Transcript: Live chat with Raúl Grijalva on immigration reform - Arizona Daily Star

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Transcript: Live chat with Raúl Grijalva on immigration reform

As Congress gets ready to return to Washington after the August recess, immigration reform will be a topic of contention. Democrat Raúl Grijalva, U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 3rd congressional district, answered questions about possible legislation.

  • Feel free to post questions early. They will not appear until Congressman Grijalva is prepared to answer them during the chat beginning at noon Thursday, Aug. 29.
  • Are you willing to support a provision which would prevent undocumented immigrants that have committed crimes OTHER than minor traffic violations and immigration infractions from benefitting from immigration reform? Please explain.
  • The provision you refer to already exists in the Senate bill and in discussion and text of any other legislation that is being discussed. Individuals with a criminal record, deportation orders based on a criminal act are ineligible under the law for any of the legalization provisions that are in the Senate bill or any other bill. Primarily dealing with felonies and high misdemeanors as the criteria for non-participation.
  • How is this bill good for Americans when unemployment/underemployment is still rampant and this will only increase competition for what few jobs remain?
  • Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office, both non-partisan functions in the U.S. Congress, have concluded that the process outlined in the Senate bill to provide a pathway to legalization for potentially 11 million people would result in deficit reduction, increase consumer spending and help the overall economy, not increasing unemployment or depressing wages. Wages get depressed in this country because without immigration reform people without any protections work for wages that are below minimum wage or below prevailing wage, that brings down the wages of all Americans. This bill will maintain wage standards and not increase unemployment.
  • Congressman, in an age of financial recession, high unemployment and uncertainty about the future, why can't our elected officials simply adopy a policy of "America and Americans first"? It is a noble goal to aid those abroad who are in need, but it should be an individual choice, not the law of the land to let the unskilled, uneducated masses flood our health care system, schools and welfare rolls. If Americans wish to donate through charity or a church, let them. But please do not pass legislation to put this undeniable and massive burden on unwilling Americans.
  • The persistent 7 to 8 percent unemployment in this country for the last six years is a consequence of bad fiscal policies enacted by Congress and administrations, the shipping of jobs overseas, our regressive tax structure. The demand for labor in areas like construction, agriculture and low-skilled positions continues to be huge. On the issue of burden, as you should know, current federal law prohibits any undocumented person from receiving any public benefit, welfare, food stamps, health care and as such to say that the burden is entirely caused by undocumented people in this country is way off mark. The welfare rolls in this country are filled with American citizens who are having a difficult time and those rolls have increased because of the economy and no other factor. There was a study done that found 97 percent of those who received public benefits, I think in California, were U.S. citizens or legal residents, the rest that broke the law was the other 3 percent . Then, with regard to children and students, federal law and judicial precedent have affirmed that no child can be denied access to school. I would think that all of us could agree to that.
  • What do you think is the biggest hurdle to passing comprehensive immigration reform?
  • The mythology and extreme rhetoric around this issue. As we have noticed from my previous responses to questions has been politically convenient to blame all economic and social ills of this country on undocumented or immigrants and doing so, talking about comprehensive immigration reform or trying to reach a compromise on the issue requires that we get past the mythology first and that's the most difficult hurdle because political careers have been built on scapegoating immigration reform and not solving the problem. The other hurdle is the inability of the leadership in the House of Representatives, the Republican majority, to allow the House to work its will and to deal with the question of immigration reform. As long as you have the majority of the majority philosophy and as long as this leadership bends to the will of the Tea Party faction and their caucus progress will be slow and difficult. We should be held accountable for the votes we take and not for the votes we don't take.
  • Arizona Sen. John McCain famous said we should "Build the dang wall." Is it realistic - or even possible - to wall the entire U.S.-Mexico border?
  • Will there ever be serious talks about naturalizing the millions of undocumented either with amnesty or any other type of legalization?
  • The adults in Congress are having those serious discussions. The issue of amnesty is not part of the discussion but a path to legalization is in the Senate bill and at this point that is the basis of the discussions and the basis of the debate. But yes, those discussions are ongoing and hopefully somewhere in October, November or December the House of Representatives will join the other adults and confront and make some decisions about immigration reform.
  • Congressman, why do we not see a greater effort from Congress on taking adverse actions against those who employ undocumented workers and why is E-Verify not manditory?
  • In the Senate bill S.744 E-verify is mandatory for employment.
  • I used to ride my bike by your office all the time. How are the flowers doing? What are your plans in the next six months to tackle immigration reform impact on Tucson.
