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Bush, Senators to Meet on Immigration Bill


Tomorrow, President Bush goes to Capitol Hill to have lunch with Republican senators. On the menu: immigration. The president's immigration bill failed to pass a cloture vote last week. It's under attack for many conservative Republicans as well as from liberal Democrats, whose groups tend to object to different aspects of the bill.

The chief Republican architect of the compromise Senate bill is Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona who joins us now. Welcome to the program, Senator Kyl.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): Thank you. Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: The administration sounds upbeat about the prospects for the immigration bill. What can the president possibly tell your Republican colleagues that might make them more open to one?

Sen. KYL: Well, I think first of all, he will acknowledge that a lot of what we're hearing from our constituents back home is actually true. Our folks are worried that the government will not enforce a new immigration bill because, frankly, the current law is not very well enforced. I think he'll acknowledge that, but make the point that, actually, we need some changes in the law for it to be enforceable, especially in area of workplace verification.

Today, the law based on the 1986 Amnesty Act is not enforceable. Employers have to accept what they know or probably know are counterfeit documents, and yet they can't turn people down for employment. Under the new bill that has been written, that won't be true anymore. The government databases will be checked for verification of both social security information and identity. And we're not going to be relying anymore on the same kinds of counterfeitable documents.

SIEGEL: Is that really is a strong case that the lack of enforcement over the past several years has been for lack of legislative authority, or is it for lack of will to crack down on employers?

Sen. KYL: It's some of both. And it's also a lack of will to secure the border. Neither the previous administration - with whom I fought continuously - or this administration, or the Congress have been very forward leaning about enforcing the law or securing the border. And as I said, at the workplace, it's not easy to enforce. The administration has tried some of it, but you have to prove things that are very, very difficult to prove in order to hold employers accountable.

So, in some areas, the law really does have to be changed. In other areas, we could do a much better job with what we have.

SIEGEL: You said yesterday that passing the immigration bill is doable. All you have to do on the Republican side is sit down with those who have amendments, get those amendments in a reasonable package - not too many - so that members can say that they've had their chance. Are you saying that there are several senators who were disturbed by the bill, want to amend it, but if they can have a debate on their amendments and see them lose even, they would then permit the bill to go forward and be voted on?

Sen. KYL: I believe that's true. Now, it is also true that there are probably a couple of members who will try to filibuster the bill no matter how many times they were voted on including their own amendments. So, we do want to make sure that all Republicans and Democrats for that matter have a reasonable opportunity to get amendments voted on. And since we have not voted on as many amendments this year as we did last year, some are pointing to that as an objective test.

And it's not an unreasonable test. So, that being the case, there would be at least 10 more Republican roll call votes that would be required to have more than last year or as many as last year. So, that we can package up. We can take it to the majority leader. Show him that that could be done within a couple of days. Hopefully, therefore, persuade him that it's worth putting back on the schedule in order to be able to complete it before the 4th of July recess.

SIEGEL: Is a couple of days approximate or do you mean two days to vote it to do amendments?

Sen. KYL: That's approximately two days. There will be some Democrat amendments too. And assuming that each and one of them has an hour of debate, for example, you can see that it could be done within two days.

SIEGEL: How many Republican senators do you think are there in your caucus who accept the notion of legalizing 12 million immigrants now here illegally as opposed to those who think that what you're doing here is an amnesty that just shouldn't be done?

Sen. KYL: Well, in the abstract, I don't accept it. But as part of a bipartisan consensus that includes agreements on a variety of subjects, I'm willing to include it in a piece of legislation that I support. So, I think you have to ask the question that way, if the question is at the end of the day, with all of the different agreements that have been made here and things that are important to Republicans being in the bill, will we have a majority of Republicans willing to support this bipartisan consensus? I think the answer to that question is yes.

SIEGEL: You mentioned at the beginning what senators have been hearing from their constituents. You come from a state from Arizona, where Governor Napolitano has declared an emergency over immigration. What are you hearing from Arizonans about this bill?

Sen. KYL: Interestingly, over half of the people who have been calling my office are not from Arizona, but we're still getting a lot of calls from Arizona. And the primary point that they raise is that the law needs to be enforced. And why would we think a new law will be enforced when the old one isn't? What I'm hoping is that with the new powers and also the new funding that's made available under this bill, we will have a much better opportunity to enforce the law than we do now.

SIEGEL: So just to, sort of, chart the way forward here right now, as you understand it, now is the time for you, your Republican colleagues in the Senate - perhaps with some encouragement from the White House - to agree to limit the number of amendments that they will present on the floor. And for the majority leader, the Democrat Senator Reid, to admit that he'll bring it back for that discussion to then have the cloture vote after that.

Sen. KYL: Indeed. That's exactly the way forward. And if we can do that, the two or three days that we might spend now will mean nothing in the overall historical context. Twenty years from now, nobody will know how many days we took. But if we're successful in this, it could mean a great deal for our country.

SIEGEL: Well, Senator Kyl, thank you very much for talking with us.

Sen. KYL: You're very welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Senator John Kyl, Republican of Arizona, a chief sponsor of the compromise immigration bill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

United States & World Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.