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CNN "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript - Immigration Reform and Guns


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KARL: Hello again. George is off, and it's great to have you with us. The last session of Congress was the least productive in history, but there are signs that may be about to change. There is a lot of talk about bipartisan compromise this week, including indications that the long awaited immigration bill is about to be revealed. So, what's in the plan? We're joined by the Republican Party's point man on immigration, Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio, thank you for joining us.

RUBIO: Thank you, Jonathan.

KARL: So you are considered the key to getting immigration reform passed. My question this morning is, do we have a deal?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, let me say, I am not the key. I think there's 92 other senators and eight (ph) that I've worked, so (ph) many (ph) others that I've worked with that are key to this as well. So I am just here today to communicate to you the importance of this issue, and hopefully what we've agreed to.

Let me say this about - you asked me if there was an agreement. The answer is, we've been working very hard, and I think we have come to a position now where we've been able to tell our staffs to draft something. We need to read that, and that's what we're in the process of doing. But I am very optimistic that we're going to have something very positive to share with the American people here very, very soon, perhaps as early as this week.

KARL: But to be clear, you're talking about something that will give a path to citizenship for those that are in the country illegally right now, and in fact, give them legal status six months after this becomes law.

RUBIO: Well, first of all, I think it's important to understand it does not give anything. It allows people access to the legal immigration system. Number two, some people won't qualify. They haven't been here long enough; they've committed very serious crimes. They won't be able to stay. Number three is all people will get an opportunity to apply for things, to apply for a legal status, which isn't awarded on day one. I mean, there is a process for that. You have to pay an application fee and a fine, and you are going to have to stay in that status while you pay taxes and prove that you are not a public charge. And you don't qualify for any federal benefits. And after some period of time, over 10 years that's elapsed, the only thing you will get - assuming that the border is secure, that e-verify is in place, that an entry exit system is in place for tracking visas, then the only thing you get is the chance to apply for a green card, like everybody else does. The only thing you are earning here is an opportunity to apply for temporary status, and ultimately potentially to apply for a green card, the way everybody else does. And that's the process that we are outlining.

KARL: But you are already taking heat from some of your own natural allies on the right. Congressman King, Steve King in the House is calling this amnesty. He said this week that what you're talking would, quote, "pardon immigration lawbreakers and reward them with the object of their crime." And Senator Ted Cruz, Republican in the Senate, was just as harsh. Listen to what he had to say.


SEN. TED CRUZ, R-TEXAS: If we pass something that allows those here illegally to achieve citizenship, it means you're a chump for having stayed in your own country and followed the rules.


KARL: So? Your response?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, the existing law allows people that are here illegally to gain access to citizenship. What it says is you have to go back to your country of birth and you have to wait 10 years, and then you can apply for it. All we've done here is create an alternative to that that they can access, and the alternative we've created is going to be longer, more expensive and more difficult to navigate. It will actually be cheaper if they went back home, waited 10 years, and applied for a green card. And so, secondly, we've not awarding anything. All we're giving people the opportunity to eventually do is gain access to the same legal immigration system, the same legal immigration process that will be available to everybody else. And number three, in exchange for all of that, we are going to get the toughest enforcement measures in the history of this country. We're going to secure the border to the extent that's possible. We're going to have an entry and exit system to track visas, because 40 percent of our illegal immigrants are people that entered legally and overstayed, and we are going to have e-verify, universally, which means that you will not be able to find a job in the United States if you're not legally here.

KARL: Now, one of your toughest Republican critics on this, Senator Sessions, is listening to this interview right now. And he asked the question, is this bill enforcement first or is it legalization first? And the bottom line is, with legalization being in just six months, the answer is, this is legalization first, isn't it?

RUBIO: Well, first - yeah, but it's, well, but it's important to understand that. If you do just -- that was my original position. The problem is what do we do in the meantime? While you're doing all these enforcement mechanisms, what do you do with the millions of people that are undocumented? Is it a big game of cat and mouse, where if we catch you, you have to leave, but if we don't catch you, in the future you get to apply? I want to know who's here now, and I want to freeze the problem in place so it does not get worse. That's the first thing. The second thing is we don't want a rush on the border. We don't want people to think, well, they are still doing this enforcement stuff, but at some point in a few years, they're going to actually start some process, so let me sneak in now to take advantage of it. We don't want that either. What I want is to freeze the problem that's in place.

Look, I'm not happy about the fact that we have millions of people here illegally, and quite frankly, those decisions that led to that happening were made when I was in ninth grade. But that's what we have. This is not a theory, it is the reality, and what we have today is we don't do anything about it. It's de facto amnesty. What I'm saying is, let's bring these people out so we can figure out who needs to leave and who we're going to give a chance to earn their way towards one day being able to apply for a green card, the same way everybody else does. And I think that's why that is a better approach.