  • The flowers are probably doing better than I am. The next six months, but in reality less than six months, if the House of Representatives has not made a serious effort to move legislation about comprehensive immigration reform by December, I fear we are going to lose the opportunity.
  • Isn't it necessary to reform immigration because of the great number of baby boomers who will be retiring, starting this year. Don't we actually have to start enticing people to come to the United States in order to avoid drastic under employment?
  • Is interesting to note that a big part of the Social Security trust fund surplus is a direct result of undocumented workers contributing to the system and not being able to claim the contribution. But beyond that, as our population ages and the demand of Social Security increases, we have less people contributing to the trust fund yearly. An infusion of young workers is not only needed for the sake of Social Security but it's a workforce necessity. The enticement should be about good paying jobs and comprehensive immigration reform will legitimize and legalize a workforce that is working among us, living among us, paying taxes among us and all that now becomes legitimate support for not just Social Security but the economy.
  • Who or which committee within the U.S. government sets the number of immigrants capable of obtaining citizenship within the application process? And what parameters are used to derive this final number of applications?
  • Immigration policy set by Congress is the jurisdiction of the judiciary committee in both the House and the Senate. In terms of setting limits in the number of citizenship applications there's not such cap. If you are a permanent legal resident is entitled to apply for citizenship after five years of being a legal resident and meeting the requirements of citizenship, language, history, passing the test, then that person then is eligible and that includes at this point an $800 plus application fee but there's no cap on the number of citizens once they reach that 5-year threshold. All limits if any are set by the judiciary committees in the House and Senate on the number of immigrants.
  • Why do we need to reform the immigration system?
  • What's needed at this point is political courage and not grandstanding. What is also needed now if for the United States Congress to put the country first and make a decision about the future of this nation, about how we are going to keep this nation together, how we are going to keep the social fabric of this country together and how we are going to improve the economy. The decision on supporting comprehensive immigration reform no doubt has political risks, so it's easy to avoid it for politicians and sometimes easier to condemn it for some politicians. But doing nothing is not putting the future of this nation first.
  • are all american borders treated the same?
  • It's pretty obvious they are not. In the southern border with 20,000 Border Patrol agents, with $19 billion having been spent yearly on enforcement activities, technology and personnel, represents approximately 80 percent of the funding for Border Patrol and enforcement for the whole nation. So in terms of resources, in terms of attention, no.
  • Increasing border patrol hasn't been the answer to ending illegal immigration. The current laws have never been enforced and our current president is not interested in finding a solution either. The current Senate bill is NO
  • In any comprehensive immigration reform, security has to be a component of the reform package, but I believe that before we pour another 20,000 Border Patrol agents on the border, before we spend another $35 billion, that for the sake of security and accountability that we analyze how the money has been used, has it been effective and are there strategies that could be better deterrence to unauthorized and illegal activities along the border. For instance, organized criminal organizations that rely on drug running, people smuggling, arms smuggling are the biggest threat to security on the border in terms of their capacity for violence. I believe any new strategy on the border mus focus on that preeminent threat and in that way make the border more secure and safer. But at this point we seem to be more concerned about catching the potential dishwasher or farm worker than we are about the organized criminals. Comprehensive immigration reform would verify the worker as being legally eligible to work, would let us know who is in the country and would eliminate those that don't qualify as a consequence of criminal activity or criminal record. This part of the bill does more for security than any triple-layer fence would ever do.
  • With water shortages in the Southwest and even the Southeast, and with population increase of 60 million in just the last 40 years, why is Congress always set on pursuing a high immigration policy that will lead to a population of half a billion by mid-century? What quality of life will remain for our children and grandchildren in an overpopulated U.S.?
  • You are correct. Water in the Southwest, in the desert is a finite resource, it's not eternal but we treat water allocation and water use as if there's no end to it. Population is a factor in water use but I would suggest that attention should be paid to water users such as developments that don't have enough water to sustain the homes or industries they are putting up, extraction activities such as a mine that would use more water for that activity than the consumption of entire communities in terms of drinking water. Water use is critical, life, human and wildlife, are not the principle reasons for the depletion of our water resources, it is activities that require high usage above and beyond any human consumption.
  • Many observers say the U.S. won't have another Republican president unless the party gains support of Hispanic voters. Because of that, did you expect more GOP support of immigration reform?
