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House To Vote On 2 Immigration Bills


We're going to start today's program by looking ahead to an important vote expected this week in the U.S. House on immigration - something that's become one of this country's most polarizing issues. Actually, there could be two votes because there are two different bills, both drafted solely by Republicans, who, as you probably know, currently control both houses of Congress. One is sponsored by Congressman Bob Goodlatte. It's considered a hard-line measure that would cut legal immigration sharply and give only temporary status to the group known as DREAMers. Those are young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The other being circulated by the House leadership is being described as a compromise. It would give DREAMers greater legal protections and offer a slow route to a more permanent legal status, but it would also cut legal immigration and set aside billions to fund a border wall.

And this is all taking place against the backdrop of an issue that's captured much attention this week - the Trump administration's policy of separating children from parents seeking asylum at the southern border, part of their zero tolerance policy toward border crossers. We wanted to hear from someone who has been deeply involved in the immigration debate, so we've called Congressman Jeff Denham of California. He is a Republican. He is running for re-election in a competitive district, and it's a diverse district that has almost equal numbers of white and Latino voters, and he's on the line with us now.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. And, if, I may, Happy Father's Day to you.

JEFF DENHAM: (Laughter) Thank you. Thanks for having me back.

MARTIN: So let me ask since you're home in the district. Are you hearing from constituents about this policy to take children from their parents at the border? Are people saying anything to you? And what are you saying in response?

DENHAM: Yeah, certainly a lot of questions and concerns not only with the legislation that's coming out of Washington, D.C., but certainly the separation of families.

MARTIN: So what are people saying, and what are you saying in response?

DENHAM: I have started this discharge petition to bring this issue back up. And, on the Republican side, I think that we've got to do a better job of reaching across the aisle. There's nothing wrong with having a bipartisan bill, which is what you're going to need in the Senate anyways. But, secondly, from my Democratic colleagues, some of the rhetoric has been frustrating. You know, only three years ago, we had the Gang of Eight Bill that every single Democrat signed onto. It not only did away with the diversity lottery, but it had $42 billion for the border wall, and right now, the president's asking for 25 billion.

MARTIN: OK. I was asking you what your constituents were saying to you. Did you just not want to answer that question or that's...

DENHAM: Yeah...

MARTIN: That was my question.

DENHAM: Yeah, my constituents bring it up all the time. I'm home all the time, and they always bring it up. Yeah, immigration is the number one issue in my district. And, certainly, when you're talking about the legislation that we're working on right now and the discharge petition, this is an issue that has to be addressed by Congress. We need a new law to fix the situation.

MARTIN: So the president has suggested that he's using this policy of child separation as a bargaining chip to get Congress to approve his other demands. On Friday, he tweeted, the Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any immigration bill must have full funding for the wall, end catch and release, visa lottery and chain and go to merit-based immigration. Go for it - win in all caps.

Now, we have to say, this is not a law passed by Democrats that caused the administration to start taking children from their parents at the border. This is a consequence of a law enforcement strategy. I have to ask you, how does this...

DENHAM: It is...

MARTIN: ...Sit with you?

DENHAM: It is the issue of a court decision under the Obama administration in 2016 that created this scenario. And I do not support it. We need a legislative fix. Congress needs to do its job, which is how we're addressing it in this bill. We are fixing the issue to keep families together.

MARTIN: The president is scheduled to go to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and talk with you and other members of the Republican caucus about immigration. Does his presence help or hurt?

DENHAM: You know, I think that it's Congress's job to put something on the president's desk. But certainly, in these negotiations and as we put this bill together, it will help, I believe, hearing directly from the president, not only on current policies but really telling both Houses and both parties what he will sign.

MARTIN: So talk to me a little bit, if you would, about this compromise bill. Democrats say they don't like it. There are members of the Republican Freedom Caucus who say that they don't like it. There are critics who say that this is really just political cover for people like yourself who are facing re-election in districts that went for Hillary Clinton. Do you see that this is a realistic alternative and, if so, why?

DENHAM: Certainly, I think it's a realistic alternative. Anytime you have the far left and the far right complaining about something, it means you're probably getting pretty close to a real American solution. This does that. It provides a permanent fix for DREAMers. Not only does it give them the certainty to be able to work and live in our communities and go to school and sign up for the military, but it gives them a pathway to citizenship. It also gives a guarantee to the American public that we will secure our border.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, you are considered one of the more endangered Republicans in the midterms, if I could use that term respectfully.

DENHAM: (Laughter).

MARTIN: The president...

DENHAM: They say that every two years (laughter).

MARTIN: Well, your district is competitive. I mean, it has changed hands. It's one of those - it is one of those places where both parties have - feel that - you know, have had competitive races there. The president says that the strong economy and his rising approval ratings will protect the GOP majority. I am asking you to speculate, but if you don't get immigration done, is that going to be enough to get you over the finish line?

DENHAM: I think with a booming economy and tax cuts for the people in my district, those are both big issues. But the two biggest issues are always immigration and water storage. But, you know, a lot of critics are out there talking about the politics of immigration. I think it is a very difficult issue to tackle and certainly a very emotional issue as well.

MARTIN: Are you optimistic? Are you pessimistic?

DENHAM: I am very optimistic.

MARTIN: Where are you? Yeah.

DENHAM: Yeah. I still think it's a long shot. It's still going to be tough to not only get it out of the House but get the Senate to take it up and move it to the president's desk. But it's a fight worth fighting, and it's a fight worth winning. We've got to provide certainty for these DREAMers, and we've got to secure our borders.

MARTIN: That's Republican Jeff Denham. He represents California's 10th congressional district. Congressman, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DENHAM: You got it. Happy Father's Day. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.