KARL: All right, let's talk for a second about the politics here. What is at stake for the Republican party here? What will it do to your party if the conservatives who oppose this succeed in killing it?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, look, I think that I am looking to the other 92 senators weighing in, because I think they're going to make it better. There are eight of us that have worked on this, and we've worked very hard, but there are 92 other people with their own ideas, and I have tried to incorporate as many of their ideas as possible, given the bills that they have filed in the past. Some of them have submitted letters that outlined concerns, and we have answers for all of those concerns. But I look forward to how they can improve this bill and this product.

As far as the Republican Party is concerned, I just want the Republican Party to be what it's always been. I want the conservative movement to be what it's always been about, and that is solving problems in a way that's true to our values and the principles of the greatest nation on earth. And immigration is a problem. Even if we didn't have a single illegal immigrant in the United States, we'd have to do immigration reforms, because our legal immigration system is broken. Immigration is a problem because our laws are not enforced. They are not enforced. We have no way to track people that are overstaying their visas. We have no way to keep people from taking jobs away from Americans, and we have not secured our border, leading not just to our immigration problem, but to a national security sovereignty and humanitarian problem on the border. And this bill hopefully achieves progress on all three of those fronts, and I just hope that I can convince people that leaving things the way they are now is much worse than approaching it the way we've outlined.

KARL: OK, I want to move to the other big bipartisan compromise that emerged last week or this week, which is the deal on guns. Now, when you were in the Florida state legislature, you supported background checks, and back in 2007, you said that - let me see if I can get the - "if someone is a dangerous person who has shown a proclivity for using firearms to hurt other people, then we don't want them having a permit, much less ownership of a firearms. So my question to you is I assume you still believe that. You don't want dangerous people with a proclivity to commit crimes.

RUBIO: Everybody believes that.

KARL: So why not have background checks to buy a gun? What's wrong with having background checks at gun shows?

RUBIO: First of all, we do have background checks. And for example, I have a --


RUBIO: -- de facto background check. Are they going to --

KARL: But Senator, we don't have background checks for all sales at gun shows. We don't have background checks for all sales online. What the Manchin-Toomey compromise would do would say all of those sales, too, have background checks. What's wrong with that?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, do you want the background check, because the background check system right now does not work because it's not being enforced. Number two is, criminals don't care about the laws that we pass with regards to guns. They never follow the law. That's why they are criminals. Look, here is the bottom line. I think everyone is in favor of any law that could effectively keep criminals or dangerous people from getting access to guns. The problem is that all these laws that people are discussing will not effectively deal with that problem, but will infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. And so, what we need to look for is a compromise that actually accomplishes that, that does not infringe or place additional burdens on law-abiding citizens, and in fact is effective at keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and that begins by enforcing it. Are we going to start prosecuting people that are trying to buy guns and fail a background check? Because they are not prosecuting those right now. Are we going to honor conceal-carry permits from across state lines? Because someone who has a conceal-carry permit has been background checked. That's why they have one. Are we going to honor those in a gun show in other parts of the country? I think that should be part of the bill.

And here is my bigger point. This debate about guns, we are missing a golden opportunity to have the real debate we should be having, and that is a debate about violence. Guns are what they're using to commit the violence, but the problem is violence, and no one is focusing on why this society has become so violent, why young people in America are committing these horrifying acts, and we are missing a golden opportunity to discuss that, and not simply just focus on gun laws that only law-abiding people will follow.

KARL: Senator, we're almost out of time, but I've got to ask you about the Cuban vacation for Jay-Z and Beyonce, going down to Cuba on a cultural visa from the Treasury Department. You obviously said you thought that was a mistake to allow them to go down there. Jay-Z was pretty harsh. You know what Jay-Z is saying, let's be clear, was pretty harsh about critics like you, saying what's wrong, he's not a criminal for simply going down to Cuba. So what's your message back to Jay-Z? You can rap it if you want. He rapped his message to you.

RUBIO: Well, I won't rap it, but I'll say, I mean, first of all, I think Jay-Z needs to get informed. One of his heroes is Che Guevara. Che Guevara was a racist. Che Guevara was a racist that wrote extensively about the superiority of white Europeans over people of African descent, so he should inform himself on the guy that he's propping up. Secondly, I think if Jay-Z was truly interested in the true state of affairs in Cuba, he would have met people that are being oppressed, including a hip-hop artist in Cuba who is right now being oppressed and persecuted and is undergoing a hunger strike because of his political lyrics. And I think he missed an opportunity. But that's Jay-Z's issue. The bigger point is the travel policies. The travel policies need to be tightened because they are being abused. These are tourist trips, and they are -- what they're doing is providing hard currency and funding so that a tyrannical regime can maintain its grip on the island of Cuba, and I think that's wrong.

KARL: All right, Senator Rubio, thank you for joining us on "This Week."

RUBIO: Thank you.


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