Rep. Scott Peters Co-Authors Bipartisan DACA Bill
A new proposal to make President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program permanent was announced Tuesday by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers. The DACA program, which shields some U.S. residents brought to the country illegally as children from deportation, has been in limbo since September of last year when President Trump announced its end.
Supporters said the new bill, the USA Act, is backed by more than 40 members of Congress. San Diego Democratic Congressman Scott Peters is a co-sponsor of the legislation.
Peters spoke to KPBS Midday Edition host Maureen Cavanaugh about his support to find a permanent solution for DACA recipients and border security. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Q: How does this proposed bill fix DACA?
A: Essentially it incorporates the DREAM Act and it adds some aspects of border security that Democrats and Republicans agree are appropriate and necessary. So, as you know we’re trying to develop the most efficient and cost effective approach to securing the border. We want to make sure we’re not wasting that money on a wall. And we want to provide the kind of protections that the DREAM Act provided to dreamers.
Q: Does this DACA fix include a pathway to citizenship?
A: It does, it tracks the DREAM Act so you have to have been present in the U.S. since 2013, younger than 18 upon entry. You have to pursue education which is college, high school or GED or enroll in a high school GED program or the military. And then there’s a pathway to legal permanent residency and ultimately a path to citizenship from there. So it’s very similar to the DREAM Act as it’s written now.
Q: It's not a clean DACA bill because it includes increased border security. Will that make it hard for many Democrats to support?
A: I think this particular version will get support. Because, it’s not a wall. It’s a technological approach to border security. So one of the things that I heard when I visited the border patrol a few months ago was that they don’t have the detection systems that they need to find tunnels. That’s something that we can all agree that’s an appropriate security measure that Republicans and Democrats can say, 'OK, that’s something that’s worth investing in.' We also required the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a plan on how to secure the southern border mile by mile before we invest in hardening it. It incentives legitimate commerce across the border with new ports of entry and encourages and authorizes collaboration among different state, local and federal entities to support border security. I think everyone agrees in concept that border security is important. We don’t want drugs coming across. We don’t want people smuggling people. We don’t want guns smuggled. There’s an appropriate role for border security and Democrats need to be willing to engage in that conversation. I think that’s what we’re doing here.
Q: Do you expect some of your fellow Democrats to hold out for a clean DACA bill?
A: I think yes, some people will. Some members of the Hispanic Caucus have indicated that any construction, even spackling in the existing wall, is too much construction. I think that generally we’re really focused on the urgency of protecting these people from deportation. These dreamers are our neighbors. This is the only country they’ve ever known. They’re our co-workers. They are Americans and we’ve been put in the position that we have to do something about this because of (President Trump’s) withdrawal of President Obama’s plan. And this is an appropriate response.
Q: Will the GOP leadership allow a vote on this bill?
A: I don’t know that. I think it would be really unfortunate if they don’t. I heard some rumors that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that they’re not going to allow something that President Trump wouldn’t sign to come to the floor. I think that’s the wrong approach. We’ve seen Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, in the Senate respond exactly to what President Trump asked for in terms of coming up with a deal. And then of course he spoke very negatively about it in that meeting to say the least. In the House here we’ve come up with this USA Act which is a narrower focus on securing the border and getting the DREAM Act passed. We ought to be doing Congress’s job and passing legislation. And I think guessing what the president is going to do, with this president who seems rather mercurial, is a fool’s errand.
Q: The Republicans have introduced a spending fix that would push the budget deadline into February. Would you support that?
I’m really skeptical just on its own about this month-by-month budgeting. In terms of defense, short-term funding, it leads to costly delays. It means the Pentagon can’t meet the training, their readiness needs. It means the contracting community doesn’t know how to plan. Federal agencies need certainty. At some point we have to say it’s time to do a budget for the whole year. And we’re going to be in February if we extend it this time. So I think you’d have to offer a pretty good package to me to do another month's spending without any promise that we’ll be in any better shape in terms of coming up with a budget and a plan for funding the government a month from now. So I just think this is really bad. It’s ironic that this place was more functional when power was split between Republicans and Democrats when Republicans have the key to all three, the House, Senate and the presidency. It’s amazing to me that they can’t get their act together. But this month-by month budgeting is bad for the country.
KPBS Midday Edition has requested interviews with all members of San Diego's congressional delegation to discuss a potential government shutdown and DACA legislation.