Sen. Mike Lee tells Newsmax he opposes the immigration reform proposal from the so-called “Gang of Eight,” saying he favors a step-by-step approach to reform rather than a plan that imposes changes in “one fell swoop.”
The Utah Republican also says the claim that GOP opposition to immigration reform would cost Republicans dearly among Latino voters is meant to “scare rather than convince.”
Lee, a constitutional lawyer, beat incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett to win the 2010 Republican primary, with support from the tea party. He then won the general election with 62 percent of the vote, at that time becoming the youngest member of the Senate at age 39.
He is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, Lee explains his opposition to the bipartisan immigration proposal from eight senators.
“I favor compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform and for that very reason, the fact that I’m committed to serious, substantial reform, I can’t support the 844-page bill proposed by the Gang of Eight.
“What we need is a step-by-step approach, one that starts in those areas where we have the most broad-based, bipartisan support, like beefed-up modernization, completing our entry-exit system, and enhanced border security. I haven’t met a single member of the United States Senate who is opposed to any of those things. If we started with those areas, where there is consensus, we will be able to get more meaningful results more quickly and more effectively.
“A lot of other Republican senators, as they go through this [bill], as I’ve gone through it, are going to come to similar conclusions,” Lee added.
There are reports that if the bill is passed it would allow illegal immigrants to access state and local welfare benefits immediately because of loopholes.
Asked if he is concerned about this, Lee responds: “Sure. This can have a lot of spill-over ramifications in a lot of areas that we don’t anticipate. That’s part of the concern I’m trying to express, which is why we ought not rush into passing a very lengthy piece of legislation like this one before we really fully understand it and before we understand it’s whole economic implication.”
As to whether the bill’s offering of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants constitutes amnesty, Lee comments: “Amnesty is a loaded word and it means different things to different people.
“It does propose a legal framework by which potentially 11 million people who are currently illegally inside the United States could ultimately be made U.S. citizens and could in fairly short order be made something akin to lawful permanent residents. It would allow them to remain here basically indefinitely with the expectation that if they continue doing the basic things that they’re asked to do under the bill, they would ultimately become citizens.
“It is a concern, especially in the sense that whenever we undertake this kind of approach of legalizing millions of people who are currently here illegally, we have not in the past fixed the problem. Our border is not as secure as it needs to be and our legal immigration system needs reform. We need to update and modernize our visa programs so that they reflect our changing economic circumstances.
“If we rush into this and try to legalize 11 million of them in one fell swoop before the border’s been secured, before we’ve updated and modernized our legal immigration system, we’re setting the stage for a perpetuation of the same problems that we’ve faced for the last 30 years.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has expressed opposition to the piecemeal approach favored by Lee, saying immigration reform is like a puzzle and all the different pieces have to fit together.
“I don’t see it that way at all and I’m not sure what Gov. Bush is basing that on,” Lee tells Newsmax.
“There is no reason why all of this has to be done in one fell swoop, unless, of course, your primary objective is to make sure that, no matter what, you get through this provision that attempts to legalize 11 million people in one fell swoop.
“But even if that’s your objective, I would think that you’d be better served by trying to fix the underlying problems first and then winning over political converts once you show people that you’re serious about securing the border.”
Some have said that if Republicans kill immigration reform, they will pay a huge political price, especially with Hispanic voters.
“That’s a very opportunistic statement made by people who are just gunning for this particular bill,” Lee observes.
“This is a common argument made by people who want to scare, rather than convince, individual elected officials into supporting a particular legislative proposal. It’s not an accurate argument and it certainly isn’t a persuasive political tactic.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the Leahy-Lee Electronic Communications Privacy Amendments Act to prevent the government from invading Americans emails, social media posts and other electronic communications.
“This bill would eliminate the outdated 180-day rule that calls for different legal standards for the government to obtain substantive email content from your email account depending on the age of the email,” Lee explains.
“And it requires that the government notify an individual whose electronic communications have been disclosed within 10 days after obtaining a search warrant and obtaining that information.
“The current law was written about 30 years ago at a time when very few people had email, and those who did really had almost no ability to save any email for more than about six months. It didn’t take into account the world in which we now live where people use email as a very important, perhaps primary means of communication, and the fact that so much of our private communications are now done electronically. This tries to bring the law up to date and into the 21st century.”
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