Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Members of the Border Caucus Congressman Raúl Grijalva, Congressman Filemon Vela, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and Congressman Henry Cuellar held a press conference on comprehensive immigration reform and border communities. Below are the Leader’s remarks followed by the question and answer session:
“Good afternoon. Thank you for being here. I’m very honored to be here today with my colleagues, the Co-Chairs of the Border Caucus: Congressman [Raúl] Grijalva of Arizona, Congressman [Filemon] Vela from Texas, and also Congressman Beto O’Rourke from Texas, and senior Member of Congress, Member of our leadership who will wrap up for us, Congressman [Henry] Cuellar of Texas. So, we’ll be hearing from them in that order. But first I just wanted to acknowledge that this morning, President George W. Bush urged a positive resolution to the debate on immigration and expressed hope that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind as we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country. Wonderful thought.
“Two weeks ago, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill. We hope now that the House will act, again, in a bipartisan way. In that spirit I sent a letter to Speaker Boehner today urging bipartisan action to pass comprehensive immigration reform [and] highlighting the work of the Bipartisan Taskforce of 7.
“We have always moved forward on the principles of our Hispanic, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to secure our borders, protect our workers, unite our families, and provide an earned pathway to citizenship. Each element of this has bipartisan support. Secure our borders. A bill came out of the Homeland Security Committee: McCaul-Thompson, Republican and Democrat, with unanimous support on Homeland Security. McCaul-Cuellar: Border Communities Economic Security and Sustainability Act. Mr. Cuellar will talk about that. [Congressman] McCaul, Republican. [Congressman] Cuellar, Democrat. Cuellar-McCaul-Farenthold – Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act. So, it’s about border security, but it’s also about economic security at the border.
“So, if you want to talk about a path to legal-permanent status, that leads to citizenship, that’s in the Senate bill – bipartisan support. So, every element that you can name, just about every element that you can name is something that already has bipartisan support, or has been initiated by the Republicans. I think there is a path to comprehensive immigration reform.
“I am honored to be here with our Border Caucus, who have brought forth some of the concerns that they have or some of the ideas that they suggest would be better ideas than some of what we have seen so far. Let’s hear it from them. I’m pleased to yield to our very distinguished Chair of the Border Caucus, the gentleman from Arizona, Mr. Grijalva.”
Leader Pelosi. Thank you, [Congressman Cuellar].
Now, it is very interesting to hear the volume of trade that goes back and forth and one of the reasons we’re interested in more infrastructure, more assistance in personnel for facilitating commerce is that it takes time, the more time people have to wait to get in, the more they have to choose other options like flying which makes the product not competitive, so it is all connected, it’s all connected. So, if you want to do some things there, if you want infrastructure, have it be infrastructure that facilitates commerce and trade, and family unification, rather than, rather than make it more expensive to trade with Mexico.
Q: Madam Speaker, and the four gentlemen behind you. Could any of you vote for the Senate bill as it currently exists today with its current border security provisions, or does that make it so you couldn’t support it?
Leader Pelosi. Why don’t we just hold that for when we see what comes out of the House. We have been very, shall we say, bipartisan in saying? We want to see what the Speaker comes up with and how he wants to bring it to the floor and the rest. And at the end of the day there will be a choice to be made, but I rather not have our Members be put on the spot, but maybe they want to be put on the spot, but I like to keep all options open [for] my colleagues.
Mr. Grijalva. I would agree that the options being open, as the Leader said, is important. Is that extra layering on the Corker Amendment? I called it excessive and overkill. I still believe that’s the case. We have a difficult situation here in the House. What is going to come out of this House? What are going to be the ramifications of anything proceeding from here? So, keeping one’s powder dry as we go forward is probably for me, personally, the wisest step. But like I said, we all have opinions about that extra layer.
Mr. Cuellar. It’s part of a process. As you know, it’s got to go, it is not [the] final bill, it’s part of the process, we got to go through the process itself.
Leader Pelosi. And we, even though I always supported the prerogatives of the House, and I want the House to have a bill that goes to conference where the debate will take place and the Senate passing the bill gives leverage to those who want a bill in the House because the pressure is on them to do something if you want to exercise prerogatives of the House. So, we view it as positive step in that it has passed and it will be an instrument at conference, but hopefully it will help us get the best possible bill to go to Conference with it.
