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Rep. Ruben Gallego On Immigration Debate


The Senate seems closer to reaching a budget deal by Friday. Still, it appears less and less likely that a deal on immigration is going to be part of it. Yesterday, President Trump said he would love to see a shutdown if he doesn't get what he wants on immigration. His press secretary then walked back those comments, saying the president isn't advocating for a shutdown.

Well, what if there isn't a deal for DREAMers by the end of the week? That's the group of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, often illegally. Their protections under DACA, the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (ph) program, expire in a month. Congressman Ruben Gallego has been advocating for protections for the DREAMers. He's one of the chairs of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and he joins us in our studios in Washington this morning.

Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.

RUBEN GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Should Democrats force a government shutdown to get an immigration deal?

GALLEGO: The Democrats should do everything we can. And part of that, if it has to come to it - being a shutdown - if it comes, it should be a shutdown. Obviously, nobody wants that. We certainly have not advocated for that, but there was a deal originally by the president and our leadership saying that we are going to get the DREAM Act done. We're going to get the DREAM Act done first in December, and then it got switched to January. And at some point, we have to come to the realization - this is Democrat, Republicans and President Trump - that we have to fix this.

We have to give some certainty to these young men and women - some of these young women that have families now - about what is their status in this country. So I think everyone's, you know, kind of dancing around the main topic. But at the end of the day, we're just going to have to come to the realization, this has to get done. The problem we have right now is that we have a president that's very difficult to deal with because he is all over the place in terms of negotiations.

MARTIN: Well, maybe you can clear this up. But it's my understanding that immigration has essentially been separated from the budget deal, that Democrats have agreed to just address immigration in isolation. Is that right, and do you have a problem with that?

GALLEGO: It's certainly - that's come to the understanding, at least on the Senate side. In the House side, that's not what we've agreed to. And we have continued to say that they - this is all-encompassing. And it's...

MARTIN: Does that make you frustrated? Do you think the Senate Democrats then have caved to some kind of pressure to separate the two?

GALLEGO: I do feel frustrated because I think that we had the best opportunity to pass this when we had it all together at once. And, you know, there's a lot of, you know, talk about taking care of our military. And I think people forget that there is 10,000 DREAMers that are actually in - well, 1,000 that are in the military now and 10,000 that are veterans. And when we're talking about taking care of our military, we seem to forget that they're - we're about to deport close to 10,000 veterans. And I think there's a lot of other areas that we could probably find some very common ground.

But at the end of the day, the real problem here is that we have a president that is difficult to deal with 'cause he doesn't have any idea what he wants. We have come up with some really good bipartisan legislation, and the President and chief of staff Kelly are just all over the place. We cannot get them to pin down on a good bipartisan deal because once you introduce any idea to them, they take it, and then they walk it back. It's been a very difficult time, I think, for both Democrats, Republicans to deal with this president.

MARTIN: White House chief of staff John Kelly - speaking of General Kelly - was on the Hill yesterday talking with lawmakers about immigration. And he was talking about the fact that not all people who were qualified for DACA protections actually applied for it. Let's listen to what he said.


JOHN KELLY: There are 690,000 official DACA registrants. And the president sent over what amounts to be 2 1/2 times that number, to 1.8 million. The difference between 690 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn't sign up.

MARTIN: What did you make of that remark?

GALLEGO: Well, a couple of things. It just reinforces that chief of staff Kelly has zero idea and concept about how DACA, the DREAMers and DREAM Act work. You know, we've seen this consistently in our meetings with him. He is clueless when it comes to immigration, immigration issues, which is part of the reason why we're having a lot of these problems at - dealing with the White House. Two, he's clearly been influenced by Stephen Miller and the more xenophobic and nativist faction of the White House, and it's making things extremely difficult.

And lastly, you know, for someone who, like me - like him, I was in the military - you're supposed to comport yourself in a manner that's professional. You know, going and just slamming this group of - population of people, many of them who are veterans, you know, again, it causes - doesn't bring a solution to the problem, right? And right now, we're trying to find a solution, and chief of staff Kelly is not helping in that regard.

MARTIN: To that end, to find a bipartisan solution, what are you willing to compromise? Would you sign on to the funding that the president wants for border security? Is that something you've conceded to?

GALLEGO: We've had a lot of conversations about what we're willing to do. And border security has always been a part of that. You know, what we're not going to do is fund a stupid wall for the sake of saying that we funded a wall, for the sake of, you know, fulfilling the president's ego and, specifically, his campaign promise, which, of course, was that Mexico was going to pay for it. And now we're going to make our American citizens pay for it. So, you know, at the end of the day...

MARTIN: So where's the compromise going to come?

GALLEGO: The compromise is essentially with the president actually accepting a - what a bipartisan deal potentially is, which is having the DREAMer population become, you know, legalized and become citizens. We will put some money towards border security, and we'll continue to have further talks on border security into the future.

MARTIN: Congressman Ruben Gallego, Democrat from Arizona, thanks so much.

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