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A Conservative Latino On Immigration Policy


After his defeat in health care, President Trump this past week switched focus and returned to one of his signature campaign issues, immigration. He threw his support to a bill that would sharply cut immigration numbers and changed the requirements for people legally migrating to the U.S. Right now U.S. immigration favors bringing in people with family ties. The proposed new system would favor English-speaking immigrants with more skills. The bill has a lot of opposition, including among conservatives. Joining us in the studio now is Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. Good morning.

ALFONSO AGUILAR: Good morning. Happy to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are your thoughts on the bill?

AGUILAR: Well, it's bad legislation. I mean, immigration is is what America is all about. I think that in the past, we've seen Republicans who oppose immigration reform opposing illegal immigration but saying that they support legal immigration. This is about reducing the levels of of legal immigration in the country. And, frankly, immigration is good for the country. It helps promote economic growth and create jobs for Americans. Immigrants are taking jobs that Americans don't want or for which there are no Americans of working age. So it's important to fill those jobs - jobs that are necessary to fill to, as I've said, create jobs for Americans.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think this targets Latino immigrants, as has been suggested, and are you concerned about the message it sends?

AGUILAR: Well, I think, in a way, it does because it's saying we want to bring now only people who are educated. English is a consideration. It would be a consideration for granting an immigrant visa and permanent residency. So, basically, you're discriminating against people from poor countries like Latin America. President Trump has said that he wants to move away from the low income, as he calls - low skill, as he calls it - immigration system. But the truth is that, as I've said before, those so-called low-skill jobs are very important. And we need to fill them to grow the economy and to grow better-paying jobs for American workers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to talk briefly about the dreamers. One of the issues that people who favor a more open immigration policy really care about is their right to stay. Do you think this administration will kick out these people who are brought to the U.S. illegally as children as a way to move this agenda forward?

AGUILAR: I don't think so. And this is what's very interesting - that even though we're talking about reducing the levels of legal immigration, there is some glimmer of hope. And that's with dreamers. The president hasn't rescinded DACA, which is the executive order that President Obama put in place to provide some relief to those who entered the country legally when they were minors. He said that he cares about dreamers, that it's an issue that he struggles with - so DACA still in place. And he said that he wants to find a solution.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some suggest that he could use it as a negotiating chip to get the permanent changes to immigration law that he wants. Do you think that's a possibility?

AGUILAR: Well, right now there is no support in Congress among the Republicans, conservatives to reduce the levels of legal immigration. I think there would be support for a DREAM Act. Legislation has been introduced by Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, along with Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. It's a bipartisan bill. And it will provide relief, legal status to dreamers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have a question for you. Earlier this year, you publicly said that you supported some of the president's positions on immigration, including, for example, the White House's move to target sanctuary cities.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: But a lot has happened. How are you feeling about President Trump's stand on immigration now?

AGUILAR: Well, look. I said that my position is nuanced. I believe immigration is good for the country. There are aspects of President Trump's immigration proposals that I agree with. I do believe in fencing. It does work. It has shown that it works to disrupt illegal entry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mean the wall, the proposed wall.

AGUILAR: Correct - fencing. And I believe that, in terms of targeting sanctuary cities, I think law enforcement - local law enforcement should refer to federal authorities people who they detain, undocumented immigrants who have criminal record. So I support that. At the same time, I do believe that we need to find a way to deal constructively with undocumented immigrants, the majority of whom pose no threat to our communities. And right now the Republican Party seems to be stuck, not willing to deal constructively with undocumented immigrants. And that's the key. So I'm hopeful that, you know, if we secure the border, we remove undocumented immigrants who have criminal records - that, eventually, Congress could deal in a more humane, constructive way with undocumented immigrants.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just very briefly, do you think that this bill is a nonstarter?

AGUILAR: I think so. I think it's not going anywhere. I think he did it to please his base, to energize his base. But, frankly, it goes nowhere.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alfonso Aguilar is the executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. Thank you very much.

AGUILAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.