Congressman Ron Barber sat down with editors and reporters from the Tucson Weekly, Inside Tucson Business and the Green Valley News in late December to discuss issues affecting Southern Arizona's Congressional District 8. Here is an edited and condensed portion of the interview, in which Barber, a Democrat, discusses immigration reform and the recent budget compromise. Next week, we'll bring you Barber's thoughts on the Affordable Care Act and other topics.
Is a path to citizenship necessary for you to support an immigration-reform proposal?
I don't think it's helpful to who we are as a country of immigrants to create another legal status for a group of people because we are concerned they might become citizens. I'm an immigrant myself (from England) and was very proud to become a permanent resident and then to get citizenship and go into the voting booth and vote and be a participating citizen in every way. I think every person in this country ought to be able to have that aspiration. I think with the 11 million (undocumented) people, I think we have to have some process that is more exacting than for people who have come here legally. You've heard it all before, but I think we need to have people pay back taxes and penalties, and undergo a very thorough background check to make sure they have not engaged in illegal activity. They need to go to the back of the line, because a lot of people are ahead of them who have applied legally. But I don't think we should necessarily say we have to create a new class of legal status in order to get them to come out of the shadows. I think we need to give them some opportunity to go all the way to citizenship. That's certainly true for the Dreamers. These young kids who have come here through no fault of their own and, for all practical purposes, consider themselves Americans. They speak the language, they've gone to school here, they want to go into the military or to the university. I am 100 percent behind them having a quick pathway to legal status and citizenship. I want to see us have comprehensive immigration reform and we may have to make some compromises to get it through both the House and the Senate.
Wouldn't you have an easier time if citizenship was off the table? Just make that part of the penalty and say, "That's part of the penalty. You don't have to live in the shadows anymore but you don't get to be a citizen because of the way you came across the border."
It would be easier to get it through the House. The Senate has already passed a different version. Here's what I think will happen, and we'll see if this become a compromise: The speaker says he won't take up the Senate version of the immigration bill. He will allow several bills to come to the floor. Some of those that I've seen come out of Judiciary (Committee) are not necessarily very magnanimous at all. And then one that we passed out of Homeland Security (Committee) will be part of the mix. When we get those bills to the floor and hopefully get them passed—although there will be some opposition, even from the Democratic caucus—then we have two sets of legislation that people can sit down at a conference table to sort out. Some people are saying "no path to citizenship" is a deal-breaker, and some people are saying it's the only way to go. I think we need to get to a point where we have a conference committee to sort that out. If that's what it takes to get immigration reform—just like I voted on the budget bill last Thursday (Dec. 12), sometimes you have to get two-thirds of what you want in order to get the rest. To take that budget bill as an example, I was really concerned about the impact on military retirees I represent in large numbers. But what the rest of the bill (did), which is give us a two-year certainty in the economy for planning, when it gave us reduced amount of sequestration cuts, it did so many good things and it was bipartisan. We actually had something where people came together in regular order, as we call it, and in a conference committee to produce a bill. Given my strong position on bipartisanship, I had to vote for that bill. But I'm really concerned about the military retirees. Today, I joined with other members to introduce three bills to deal with the retiree-pay benefits. One is primarily a Democratic bill and one is more bipartisan. They both go after the same issue in different ways and rescind the cut to retirement pay. And there's a separate bill that deals with veterans and the disabled. So I think there's going to be a lot of bipartisan support for those bills. So that's one thing I hope we can get accomplished.
If you're going to rescind the cut, who has to pay the price for that?
One of the bills has a pay-for in it (that would find funding elsewhere in the budget to cover its cost), and the other one does not. We'll see if either one has traction. Hopefully, we'll get the paid-for all the way through.