The Senate immigration bill scheduled for release next week will likely be at odds with a version coming from the House, according to a key congressman who says granting amnesty to undocumented workers won’t be included in any House measure.
“Clearly, amnesty is not going to fly in the House,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told Newsmax.
But the Florida Republican, who has been a participant in bipartisan talks on immigration reform since 2009, said there needs to be some system short of amnesty that confers a level of legal status for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.
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“I think it’s devastating to have people who are permanently here who can never aspire to be a citizen,” he said. “It’s also unacceptable to give folks who are here unlawfully specific rights that those who have done everything by the law wouldn’t have.”
A key bipartisan group of eight senators had hoped to roll out a bill when Congress returns from its spring break Monday. But a dispute between business and labor over the number of visas available for low-skilled workers has become the latest sticking point that could delay it. The Senate version is expected to include some kind of pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Passing an immigration reform bill would put an issue that has long dogged the Republican Party behind it, but it won’t shift Hispanic voters to the GOP overnight, Diaz-Balart said.
“I think it would be very naïve for people to think that if we pass this that the Republican brand name would be automatically fixed among Hispanics,” he said. “If we get it done, Republicans can start talking about the issues that matter to Hispanics like education and economic opportunity.”
Attracting Hispanic voters has taken on an urgency for Republicans since President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote last year on his way to a second term.
Diaz-Balart told Newsmax he doesn’t expect an immigration bill to be delivered by the Senate next week and warned that if reform efforts fail this year, it would likely be four more years before Congress makes another try.
Both Republicans and Democrats, he said, have a lot to lose if they allow this year's opportunity to pass.
“It’s a disastrous issue that we have to get fixed from a Republican angle because we’ll get the blame if it fails, and it will be used as a sledgehammer against us regardless of what the facts are,” he said. “With Democrats in the House, there is a lot of pressure because they’ve been talking about it forever and haven’t delivered.”
Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte on Thursday floated the possibility of a step-by-step approach to immigration reform instead of trying to hammer out a big, comprehensive package of reforms, Roll Call reported.
Diaz-Balart said regardless of the approach, the goal should still be the same — producing a bill that "fixes what's broken."
"We're really far along, but we’re not done yet,” he said of the proposals being kicked around in both the Senate and the House. But he added, "There’s a big difference between having a conceptual agreement and having legislative language.”
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