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Republican Sen. David Perdue Outlines What He Sees As Immigration Debate Priorities


The Senate is in the middle of a week-long debate on immigration. It is an open debate. Any proposal that can get 60 votes wins. So far, there have been some passionate speeches from the floor, but no clear winner has emerged. Today a bipartisan group of senators including Republicans Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham and Democrat Tim Kaine said they had reached a deal.

Yesterday on the program we heard from a Democratic senator about his strategy - today, a Republican. A GOP group of senators is trying to win support for a bill called the Secure and Succeed Act. It closely follows President Trump's four pillars of immigration. Earlier I spoke with Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia, who is a sponsor of that bill, and I asked him why he thinks it will prevail.

DAVID PERDUE: What the president has done is laid out a framework that not only solves the DACA problem. And by the way, the Democrats are only talking about 690,000 with temporary work visas. The president stepped in there and said, look; let's fix this once and for all and end the DACA program by giving these young people a pathway and certainty.

And the second thing, though, is he said, we do not want to be back here in four or five years doing the same thing with another generation of people who were brought in illegally, so let's do this. Let's secure our borders. It's a national security issue as well as an immigration issue. Let's end this linked chain migration system that has created this problem. And then we all know we need to end this diversity lottery. So that's the framework the president has laid out.

Look; this is a very, very good solution for the DACA issue. It also provides certainty for the future of our borders, and it ends the archaic, 50-year-old immigration system that has not served us economically or socially. So I'm anxious to get to the Republican bill to see if we can't find Democrats and Republicans coming together to actually solve this thing once and for all.

SHAPIRO: So those four pillars are something the White House has proposed and you support. It would be citizenship for DREAMers, border security, limiting what you call chain migration, others call family reunification, and ending the diversity visa. Other senators we've talked to have said DACA and border security hand-in-hand makes sense for the reasons you laid out. You don't want more young kids coming across the border. Why not just do those two and save the other two pillars for another day?

PERDUE: Well, I hear that question a lot, but here's the problem with that. The first thing that the young people who are in the DACA program now - when they become citizens, the first thing they're going to do is turn around and sponsor their parents who brought them here illegally. And you can't have that. There's no way that you've got the majority of people in America who want that sight unseen.

SHAPIRO: You're part of a Republican working group on this issue, and I wonder whether you think the principles that you've laid out can get 60 votes in the Senate. And if so, what's your strategy for getting to 60?

PERDUE: You know, I'm not a political insider here. I'm new to the process, an outsider. But I'm a business guy, and I've done deals before. And you know, Ari, deals that get done - and I've been a part of some big ones - have to be symmetric. This deal is symmetric. When you look at the DACA solution versus the ending of the things that have caused it, it becomes a very balanced proposition. And frankly, every single facet of the bill that's before the Senate today - Democrats and Republicans have agreed to each of these at different points in their past. So I think this is a point in time - if we can put partisan politics aside, I think we've got a proposition here that should get done and I think, at the end of the day, will get done.

SHAPIRO: You talk about putting partisan politics aside. Have you had conversations with Democrats who say they will support this?

PERDUE: Well, parts of it absolutely. And if you go back and look at what various Democrats have said through time, you can find that they voice support for each of these.

SHAPIRO: While some Democrats say your proposal goes too far to restrict legal immigration, you also have critics on the right. There are conservative talk radio hosts and columnists saying that to grant nearly 2 million DREAMers citizenship, even if the White House supports this plan, amounts to amnesty. So how do you respond to them?

PERDUE: Well, it probably means you're pretty close to a good deal. If you've got the extreme rights unhappy and the extreme lefts unhappy, that probably means you're pretty close to a deal that ought to get done. I don't know if it'll get done or not because the pressure from both sides is extreme. But let me explain a couple things.

Number one, this is not amnesty. Amnesty is when for the 13 or 15 million people who are here by definition illegal, who came in illegally of their own volition - we're not dealing with them. That's the illegal population. Nor are we dealing with the second category, and that's the temporary work visas. And we're just dealing with the legal immigration side. And what we want to do is move more to a worker-based immediate family - protect the immediate family just like Canada and Australia have been doing for decades.

So this is a more measured immigration system. It's not looking to reduce numbers. It's basically looking to bring a different mix of workers into America like we have done for over two-thirds of our history. It's only been in the last 50 years that we went to this country cap system which is archaic. It doesn't meet the needs of our country today or our economy, much less the social needs of our country.

SHAPIRO: Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, thanks for joining us today.

PERDUE: Thank you very much, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.