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Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte Weighs In On Proposed Immigration Legislation


Let's hear now from one of the central players in the immigration debate. He's the author of one of two immigration bills that Republican lawmakers say they will vote on this week. One is being tagged as the compromise bill trying to bring together conservatives and moderates. The other is more conservative. It is known as the Goodlatte Bill for the man who crafted it, Bob Goodlatte. He's a Virginia Republican, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. And he's on the line right now from Roanoke. Congressman Goodlatte, good to speak with you.

BOB GOODLATTE: Mary Louise, it's great to be with you and your listeners.

KELLY: Let me start with the uproar over family separation that we were just hearing about. Where does Congress stand on that? Is either of these bills that looks like it's going to be up for a vote in a position to resolve it?

GOODLATTE: Well, I think there's growing consensus that we should address this issue. It's very important that people coming to this country not try to enter the country illegally. And when they do that, the administration today is faced with limited choices. And so rather than release people into the interior of the country where they never come back for their hearings, they have chosen to detain people. And the current law does not - and court cases does not give them much flexibility with regard to keeping the children with the parents in those circumstances.

KELLY: And you said there's growing consensus that Congress should take this on. Is there specific progress along those lines with either of these GOP bills this week?

GOODLATTE: Yes. So I am deeply involved with both of these bills. But the second bill, the new bill, what I call the consensus bill, is expected - we're hard at work on language right now - to take care of this problem so that children can remain with their parents. There will be some exceptions. For example, if you are arrested for more than just the misdemeanor illegal entry in the United States - in other words, if they've committed other crimes, they're not going to be allowed to have their children with them. But if you're talking about just coming across the border, we are working hard to make sure that both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have the ability and the requirement to have the children with their parents.

KELLY: And so give me some more detail on what that might look like. Parents would still be detained under this zero-tolerance crackdown. Children would be detained along with them. So they wouldn't be separated, but the children would still be detained?

GOODLATTE: That's correct. Parents who want to have their children with them, and they're awaiting a trial on the violation of the law for entering the country illegally, we're going to work to make sure that that is possible.

KELLY: Can - may I ask a question or two about where you come down personally on this issue? President Trump says the law requires children to be separated from their parents. Do you buy that? Does the law require it?

GOODLATTE: I think the law does require that. A series of court cases and laws passed quite some time ago. Previous presidents, including President Obama, have resolved this by letting people into the interior of the country and giving them court dates to appear later. That's not working. They're not coming back for their hearings in many instances. Now we're trying to address it in a sensible way with legislation.

KELLY: But to this question of whether the law technically requires it, how do you respond to the growing number of voices from within your party? Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, who was just on CNN saying President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call - his words say, you know, if you don't like this happening, call DHS. Tell them to stop.

GOODLATTE: Well, the problem there is then that you can't detain those parents. And people - there is growing evidence that parents are actually bringing their children with them...

KELLY: But you're saying there is...

GOODLATTE: ...For this very purpose.

KELLY: ...There is that option of not detaining the parents the way this has been - the law has been interpreted in past.

GOODLATTE: The - well, the law hasn't been interpreted. The law has been not enforced in the past. And that's the problem. So when you're trying to send the message that you should not allow people to come into this country illegally, and that when they do so, they're going to be detained, you then have this ancillary problem of small children, who I think should be with their parents. So we're going to try to make this change in the law to allow the children to remain in detention with the parents.

KELLY: Let me drill down on these two bills that you and other GOP lawmakers are hoping to bring to a vote. You said you've got your hands on both of them. You're - you would like to see both come up for a vote. And you're actually pushing for the other one, not just yours.

GOODLATTE: Well, I am definitely pushing for the consensus bill because that is what has, in my opinion, the best chance of passing and getting 218 votes. We should focus on that.

KELLY: Why not just pull your bill or set it to the side for now in order to maximize the chances of the compromise bill going forward?

GOODLATTE: I would absolutely like to do that. I think we should focus on one bill, if for any reason that bill doesn't pass.

KELLY: So you're not pushing for your own bill.

GOODLATTE: I am - well, certainly if my bill's going to be on the floor, I'm going to be advocating for it. But I've said, you know, if you reach a deal, let's go and vote on that deal. We don't need to vote on both of these at the same time. But some of the members of our conference have insisted that they have the opportunity to vote on both bills. So that's what's happening.

KELLY: Republican congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. Congressman, thanks very much for your time.

GOODLATTE: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.