Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform proposal

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of the Q&A on the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform proposal at a press conference on Jan. 28, 2013: 

Some of the Republicans in the House have already expressed opposition. What do you plan to do to get them on board and are you willing to change anything you proposed?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
Of course we want to work in a bipartisan basis. We are encouraged that Speaker [John] Boehner has specifically stated that he believes that comprehensive immigration reform is an issue that should be taken up by the House of Representatives and legislation passed by the President.

We are – stand ready. We have finished our work. We have the principles and we made significant progress. While we were doing that – to sitting down with our colleagues both Republicans and Democrats. We’ll be sitting down with the President of the United States so that we can expedite the entire process.

There’s opposition in the Senate to comprehensive immigration reform. There is some competition in the House. But I am confident the majority in both houses – led by the President of the United States who made this a major campaign issue – that we will succeed. But we’re not going to get everybody on board.


…You have all expressed optimism. Why is this year different?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
Well, one, as I’ve stated before, elections. Elections. The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens. And we realize that there are many issues which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens but this is a preeminent issue with those citizens.

Also, I think over the years, Republicans in particular – but also Democrats and all of our citizens – have realized the reality of what all of my colleagues just stated: We cannot continue as a nation with 11 million people residing in the shadows. And we have to address the issue and it has to be done in a bipartisan fashion.

And if we do succeed – and I think we will – it will be a testimonial to Ted Kennedy’s efforts years ago that laid the groundwork for this agreement. You will find that this agreement has very little difference from that of the legislation that was led by Sen. Kennedy some years ago.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
Let me just say one other thing: The public’s attitude has changed in 4 years. Four years ago, they said “Fix the border.” Now, they…much prefer a comprehensive solution, including a path to citizenship as well as fixing the border and doing the things we’ve talked about.

And what’s interesting is when you look at the polling data. It’s Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who agree with that. People in the north, east, south, and west agree with that.

So the public is yearning for real change now and I think that is going to help as well…

Question: [Inaudible]

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
…We clearly want to make sure that the enforcement mechanisms happen. And one of the things we all hear from people is “Well, you’re going to do the legalization part but you won’t do the enforcement part.” And so we think the best way to guarantee that people feel comfortable with that is to put in place the following and understanding that in fact that the visa entry and exit system, which is something that everyone recognizes needs to be done, and real progress in terms of having real improvement at the border are two things that are critical, that people need to see certified before we move to the final stage of the process. Not the legalization stage but the green card process because I think that that answers that question. And we’re going to be realistic about that but we also want to be meaningful about that.

[Response in Spanish]

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
…We have to work with the governors and the organizations and citizens on the border states that are the major victims of the broken borders. And we need to work with the Department of Homeland Security – and we will – in order to assure the American people that never again will we face a problem with a large number of people in this country illegally.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.):
…When this becomes the law, individuals who are undocumented in the country would come forward at that moment, and they would register with the government and have a pending status. Now, that is not permanent residency. They have to earn that over a long period of time but they would have a pending status, and that pending status would allow us to go through the criminal background checks and allow them at that period of time to come forth out of the shadows and be able to at least be here in a status that would allow them to do certain things.

Then after that, we’re going to have to have the security elements of the border and then we’ll have a process where they’ll to wait at the end of the line, make sure that people who are presently waiting under the existing system to get their status here in the United States, which is part of what we envision having to deal with.

Then after that – if they maintain good citizenship during that pending period of time – will be able to move toward permanent residency. But at the very beginning of the process, individuals would be able to come forward; they’d have to register with the government, go through the criminal background check and – assuming they pass the criminal background check – begin a pending status.

Question: [Inaudible]

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
Yes, they would be legal. Here is the important, which Bob made. Immediately, when the bill passes, people who are here living in the shadows would get a legal right to stay here and work. They would no longer be deported, provided they don’t have a criminal record. They would no longer be harassed. They would be working.

And then once the parameters – which we still have not set up – but are in the bill about securing the border and dealing with…the exit-entry visas, then they would be eligible for green cards.

But the ability to stay here and work and stay in America and not be deported or harassed comes virtually immediately.


… The conversations that you have had with labor and how are you going to deal with these issues…?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
Future flow has been one of the shoals upon which the good ship immigration reform has floundered. We know that. So we have had discussions with both labor – the AFL-CIO, the SEIU – and business – Tom Donohue and other business groups. And in fact, while we’ve been negotiating these principles, they have been sitting down talking to one another. Because it would be best from our point of view if business and labor could agree on a future flow proposal. Obviously, we’d have to agree with it too. That would be very helpful. And according to both Donohue and [Richard] Trumka, they are making really good progress – much better than in 2009…and in 2007…


…We’re worried about declining wages and a crash economy, and in this context, you guys are talking about importing tens of millions of low-skill labor…What would you say to working class Americans who worry that their wages and their jobs would be going…?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
…It’s in our principles that we will tie future flow to employment. And if there are jobs available for Americans to take, that will be one of the major components of future flow. If there are jobs that there aren’t Americans for, then obviously it’ll be much easier for people to come in. An example – farm workers. Americans, by in large, whether it’s in Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Florida – Americans don’t do the farm work, and so we need them. And so we need workers like that. But I think we are all united in the view that immigration is good for America and good for employment and good for a growing economy and to have people who will pay taxes, who will contribute to the economic well-being is a very good thing and we aim to get it done.


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