By Kyle Wingfield
Congressman Doug Collins came by the AJC for an editorial board meeting Friday, and we managed to talk about something other than the series of scandals and unsettling revelations -- "like a soda fountain that never quits running," he described them. A lot of somethings, actually.
One of the topics we covered most extensively was immigration reform, an important subject for a man whose Ninth Congressional District is rated among the nation's five most-conservative but which, by virtue of its inclusion of Hall County, is also home to a large number of Hispanic immigrants. Not only that, but Collins is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which is leading that chamber's work on immigration reform. While Collins rated the Senate immigration bill being worked on by the much-publicized Gang of Eight "dead on arrival in the House," he did express optimism that a good bill (or bills) can pass -- depending on how it's done. Here is some of what Collins had to say about how it's going.
On whether the bill has to be "comprehensive":
"I think the concern here is, and I've heard these same discussions from groups [interested in the bill, such as the agricultural industry], is they've sort of bought the idea that the only thing we can get is big, [so] let's just do that and accept the bad. And I believe that's just not a good way to approach that. ... [In the House] we have broken it up into different parts, from enforcement to guest workers ....
"Back in one of the first hearings we did on immigration, Mayor [Julian] Castro from San Antonio was there, and he kept coming back to this issue of 'comprehensive': We've gotta have comprehensive; comprehensive means citizenship. And when I got to my questioning time my question was, I'm concerned that you're poisoning the water right now by making this a partisan political issue by saying the only thing that comprehensive means is a pathway to citizenship. And if that's your definition of comprehensive, then we're pretty much at an impasse right now.
"Those issues need to be discussed. But if that's what you believe comprehensive immigration reform is, then there's an inherent problem. Because there's problems with our legal side, there's problems with the illegal community we have now, and there's problems with enforcement. And if all you're focused on is a political hit, then you're gonna lose the rest of this."
On how the House will proceed:
"I think what you'll see in the next few weeks -- you will see some immigration stuff move in the House, probably before break, before August -- the issue will be broken up. Not to say that at some point in time it couldn't come back together. But I think it's gonna be taken in smaller bites.
"To me, I watched part of the Senate Judiciary hearing when they took up this bill, and they were doing mark-up on a bill that was so massive. I mean, it was just to a point where this was ridiculous. You couldn't go through this whole thing in an adequate way. You were making a lot of assumptions, [putting] a lot of trust in staff to do stuff. So I think when you look at the smaller bites, you're at least able to say, we may have a big product at the end, but we're starting with smaller steps."
On whether members of Congress really want a bill to pass:
"I challenge everyone: We want to talk about immigration, let's talk about immigration. But let's don't find the parts we know are gonna be huge hindrances and say, we can't do anything because you held out on this. I believe there are, still -- and I think it's both sides, so I'll just leave it that way -- there are some who would like to find one or two pieces that just stop the whole thing, for political purposes. I hope that doesn't happen."
On what he hears from his constituents:
"Even in the Ninth District, there's a lot of diversity of opinion ... on immigration. We're the second-most conservative district in the country, but we're not monolithic on immigration. It's really interesting to see. I think that's good ... because we have different interest groups, and I saw that in Georgia [as a state legislator].
"I have a unique perspective, in that I have dealt with this on two occasions in Georgia. Good and bad. I'm not saying [Georgia] HB 87 was a perfect piece of legislation. There's no perfect piece of legislation, at all. But at the same point, it did bring questions to the table to be addressed, and I think some were addressed this year, but even further down the line: Where are we taking this? The expressions from the states have led to the federal [government] actually having to work on this, so I think that's a good thing."