NAPLES — A bill detailing potential immigration reform is expected from a group of U.S. House members in the coming days, ahead of the State of the Union address Tuesday.
The exact date the bill will be announced remains unclear, but it could be as early as today.
The product of a four-year collaboration by a small group of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, the proposed legislation is a blueprint for policy changes in the wake of conceptual outlines released by U.S. senators and the White House in late January.
The House bill, which will have some overlap with the two previously announced plans, is "far ahead" of what was described in those because of the years of work, much of it behind-the-scenes, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, recently told the Daily News.
Diaz-Balart, whose district includes part of Collier County, wants it pushed through Congress this year.
"If it's not done in the first year, I don't think it's doable," he said.
Freshman U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, who isn't part of the group working on the bill, said a comprehensive legislative package that tries to do everything at once has the potential to be unwieldy. Moreover, there is an issue of cost, he said.
"How do you pay for it? That is the elephant in the room," Radel said, adding that he's keeping an "open mind" and "entertaining everything" when it comes to reform proposals.
Diaz-Balart recently talked with the Naples Daily News about immigration reform.
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Daily News: We've got this catch phrase, "comprehensive immigration reform." What are the non-negotiables in this?
Diaz-Balart: Let me tell you what I want to do, and what a group of us want to do. We want to fix what is broken in immigration.
NDN: What's broken?
Diaz-Balart: Everything ... Here's what I think is broken. We have a porous border, still. That has to be fixed. The United States can't be the only country that can't decide who comes in and who leaves. We have to deal with that. We have the technology. You deal with border security, but also internal security. Whether it's an e-Verify-type thing, employee verification, where we have very strong enforcement. We have the technology to do it … We need to have a system where businesses can check, must check …
NDN: Must? Required?
Diaz-Balart: Yes, must. And that there's enforcement ... (but) it can't be on its own. If you do it on its own, we become net importers of food. You would destroy our economy. You have to have all the parts. What do you have to have? You have to have a place where people can come legally to work, (agriculture) workers, high-tech workers ... temporary workers. All of that has to be part of it ... then you start becoming somewhat comprehensive. You have to fix it from A to Z. And we also have to deal with the ones (immigrants) that already are here. Ignoring that fact – which is what we've done – doesn't make them go away and it doesn't solve the problem ... Everything needs to be fixed.
NDN: You've got an entire visa system that's in place. When you say you need to fix everything ...
Diaz-Balart: Everything ... To deal with the ones that are here, whatever you do, you have to be at the back of the line. For some countries, that line is 60 years. Well, you've got to fix that ... then we go back to your original question. Can you fix the other parts without dealing with that? No. You have to fix the entire thing. Call it what you may, that is comprehensive.
NDN: What's your take on how DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) has been working so far?
Diaz-Balart: Not great, because there's a lot of people that are very apprehensive, constituents that are scared because they say: "I want to come forward, but then my parents, are there any guarantees?" And we say no. And there are some that are 28 years old, and they say "what happens if I come forward now and my DACA (status) expires?" I don't know. We wrote a letter to the administration asking just those things, because we deal with constituents. They had no responses.
NDN: Has your take on amnesty shifted at all?
Diaz-Balart: My take has always been the same, which is, we need to fix what's broken.
NDN: No amnesty?
Diaz-Balart: We need to fix what's broken, and we need to deal with the ones that are here. And I don't think it's a good policy to have a group of people in the United States that are here permanently that don't have legal status.
NDN: So does that mean yes to amnesty?
Diaz-Balart: No, it's not amnesty. I want to make sure we don't have a group of people who are here permanently who are in this quasi-limbo, which is what happens in parts of Europe, which is devastating.