WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence signaled that the White House is taking a wait-and-see approach on whether comprehensive immigration reform now sought from Congress should include a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants.
Before President Trump addressed a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, he reportedly told a luncheon with TV anchors that “the time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides.”
A senior administration official elaborated that illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes might be allowed to stay in the country and pay taxes under a legal status short of citizenship.
“My administration has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security,” Trump said at the outset of his congressional address. “By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone.”
Later in the address, he alluded to immigration reform without outright discussing what reform legislation would look like.
“I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security and to restore respect for our laws,” Trump said. “If we are guided by the well-being of American citizens, then I believe Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve an outcome that has eluded our country for decades.”
Asked on CBS this morning if reform would include a path to legalization, Pence first praised Trump’s speech and called it “a great night for America” before noting that the president “made it very clear that he intends to build a wall, to have the kind of internal enforcement that puts the safety of the American people first, that identifies the criminal element that is a part of the crisis we face.”
Asked the question about legalization again, Pence replied, “Well, I think, you know, I think as the president said in the campaign, we’ll see.”
“We’ve got to secure our border. The president said many times a nation without borders is not a nation and it’s not secure. So we’ll secure our border with that — that border wall,” he added. “We’ll have internal enforcement that’s already under way. We’ll — we’ll strengthen our laws, provide more — not only more border agents, more immigrations and customs. These are all things the president’s already put into motion and that once we do that, just like he said in Arizona, that with regard to those remaining in this country, that — that we’ll look at options, we’ll engage the Congress.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Trump “would have to be willing to compromise on some of the very hard-edge positions he took in the course of the campaign,” but his potential openness to a reform bill “does sound like a significant move.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) noted that resistance in the House blocked attempts by presidents Obama and Bush to pass immigration reform.
“I think there has to be a path to legalization, but we can’t create in this country that is made up and grown and nurtured by immigrants throughout its history, we can’t set up this barrier that you can do – you can work here, you can live here, you can pay taxes here, but there will never be an opportunity for you to make your status beyond legal to go toward becoming the full breadth of being an American, and that’s to be a citizen,” Grijalva told CNN today.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) emphasized that immigration reform “is a debate that we have been having in this country for 10 years and it was good to learn that the president is interested in seeing a resolution for all aspects of the immigration system, from border security to finding a fair solution for those people who are undocumented and who are contributing in our country to incorporate themselves into American society.”
“I think Republicans and Democrats, rather than focusing on our divisions — and, of course many people, including in my party, don’t agree with everything the president says — but let’s take advantage of this opportunity, where he is showing a willingness to work with us on immigration, on infrastructure,” Curbelo told MSNBC.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told CNN he supports a guest worker program to “match the occupations that, quite honestly, people are having a hard time filling.”
“We don’t want a legal immigration system that depresses wages. That’s one of the reasons I’m actually for prevailing wage rates for a legal immigration guest worker process,” Johnson said. “When we had the Bracero Program we didn’t have a problem of illegal people in this country. We had circularity of immigration. We need to get back to that legal process, and I think that’s exactly what this administration wants to do.”