legally to - to work, not to mention live. It’s almost impossible, which is an incentive for illegal immigration.

Whether it’s high-tech visas, whether it’s low-skilled visas, whether it’s - you name it, it’s not working. And clearly, we don’t control our borders. How do I know that? Because we have 10 million or 11 million people who are here undocumented. Today it’s 10 million or 11 million. Tomorrow it may be 30 million. We don’t control that.

So that’s the problem that we recognize is there. To fix it, I think we need to do so in a way that is enforceable, that we finally control the borders, not in a wink-and-nod way, but that the borders are truly enforced and - enforceable and enforced, No. 2, that we do not violate the rule of law. No. 3 is that it helps the economy. Not neutral, it has to help the economy.

And then we have to deal with the reality, whether we like it or not, that there are millions of people who are here, we have to figure out a way to come out of the shadows. Those that have committed crimes have to be dealt with in one way: zero tolerance. They’ve got to be out of here. And then give those who have been here for many, many years, who have been working, a way to earn their way into legalization.

NICHOLS: But this is the big sticking point, the pathway to citizenship. Can that element get a majority of support in the current Republican House conference?

DIAZ-BALART: I think it’s important to have a process that - that - here’s -

NICHOLS: But the problem - having a process isn’t a yes or no.

DIAZ-BALART: Well, I know that. But here’s - because here are the policy implications. On the one side, I think it would be horrible for our country to have a group of people who are here permanently and those who really - you know, those that want to put their hands on their heart and pledge alliance to our flag and everything that it stands for, do we really want a group of people, maybe millions of them who are here permanently and who are always in the shadows, and you can never do that. I don’t think so.

Now, how do you reconcile that with making sure that we’ll not violate the rule of law and the rights of folks who have done things legally? Is it impossible to do? No, I think - I think we’ve done it in our group. I think in our group, in a bipartisan way, we’ve come up with a way that solves that issue.

NICHOLS: It’s bipartisan, but you did lose a member, and that’s sort of emblematic of some of the problems you’ll be having when you try to get a majority of a majority. You just gave - given an argument. How do you convince your fellow Republicans that this is the right thing to do, a pathway to citizenship?

DIAZ-BALART: It is our challenge to make sure that - to be able to show the country, by the way, you know, Republicans, Democrats, the country, that - that we have a real solution to what is evidently a broken system. It has to be enforceable. It has to be real. The people have to feel and understand that it’s real. It can’t be a wink and a nod.

If we do that, I think - it’s our challenge to do that. And if we’re able to do that, I think we’re going to get the majority of Republicans and the majority of Democrats.

NICHOLS: Handicap it for me. Just give me some odds.

DIAZ-BALART: It’s a very difficult battle. It’s an uphill battle. But I’m optimistic.

NICHOLS: Optimistic, but - I mean, what’s the cause for optimism, I guess? When you see - when you look at the number of no votes in the Senate -

DIAZ-BALART: Yeah.

NICHOLS: - you look at some of the language, that the border security isn’t quite real, the House is always going to be a tougher push.

DIAZ-BALART: The House was always going to be a tougher place, more people, you know, more diverse. But here’s the reality. You know, I’ve been in this for a long time. I’ve been working with members from both parties, our colleagues in the House. The vast majority of House members from either party want to fix it. They understand it’s a broken immigration system. It’s our challenge to be able to present something, an alternative, that does it in a way that they feel comfortable. That’s our challenge; I think we can get there.

NICHOLS: And the big difference between now and 2006, when we had a similar dynamic pass in the Senate, fails in the House, the changes?

DIAZ-BALART: Look, between 2006 and now, the system is still broken. We have millions of people here who are still undocumented. We don’t control the borders. That’s hurting our economy. So -

NICHOLS: It’s hurting your party.

DIAZ-BALART: It’s hurting our party, but it’s hurting the country, which is even more important, even though hurting the party I think is important. But it’s hurting the country.

So I think, again, what is pretty evident is that doing nothing doesn’t solve it. Those who are concerned about amnesty, doing nothing is amnesty. Doing nothing doesn’t fix it. Stopping - or securing the borders, we have to pass legislation to do that. Do we have a proposal that I think people will feel comfortable with, the majority of people will feel comfortable with? I hope so. I think so. That’s why we spent so much time and so much effort. But doing nothing is the one option which I think most people recognize doesn’t work.

NICHOLS: When will we know that this is going to - that this may or may not pass? What’s - what’s - what’s -in September, October?

DIAZ-BALART: You’re going to see ups and downs. You’re going to see ugly things. You’re going to see things that we don’t like. Ultimately, however, I’m optimistic that the vast majority of the members in the House and the Senate, and the country, more importantly, recognize that we have a system that doesn’t work and ultimately, when push comes to shove, I think - in order to pass legislation, I think there’d have to be something similar to what we’ve been working on. Ultimately, I think what will prevail is the desire to fix a system that everybody recognizes is broken.

NICHOLS: Congressman, I’m going to take your qualified optimism without a timeline. Thank you for your time.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***

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