Emerging from a closed-door meeting of House Republicans Wednesday, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said his colleagues would take a “piecemeal approach” to reforming the nation’s immigration laws, rather than debate a recently approved Senate bill that would have overhauled U.S. policy on the issue.
Aspects of the Senate plan were met with suspicion, he said.
“There’s a lot of skepticism in our conference, I would say,” Fleischmann said in an interview with Nooga.com. “I can tell you this-from the district, from my constituents, I’m getting an overwhelming no, probably the most resounding no that I’ve received on an issue during my short tenure in Congress.”
Fleischmann, who was elected to the House in 2010, made no mention of the impact on the Senate plan made by a 3rd District resident who also happens to be a member of the U.S. Senate-Sen. Bob Corker.
Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor and ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offered an amendment to the Senate bill that would have bolstered border security like never before.
The amendment called for doubling border agents; 350 miles of additional fencing; and billions of dollars in state-of-the art technology for the U.S. Border Patrol, including drones and helicopters. The amendment was approved in a 68-32 vote as part of a final version of the immigration bill, receiving aye votes from both Corker and Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Many of the provisions in the amendment, co-written with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., lined up exactly with goals for immigration policy outlined by Fleischmann in his most recent campaign for a second term in 2012.
“The security of America’s southern border can be improved by increasing the number of border enforcement agents, completing and enhancing the current fence and implementing the use of technology,” Fleischmann wroteon his website.
Still, a provision of the Senate bill that would have outlined a rigid pathway to citizenship after border provisions had been put in place made Fleischmann and his House colleagues doubtful. In the same campaign outline, the congressman said he did “not support rewarding illegal immigrants with amnesty.”
Instead of debating and voting on the Senate plan, House GOP leadership has opted for a “piecemeal approach” to the bill and will seek to bring smaller individual components to the floor for debate, Fleischmann said. The congressman added the reason for doing so was because he, his colleagues and the American people did not trust the Barack Obama administration to enforce all aspects of the “single, massive bill” once it was passed for implementation.
“I get out and talk to the people, and I listen to them,” he said. “And they’re fed up with the inability of the federal government to get anything right. Their fear is that some type of blanket amnesty will be approved with no ability to enforce the law, and it’s just going to be more of the same. Until we can rebuild the public confidence in our ability to get things done in a legal, proper and honest manner, the people are understandably not going to trust us.”
According to data provided by the Immigration Policy Center, unauthorized immigrants make up roughly 2.2 percent of the population in Tennessee. The figure is derived from an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center, which also showed unauthorized immigrants comprising 3.1 percent of the state workforce in 2010, generating $3.8 billion of economic activity in the state.
The Corker amendment to the Senate bill also offered potential savings, according to an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. After reviewing the proposal, the CBO said the bill would reduce the U.S. deficit by $175 billion over the next decade because of labor force expansion and added tax collection, with another $670 billion in savings possible in the following decade.
When asked about immigration reform’s potential economic benefits for Tennessee and the 3rd District, Fleischmann said the country must continue to enforce laws that allow Americans to “share the dream.” The congressman said he recently attended a naturalization ceremony, which shaped his view.
“I saw citizens take the oath for the first time. It was incredible,” he said. “They played by the rules; they loved this country. It was a joyous occasion. We are a land of opportunity, but we must have rules and structures in order to keep the process on the straight and narrow. Otherwise, we’re just going to have chaos.”