Sen. Lee defends immigration stance in exclusive interview

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Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, reiterated Thursday in an exclusive interview with The Universe that he would only support step-by-step immigration reform.

Lee believes that a comprehensive bill may not be the answer to the immigration issue, but rather, may be better addressed in separate bills.

“We don’t face just one big immigration problem, our immigration system is a complex puzzle with dozens of interconnected parts and pieces, and some reforms must be completed before others can begin,” Lee told The Universe.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pictured here addressing the annual Utah Republican Party convention, spoke Thursday with The Universe about his views on immigration. (AP Photo by Rick Bowmer)
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pictured here addressing the annual Utah Republican Party convention, spoke Thursday with The Universe about his views on immigration. (AP Photo by Rick Bowmer)

Lee said the comprehensive immigration bill in 1986 did not solve the problem it intended to, and argued the same would happen again if another such bill were passed this year. Utah’s junior Senator does, however, support comprehensive reform on a gradual timeline. He has submitted 23 amendments to the immigration bill, including proposals to secure the borders and alter the way visas are distributed.

One of the amendments he proposed would tighten not only border security, but also increase requirements for people applying for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status.

“Securing the border is key and must be put in place to prevent further widespread illegal immigration before beginning any legalization process,” Lee said.

Lee also recently proposed several amendments to reform the H-1B visa program, which allows employers to hire foreign workers who are highly trained in their field. He argued an emphasis of reform should be placed on immigrants with high skill jobs, who he said will aid the economy directly.

Utah Democrats praised Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, this month for showing willingness to compromise on immigration reform and pressured Lee to adopt a similar stance.

“(Hatch’s) recent support for an immediate and comprehensive immigration reform bill is statesman-like, and a welcome respite from the gridlock and intense partisan bickering that is currently paralyzing Washington,” said Jim Dabakis, Utah Democratic Party chair, in a statement. “We have great hope that he will be able to persuade Senator Lee to follow his principled example.”

But Lee says the gap between his position and the Democrats’ is more narrow than many perceive.

“We need to have something change with immigration,” Lee said. “It is not just a partisan deal, on many issues Republicans and Democrats share much common ground.”

Senators Lee and Hatch are working together on the Senate Judiciary Committee and they do share some similar plans for the bill.

“This bill needs more improvement before I’m ready to vote for it when the full Senate takes it up,” Hatch said in a statement Tuesday after he voted to advance the bill out of the Judiciary Committee and on to the Senate Floor. “I introduced a number of common-sense amendments that ensure American taxpayers aren’t on the hook for those waiting to become American citizens.”

Lee hopes that by late June the debate will come to a resolution so that Congress can begin discussing smaller scale legislation for the short term.

“The people of Utah know there is a need for immigration reform,”  Lee said.

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