STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A long, long time ago, before President Trump had a meeting with lawmakers on immigration - you know, the meeting that sparked a global outcry when the president said he wanted to block immigrants from Haiti and Africa while taking them from places like Norway - before all of that, the president talked of a deal to restore Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I feel having the Democrats in with us is absolutely vital because it should be a bipartisan bill. It should be a bill of love. Truly, it should be a bill of love. And we can do that.
INSKEEP: A bill of love. That was just a week ago - less than a week ago. But it seems like months have passed. And over the weekend, the president said a DACA deal is, quote, "probably dead." Our next guest is an immigrant who once was in the United States illegally, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Democrat from New York. Congressman, welcome to the program.
ADRIANO ESPAILLAT: Good morning. Good morning to all of you.
INSKEEP: The Republican position now - the president's position essentially - is you guys, Democrats, embarrass the president by talking about his remarks about Africa. And apparently, that means Democrats are not serious about passing a DACA bill. Are you serious?
ESPAILLAT: We're very serious. And, in fact, Republicans run government right now. Republicans run the House. They run the Senate. And, of course, it's in the White House. So if anything is not done, it's because they don't want it to be done. They have an absolute majority right now.
INSKEEP: Do you sense any change in the will of Congress lawmakers in both parties to get a deal done? Of course, there's a deal on the table to try to keep the government open. But the idea is to include DACA in that. Do you sense any change in the will to do that?
ESPAILLAT: Of course. I see rank-and-file members of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party who want this bill passed. The Dream Act, which is a bipartisan bill already put together by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida and Lucille Royball-Allard from California - a Republican and a Democrat. Eighty-four percent of Americans support that bill. And it has over 200 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. So if that bill was put on the floor today, it would pass. I think we have the support for it. So that's the bill that should be taken up.
INSKEEP: You're correct that Republicans have majorities in both houses of Congress, but it is a situation where it appears that they're going to need some Democratic support to pass a bill that keeps the government open. Will you, Congressman, and will your Democratic colleagues vote, in effect, to shut the government down if that bill does not include a fix for DACA recipients?
ESPAILLAT: Well, in the last continuing resolution, I voted against it because it did not include a DACA bill. And I'm getting ready to vote against it again if it is not included on the 18. And so this is an issue that is very important to my constituents. It defines, in many ways, my district. And I will be voting against a continuing resolution that is not resolved for 800,000 young people. They're really - most Americans want them to stay and to really flourish here in the United States of America.
INSKEEP: Congressman, I want people to know a little bit of your story. We mentioned you're an immigrant - Dominican Republic. You'll correct me if I get the details wrong. But we're told that when you were a kid, your family came to the United States. They overstayed a visa, which means that you are almost like a DREAMer, except of an earlier generation. How has that experience affected your views as a lawmaker?
ESPAILLAT: Oh, it's very personal to me, and it defines who I am. And had I not been petitioned by my grandmother, who reunited our families - and I think that the Republicans have tried to change their lexicon, and they call it chain migration. But it's really family reunification. And I've been able to come to the United States with my brothers and sisters and my family. And we have now been able to succeed and make America a better place for all of us. So this is very personal to me, and it also defines me, as well.
INSKEEP: It's a pretty dramatic story. I want people to know this, also. Your family was here without documents but then returned to the Dominican Republic and got in line. And you mentioned that you eventually got back because your grandmother in the United States said, I want these - family reunification - and got in that way. But part of your process was returning to your home country. And I'm thinking about that now because that is what immigration hardliners say they would rather have undocumented immigrants do. What is the case for not requiring that?
ESPAILLAT: Well, it was a different time. When we returned, we returned right to the middle of a civil war in the Dominican Republic, when the Marines invaded the country.
INSKEEP: Oh, in 1965.
ESPAILLAT: 1965, yes. Had we not gotten our green card, would've been stuck there. We would've never come back here. Our grandparents were here since the '50s, before I was even born. And our family would've been continued to be divided. So we were very grateful that we got the green card. But, you know, times have changed and this is a different world, different planet. And the rules could be different.
INSKEEP: And just a few seconds are left here, Congressman. But I'd like to ask, would you argue to keep family reunification, the principle for most immigration today? Would you argue to keep that as part of current law?
ESPAILLAT: No question about it. Family reunification is critical. It keeps families whole. It strengthens America. It provides stability in the household. And I think it's better for the country.
INSKEEP: Not more of a merit-based system, which is what the president is calling for.
ESPAILLAT: The merit-based system will choose to look for folks from Norway, like he wants, as opposed to bringing people that want to bring their families together from all corners of the world.
INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much for the time. Really appreciate it.
ESPAILLAT: Thank you so much.
INSKEEP: Adriano Espaillat is a Democratic congressman who represents New York.
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