Q: Madam Leader, could you elaborate on, if you don’t mind, could you elaborate on the House Democratic position supporting [the] path to citizenship? Does that mean ahead of conference you would whip against individual bills that don’t have a pathway to citizenship unless you are guaranteed a path to citizenship vote? Does that have to happen?
Leader Pelosi. Well, you know what? Let’s see what Republicans – today the Republicans are meeting at three o’clock. We have votes, so we are going to have to go too. And that is, I hope that they will be hearing from the bipartisan group that has been meeting for a period of time. It is my understanding, but I have no firsthand knowledge of, it is my understanding that they worked into the night and have a proposal that they will be, perhaps they will be presenting in whole or in part there. So, take this one step at a time and [as] I have said to the Speaker, however, we want a comprehensive immigration bill, if he wants to bring it in parts, that’s his prerogative, we want comprehensive immigration reform at the end of the day to go to the table.
Q: Senator Schumer met with your conference or your Caucus earlier this week and said that it was a non-starter if this House immigration bill were to come out without a pathway to citizenship. And a lot of the Members seem to be saying that a pathway to legal status is something they think could possibly pass through the House. Is that something that, a path to legal status, is that something you think the Democratic Caucus could actually support considering that it is not technically a pathway to citizenship?
Leader Pelosi. I think that Senator Schumer’s comments reflected the enthusiasm that he saw in the room for a path to legal, permanent legal status and that’s a path to citizenship.
Q: But, in terms when – how would you react if the bill were to come to floor and just be a pathway to legal status? I mean…
Leader Pelosi. Well, why don’t we take a look at what they are going to bring to the floor and what they can pass. In other words, at some point a bill has to pass, whatever it may be. And can they even pass, can they even pass a bill without a path to citizenship? Say you’re taking it out, can they pass that bill? So again, going a legislative process – now the House works it’s will and the question is: can a bill without the path to legalization even pass the House on the Republican side?
Yes ma’am? We have votes, but I’ll take yours because you came back.
Q: Looking at some of the demographics in some of these Republican districts [they’ve] found, you know, three fourths of the House Republican districts are white. On average, they’re just ten percent Hispanic and even the handful of GOP districts that have a sizeable Hispanic population are not competitive districts. We have them rated around plus nine in favor of the Republican Party. Is there the same incentive in the House to pass immigration reform? Why should House Republicans do this with the argument on the Senate side being that it was in their political favor?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I mean that the Republicans in the Senate had an epiphany when they saw 70 percent of the Hispanic community voted for President Obama and voted for Democrats for Congress. So, they realized that they had to address the issue because if you want to win statewide you have to make as many friends as possible. I think that they have cloaked their language in their values-based respect for the immigrant contribution to our country, which is who we are: a nation of immigrants. And so, I would hope that those values are shared by our colleagues in the House. Many of us voted on issues that we think are for the good of the country, that have absolutely nothing to do with our districts. For example, I have – they tell me I have one farm in my district, it’s a mushroom farm. It’s very dark in there and…
Leader Pelosi. …but nonetheless. So you know, again we’re a country. We come here to represent our districts, but also recognizing that we had – we are Members of the House of Representatives – to act for the good of the country, but the one thing as a Democrat in the House, I am also glad that we have a Democratic President in the White House. And if they ever expect to have a Republican President in the White House, he or she will have to carry those states that are heavily immigrant, newcomer whether they’re from Mexico or whether they’re from Asia, or whether they’re from Africa, or whether they’re from Asia, or – did I say Asia twice?
Leader Pelosi. Or wherever they’re from. But let’s hope everybody’s doing what they believe is for the good of our country and we believe that regardless of the fact that there may be a low percentage of Hispanics, and that many of those districts support comprehensive immigration reform; we need the people. Would you speak to that?
Mr. Grijalva. I think that the struggle going on, and we’ve seen it played out in the Republican Party and it’s probably the struggle that’s going to start at three o’clock: short term versus long term. Is there a short term political advantage by doing nothing and continuing the same rhetoric that we’ve heard for the last ten years? Probably. In this long term? Absolutely there is a loss. So that’s their struggle and a huge political struggle. Thank you.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you all very much.