Seeking Common Ground On Immigration

The Senate passed an immigration reform bill, and now the House is taking up the issue. Weekend Edition Sunday host Linda Wertheimer speaks with Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., about the bipartisan efforts in the House to pass a bill.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. This past week, the United States Senate passed a bill to reform the immigration system which proposes spending billions on border security and putting millions of illegal migrants on a path to citizenship. All eyes now turn to the House, which also has a bipartisan group working on its proposal. That group of eight recently became seven after the departure of Republican Raul Labrador of Idaho. John Yarmuth is a Democrat from Kentucky's 3rd District. He is one of the remaining seven - they have not renamed themselves the Magnificent Seven. I asked him whether the group still has credibility after losing one of their Republicans, and he did not hesitate.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN YARMUTH: Well, no. I think it absolutely does. I mean, even Raul Labrador, when he left, said he agrees with 95 percent of what's in the proposal. And, you know, ultimately we had three Republicans, all from border states - Mario Diaz Balart from Florida and John Carter and Sam Johnson from Texas, intimately familiar with the issues facing immigration on the southern border. So, I think the plan will have a lot of credibility.

WERTHEIMER: Now, it's obviously, the Republicans you're working with could presumably represent persuadable Republicans, other persuadable Republicans in the House. What do they think the Republicans want?

YARMUTH: Well, I think what persuadable Republicans want is what most Americans want and I think most Democrats want, and that's to have an immigration system that is fair, that is somewhat compassionate but that is very strict and lawful. The issues for many Republicans, the ones who are not persuadable, probably would be the path to citizenship. But I think in most other areas, there is broad consensus in a general way about what we need to do to fix our immigration system.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that the Democrats in the House will be prepared to so severely restrict the path to citizenship to take steps that would take them closer to the Republican position?

YARMUTH: Well, our plan is, I think, a little more restrictive than the plan that the Senate passed. We have a little bit longer path. We have, I think, steeper fines for the undocumented to become legalized. And we have a probationary period of five years, during which time if any conditions of the probation are not met, then the immigrant is subject to deportation. I think we already have a stronger provision for the sense that I think it will appeal to a broader portion of the Republicans, again, who are willing to consider legalization.

WERTHEIMER: Do you see something that you think you're going to have to fold on? I mean, what are you worried about?

YARMUTH: Well, we folded on a lot of things - we being Democrats - throughout the whole process. And one of the things that was kind of a guiding principle is that we knew that in general whatever came out of our group would have to be to the right - if you want to characterize it in right-left terms - to the right of what the Senate did. So, what I'm afraid of mostly, I guess, is not any particular provision, it's the idea that Speaker Boehner is going to require a majority of the majority to pass a comprehensive package.

WERTHEIMER: Why do you think there's any reason to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel here?

YARMUTH: The reason I believe it is, this is a unique situation. We have, on the one hand, a wide array of outside interest groups who support this bill that spans the political spectrum. We had the AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce negotiating an agreement on what we call future flow of workers to come in in the future. We have the farm growers and the farm workers. We have the high-tech companies who want highly skilled workers to come into the country. So, we have, again, an unprecedented coalition of interest.

Secondly, we have political motivation on both sides. The Democrats want to support groups that have been faithful to us in recent elections and Republicans wants to make inroads with those groups. And finally, unlike almost any situation I can think of, there is no heavily financed opposition to comprehensive reform. The only people who are opposed that we've been able to determine to this comprehensive package are basically Tea Party Americans. So, I think all the odds are, and all the interest groups and the power in the country, are in alignment in passing comprehensive reform. And ultimately I think that will prevail.

WERTHEIMER: Congressman John Yarmuth. He's from Kentucky's 3rd District. He's a Democrat. Thank you very much, sir.

YARMUTH: OK, Linda. My pleasure.

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