Diaz-Balart on Immigration: ‘Why Are We Here?’

Photograph by Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg

Tijuana, Mexico, beyond the U.S.-Mexico border fence in San Diego, California.

It is “absolutely” possible to get immigration reforms enacted this year, one of the key negotiators in the House says.

Yet this will require that an “airtight” border security measure be part of that — together with a path to citizenship for the undocumented already in the U.S. that follows current law and doesn’t violate the rights of anyone legally pursuing citizenship.

“Those are the two things that have to happen,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, said at a BGov breakfast in Washington today.

Before anyone can get to any other issues — such as expanding visas for guest workers — he says there must be guaranteed “border and internal security” and a provision for those 11 million already in the U.S. to enter the “current pathway to citizenship” after making amends for violating the law, not some new pathway as the Senate has approved.

Diaz-Balart, one of several members of a bipartisan group in the House negotiating an immigration plan behind the scenes for years — before President Barack Obama entered the White House — says he believes the House’s Republican leadership is sincere in offering a set of principles for legislation as it did at its party conference last week.

“I think the leadership genuinely wanted to flush out the issue,” Diaz-Balart said, “and they have.”

The central issue between the House and Senate, however, is that question of citizenship for the undocumented, with a new pathway provided in the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate last year.

“We’re not going to conference on the Senate bill,” the congressman said. “The Senate put out their marker… It’s a marker.”

The House is proceeding “step by step” on measures for which leaders can win a majority-plus-one support of the Republican caucus while bringing along enough Democrats as well.
“That has been elusive,” he admits.

Diaz-Balart says he has been frustrated with both the Republican and Democratic leadership in a debate which has provided more “rhetoric” than solutions. He questions the White House’s sincerity in acting.

Asked about coordination with the Senate on the work underway in the House now, he said, “This is not being done in a vacuum.”

Colleagues within his party don’t trust the Obama administration to enforce any border security measures, he said, which means that whatever is passed must be inviolable.  “The issue of enforcement, I think we can deal with legislatively,” he said, “if you can draft legislation that’s airtight.”

Another question he faces within his own party is, why act now? Why take focus off the president’s health care law?

“Why are we here?” Diaz-Balart asks in response. “This is not going way… It’s an important issue… Yeah, we could wait for the more convenient political time, but that’s not why we were sent here.”

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