U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL,18) was questioned about his stance on immigration reform during a recent town hall meeting in Heyworth, Illinois and his answers may provide a glimpse of what is to come after the August recess.
When asked if he was in favor of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the states, the congressman, who said the current system "is broken", seemed open to supporting a comprehensive immigration reform plan that includes such a provision.
Schock said the two largest industries in his district, agriculture and manufacturing, are having difficulty getting H-1B (high-tech/skilled worker) and H-2A (agriculture) visas, which signifies that the system "is not working for employers" or "people who are trying to come here legally."
But "the devil is all in the details," he pointed out.
Saying that he does not believe there will ever be a "perfect system", Schock noted that he does not have a laundry list of conditions that have to be met before he would support immigration reform legislation. The congressman confirmed that the House is working on piecemeal immigration reform legislation that he thinks will make the Senate bill "better". Schock listed border control as the first issue scheduled to be tackled followed by visa worker programs and then DREAMers, or young people who were brought to the U.S. as small children.
Schock says addressing the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants and creating a pathway to citizenship for them will be "the most difficult bill" to get through the House.
There are people in the House who say we should find a way to grant them legal status, but not a path to citizenship, and there are the people who say 'no, there needs to be a path to citizenship.' My mindset is that people should come forward, should have to pay a penalty and a fine, there should be a probationary period. I am not in the camp that believes that people should have to leave the country in order to get in line. I just happen to believe that's just an unrealistic expectation that 11 million people are going to leave. I think it would be disruptive to our economy, number one. Number two, many of them of them don't have a place to go back to even if they wanted to. And number three, I think it adversely effects the self-identification [process], if somebody self-identifies and knows now they have to leave.
I want whatever we pass to work. I want it to be a real reform bill and I want it to be constructive to the overall process of having more legal immigration down the road.
Schock went on to say that he supports a pathway to citizenship "for whoever wants to come" to the U.S., noting that for those who are already here illegally, they should be required to self-identify, pay back taxes, and go through a legal probationary period.
"I don't think there should be anything stopping somebody who self-identifies, pays their back taxes and continues to pay taxes in our country to get in the back of the line with everyone who wants to become an American citizen," Schock explained. "What I don't support is giving anybody any preferential treatment to people who are here illegally above those people who are outside of our borders currently that are waiting in line."
Here's more of Schock's comments on about the possibility of immigration reform legislation and how it may make its way through Congress:
Schock also talked down the notion that immigration reform needs to be highly focused on border security.
"The reality is 40 percent of the people who are here illegally today, did not come across the southern border," Schock said. "They came here on legal work visas, many from European countries, Asian countries, and the like; and they've overstayed their work visa. And so to simply say this is ... in the case of illegal immigration, is simply a matter of border security, I remind my colleagues in the House, and in the Senate, that we need to look at our employer verification system to make sure that somebody here who is working on a legal visa, that when that visa expires, the employer is held accountable and the individual is held accountable if they overstay their visa. Because just beefing up the border and still allowing 40 percent of the people who are here illegally to stay here illegally because they overstayed their visas, doesn't fix the problem of illegal immigration. "
So what does all of this mean?
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent finds it "noteworthy" that a House GOP lawmaker appears to be open to a bipartisan approach to immigration reform legislation. Although many Republicans say creating any pathway to citizenship is akin to breaking the law, Sargent points to a possible way of getting around that notion — and it lies in the constituents. As noted by conservative blogger Byron York and flagged by Sargent, the outcome of immigration reform efforts could rely heavily on how town hall meetings like Schock's play out during the August recess. If voters of all stripes seem to be okay with the issue progressing further legislatively and there is no outcry against provisions like a pathway to citizenship, then lawmakers may forgo their reservations about creating a path considering the low potential for voter blow back and their acknowledgement that something needs to be done to overhaul the nation's immigration system.
Immigration rights activist Karen Mendoza, who asked Schock about his stance on the issue during the town hall meeting, says she is pleased with the lawmaker's response and hopes to work with him on getting immigration reform legislation passed.
"I’m happy and I feel accomplished, because we’ve been working tirelessly on this immigration reform campaign" said Mendoza, a young undocumented leader of Illinois People’s Action after the meeting. "We truly appreciate our congressman's support and we look forward to continuing our work with Rep. Schock and his staff as the details for immigration reform bills get worked out in the house. We hope that this will inspire other Representatives in House to do the same."