Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Repiblican, is a member of the House's bipartisan working group, the Gang of Seven, that is writing a comprehensive immigration reform plan. The Gang of Seven's comprehensive reform plan will have substantial differences with the Senate version.
Washington Examiner: Is the Gang of Seven plan nearly ready?
Mario Diaz-Balart: We are now in the process, a slow, arduous and tedious process, of going through the legislation line by line to make sure it is what we have agreed to. A number of us have found some discrepancies, just because of the interpretations made during drafting. We think it's not going to be a big deal, but we have to iron it out. It's just time consuming.
Does the Gang's version mirror the Senate plan in coupling border security to a pathway to citizenship for current illegal immigrants?
It's [on] the same planet, but we have a lot of differences, a lot of substantial differences. I think for something to pass the House and Senate and to be signed into law, it has to be something very similar to what we have been working on.
Examiner: What is delaying the House bill?
Diaz-Balart: We had two deals on the health care issue already. On both of them, the Democrats in our group, who have been exemplary and great to work with, had to backtrack on the agreement not once, but a second time. And it's not coming from them. It's coming from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. There's been a pattern of not wanting to get immigration reform done. It's been a horrible marriage between lawmakers on the Right, who don't want to do anything, and the Democratic leadership, who have never wanted to do it either. Unfortunately, that still remains the case but despite that I believe we are going to get something done.
Examiner: The same bipartisan group was near a deal on reform four years ago that is similar to the current proposal and Democrats who wanted it controlled Congress and the White House. Why did that fail?
Diaz-Balart: You have to ask Pelosi or Obama why they did not want to do immigration reform. It's a question I've never heard anybody ask. My opinion is that the president wanted to use it as a political issue for his re-election. He knew about the group and he knew about my involvement and the involvement of my brother [then-Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart]. Yet, he kept saying he could not find Republicans to deal with him on immigration. That was not right. That was false.
Examiner: Is the pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants the main sticking point in the House?
Diaz-Balart: There are so many sticking points. There are, frankly, dozens of them. ... We agree we have an immigration system that is broken and we have to fix it, we also have to protect the rule of law and we cannot be the only country that can't protect its borders. It has to be enforceable. ... During the immigration deal in 1986 there were a lot of commitments made, including the commitment that we would not be doing this again. So this time, it has to be fixed with real border security, with fencing, technology, a plan for tracking exit visas, etc. You have to have that, but you have to do it in a way that it actually happens.
Examiner: Does the House bill include a pathway to citizenship?
Diaz-Balart: I can't go into details about the bill, but I believe you have to follow the rule of law, not with a wink and a nod, and you cannot violate the rights of the folks who have come here legally or will come here in the future legally. Can you do that without keeping people in the shadows who are now in the country, who have never fully come out of the shadows? I think we've done that in our bill, but this is not easy.
Examiner: Is the Gang's comprehensive bill going to win over House Republicans?
Diaz-Balart: I'm optimistic that it really is. That doesn't mean we won't have to make some changes, and I do think we are going to have to make some additions. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte wants immigration reform done in smaller pieces instead of a single, comprensive package.
Examiner: What do you think of that approach?
Diaz-Balart: I disagree with a number of the specific issues he has been bringing out, but I'm grateful to him. Because, for the first time since I've been in Congress, there is a real effort to fix this broken immigration system. What Goodlatte is doing is keeping immigration reform on the front burner.