  • I think it's important to note that Hispanic voters don't vote as a bloc, we have different philosophies, we have different political opinions, different opinions on issues and like any voter, any elected official has to convince them to vote for him or she and not a assume. Having said that, the Republican party seems to be going out of its way to permanently alienate and cut off any opportunity to make inroads into the Latino community in the future with its position on immigration. Because if there's a general agreement among the Latino community, there's a strong agreement on immigration reform. Recently the Republican national committee passed a resolution sponsored by one of the more enlightened members of the Tucson community which effectively made it a policy that they were opposed to pathway to legalization and family unification. With that national position, coupled with the comments from Rep. Steve King, thinking voters who happen to be Hispanic will come down with one conclusion: this party doesn't want us and this party doesn't support us and the demography of this nation is changing and will continue to change regardless. The Republican party has put itself in a political corner and you see Republican leaders who know this such as John McCain, national leaders in both policy and politics of the Republican party, urging the House of Representatives to do something about immigration reform because the demography of the nation is going to effectively keep the Republican party out of the presidential office for at least a generation. With gerrymandering the House of Representatives will have a strong Republican presence for the next 8 years but with the new census and redistricting that will change too. The Republican party has an opportunity to meet half way on immigration reform, help solve a problem as opposed to being seen as the principle obstacle to any progress on the issue of immigration reform.
  • Given the clear evidence that individuals who have entered the USA without proper authorization or overstayed VISA's have broken at least ONE federal law, why should the citizens and legal residents trust those same individuals to abide by all our other laws?
  • Given the fact that the law we are speaking of requires a civil penalty that civil penalty should be paid. We are not talking about criminal mayhem, we are talking about a civil violation much like a traffic citation. When we get those we pay up, the Senate bill requires them to pay a fee.
  • Like you as a citizen, my trust is based on the fact that even if you generalize about undocumented people and workers in this country they work hard, try to take care of their families, try to get united with their families which to me is no different from what I try to do or you try to do. The law as it is presently in the Senate requires the most rigorous and difficult process to end up with the right to legalize. It requires to pay a fine, deal with back taxes, do a background check and then having gone through that the requirement before you get full legalization, which is citizenship at the end of the day, be functional in English, know about American history, its laws, it's constitution and no serious violations of the law. So if natural trust is not your ticket, certainly the process in the law in the Senate should give you some comfort.
  • I'm an American, I'm an unemployed construction worker and in this area work on construction sites is dominated undocumented workers and even Mexican Visa holders that cross the border everyday to work here. How is Immigration Reform good for me or my family?
  • Because at the job site under the law in the Senate presently you would know that the person working next to you has the legal right to be working there. The issues of prevailing wage, wage scales would be protected and you could not have workers without protections at working at the whim of the construction company making less than you and driving wages down. The fall in the construction industry was a consequence of the housing bubble bursting as construction starts to come back, and it is, comprehensive immigration reform guarantees all workers that their work is legal and protected and that wages cannot be depressed by exploiting other workers at less pay, I think that's a benefit in the long run.
  • Many of the 9/11 terrorists were visa overstays and the Boston Bombers took advantage of our legal immigration system and then turned against us. Do you believe that Immigration Reform has the potential to make America less safe?
  • 9/11 terrorists came through Canada, just as a reminder. The Boston bombers were residents of the area had gone through the current immigration process. I would suggest to you that not having immigration reform with the checks and balances that will be part of it is potentially more risky than passing immigration reform. As a country of laws we deal with a delicate balance in protecting the privacy rights of all Americans from such as things as NSA-sweeps to assuring we have vigilance over people who would want to hurt this country, that delicate balance doesn't change with the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.
  • Will you firmly advise Pres. Obama to avoid ANY military action in Syria unless Congress approves the action? Per Amendment requiring such approval before embarking on war-like activities unless the USA is attacked - such as attacks on embassies like Benghazi. We attacked Libya fully one year before the 9/11/2012 attack but did not respond afterward!
  • I believe that Congress and specifically the House of Representatives has a constitutional obligation and right to declare war and sanction and military actions. Let every member of Congress be judged on how they vote on this question rather than continue the practice that started under Pres. Bush of allowing the Executive Branch to make unilateral decisions on military action. I and other members of Congress are circulating a letter to be sent to the President demanding restraint and insisting that the issue come before the House of Representatives before any action is taken.
  • We've ran out of time. I believe this chat important now because the issue of immigration reform in Congress and nationally is going to continue to be an item that will constantly be in debate. This will not be the last time that this issue is discussed. This is a good opportunity for me and hopefully for yourselves to engage in what I believe to be one of the most important domestic policy discussions in this country over three decades.
  • Thank you. We're sorry we didn't get to all of the questions. We'll try to do this again another time.
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