Graham pushing reform, Senator again eyes immigration
EDITOR’S NOTE: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is among eight senators pushing a new immigration reform plan, though his previous efforts here have angered some of his GOP base. He talked recently with reporter Robert Behre about the issue. Here are the highlights:Q: How is this latest immigration reform attempt different from previous unsuccessful attempts?
A: “I hope the third time is the charm. I think the main thing that’s different is people becoming aware of the need for a new immigration system and how broken the current one is. Mexico is under siege by drug cartels, so the dangers of an unsecured border are more real. ... Economically, we need to create a rational immigration where we can choose who comes to our country based on economic needs ... You’ve got 11 million people still roving around the country illegally, and you need to create order out of chaos.”Q: What has changed politically?
A: “From a Republican point of view, it’s pretty clear that the debate over the last few years around immigration has hurt us with Hispanics, but from an American point of view, we need to fix this broken system in such a fashion we will not have a third wave of illegal immigrations.”Q: Your support of immigration reform in the past has angered some of your Republican base here in South Carolina. Are you concerned about a similar reaction this time?
A: “There will be some anger, talking about it and trying to fix it, but I think the overwhelming response is going to be ‘Let’s get it fixed and get it behind us.’ I try to deal in rational, practical solutions to hard problems.”Q: What, if anything, have you heard from Hispanics in South Carolina on this issue?
A: “I think most Hispanics don’t want amnesty, but they want to get the system fixed. Most illegal immigrants are Hispanics, not all. When it comes to the 11 million, some can stay. Some will have to leave. If you have been involved in criminal activity, members of gangs, or (have) a violent criminal past, you’re not going to be allowed to stay. If the only crime you’ve committed is a border security violation, you’ll have to pay a fine, you’ll have to get in the back of the line when it comes to being a citizen. ... You’ll have to learn the English language... and any pathway to citizenship for someone coming from Mexico will take at least a decade. It will be hard, but it will be available.”Q: How important is it to South Carolina’s business community that there be immigration reform?
A: “It is vitally important at the state and national level. No matter what people may tell you, you may advertise for meatpacking workers and service industry workers and not find enough people at a competitive wage that we need. ... I talked to Hugh Weathers yesterday, our (S.C.) Secretary of Agriculture, ... and he told me it was imperative we create order out of chaos and allow our farming community access to labor or we will be losing farm jobs.”Q: If immigration reform ultimately dies, what would that foreshadow about this new session of Congress?
A: “If we can’t pass immigration reform given our economic and national security needs, it’s just another example of how dysfunctional the Congress has become. We need presidential leadership. We’re not going to do a bill without border security, and the president needs to lead. I’m more encouraged than ever about the tone and the debate that we’re having on the Republican side.”Q: Anything else?
A: “I believe if you’re going to stay in America for a long period of time — and you’re not a temporary worker — then I want you to assimilate into becoming an American. I don’t like the European model of having hired help. ... If you’re going to be in this country legally for a long period of time, then I think you should assimilate. ... I don’t like the idea of millions of people roaming around the country who don’t buy into being an American.”