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House Republicans Aim To Find A Path Forward On Immigration


We've called one of the Republican members of Congress who say they are ready to defy their leaders. Some lawmakers have signed a petition demanding a vote on an immigration measure. It's called a discharge petition. If a majority of lawmakers sign, they force a vote on giving legal status to people here illegally who were brought as children among other measures. And they are very near that majority as House Republicans meet to talk this over today.

John Faso represents part of New York's Hudson River Valley. He's a Republican and one of the lawmakers who has signed so far. Congressman, good morning.

JOHN FASO: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you have that majority in hand?

FASO: I believe we do. And however, the leadership is now actively negotiating with those of us who are pushing to consider these immigration measures. And it's not just the DACA issue. It's a whole range of votes. There would be four different votes on immigration measures per our discharge petition.

INSKEEP: And you'd find out which one of those actually has a majority support in the House, if any of them. So you're - you say you feel you have the votes. A couple of people have withheld their signatures so that you can negotiate with the leadership. Why would the leadership be reluctant to just go ahead and have a vote?

FASO: Well, I think the norm around here is what is holding us up. The norm is we have to have 218 Republicans on anything in order to bring a bill out. And normally, I would agree with that. But in this instance, immigration - there are certain people on the Republican side and Democratic side that for various reasons won't vote for any of these reasonable compromise measures.

And I do think the House needs to work its will, the whole House. And I do think there's a significant bipartisan majority that wants to not only deal with DACA but also deal with border security and deal with agriculture. All of these things, I think, are critical to a compromise that the majority of both parties could support.

INSKEEP: Is some of this just fear, Republican leaders fear that they would lose some support from the Republican Party's base if they go ahead with this immigration measure?

FASO: Well, there may be some of that. But I think the leaders are actually, you know, trying to negotiate a very delicate matter. I mean, if this were easy, it would have been done a long time ago. And I note that when the Democrats had the presidency and the majorities in the House and the Senate in 2009 and '10, they did not pass this legislation. So if it was easy, it would have already been done.

INSKEEP: Well, Congressman, I want to ask about another and related issue. As you know very well, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, has said that everybody who is detained for crossing the border illegally will be referred for prosecution. That was not the case in the past. It is a new policy. And because people are being jailed, their children are taken away if they cross the border with children. The attorney general explained this policy this way.


JEFF SESSIONS: If people don't want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.

INSKEEP: He says they're just lawbreakers. Do you agree with separating parents and children?

FASO: Well, obviously, that's a very difficult issue. I don't agree with it generally. But obviously, if someone is being incarcerated and being held in a facility, it would be very difficult to have children there as well. I think the key here is to expeditiously resolve these claims, and that's why one of the features of one of the bills that I support would increase - double the number of immigration judges so that we can expeditiously handle these requests for asylum or to deal with people who need to be deported.

INSKEEP: But there is the question of whether you arrest everybody or whether you give some people bail. I mean, there are questions of the way that you can handle this. Should the attorney general be doing something different?

FASO: I think it's within the attorney general's power to do it. And again, I do think that we need to speedily resolve these matters. And that's why I think more immigration judges to help resolve the backlog of cases. If you simply give someone the equivalent of an appearance ticket to come back in four or five months, well, quite frequently, most of the time, they're not going to show up.

INSKEEP: A couple of points that Jeff Sessions made in a remarkable interview with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt come to mind here. First, he essentially said - I'm paraphrasing - we're helpless. We're just following the law. The law requires us to separate parents from children. It sounds like you don't agree with that.

FASO: Well, again, this is a humanitarian issue. And I don't think that separating children from their parents is a good policy.

INSKEEP: And he doesn't - but just to be clear, do you agree that the law forces him to do that?

FASO: I'm not sure about that. But I do think that the attorney general has it within his power to refer all of the people who illegally cross the border to prosecution. I don't have trouble with that. I just want these issues to be expeditiously resolved so that parents and children are not separated if at all but certainly not for a long time.

INSKEEP: The attorney general very briefly also said that it's fine to deny people counsel, that there is no legal or even moral requirement to provide people with access to a lawyer. Should people...

FASO: I don't agree with that. We gave the Nazis at Nuremberg council. I think anyone appearing in an American judicial proceeding needs to have counsel.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much.

FASO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Republican John Faso of New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.