Castro, Barbour seek bipartisan ground on immigration

On the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act under Johnson, one of the questions asked Tuesday was: Is immigration a civil right?

“Well I see it in a very similar vein,” said Democratic San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. An outspoken partner of President Obama on immigration policy, Castro joined former Mississippi governor and Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour for a debate on immigration reform as part of Tuesday’s Civil Rights Summit at the University of Texas.

While Castro said fixing the system of legal immigration and ensuring legal immigrants don’t overstay their visas, he emphasized something must also be done about the millions of undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States today.

“We also have to recognize that for a variety of reasons, usually to make a better life for themselves and their families, that we have 11 or 12 million people who are here who are illegal, undocumented, whatever word you use,” said Castro.

“It is in the best interest of America economically and for other reasons that we have immigration reform,” agreed Barbour. “And we take the 11 million people who are here and give them the opportunity to be here legally so that they — as the term is — get out of the shadows.”

While Republicans including Barbour have consistently maintained border security must come first, defining what a secure border means and how to measure it has been a task the GOP has of yet failed to specifically spell out.

“You have to set a standard. Standard’s not going to be zero,” Barbour told KVUE when pressed for a definition. “The Senate bill tried to do some of that. I can’t cite it for you, but I think what people want to see is that not only are we setting standards, but we’re actually measuring and meeting the standards.”

“We can always do things to improve our border security,” conceded Castro when asked to respond his Republican counterpart’s concerns. “I also believe that the border is more secure now than it ever has been, and that the numbers and the resources at the border suggest that. However, it does make sense to set a marker for progress in this legislation.”

Even if specific goals and metrics are spelled out, many in the Republican Party oppose a pathway to citizenship or legal status. While acknowledging the scope of the undocumented population and voicing agreement with those who suggest there should be a way to allow many to continue to work legally, Barbour says it must be done in a way that avoids “rewarding people for breaking the law.”

Yet an ostensible measure aimed to do just that proposed as part of the U.S. House of Representatives’ immigration reform package has thus far failed to move ahead. In light of the current political unpopularity of such reform in many conservative circles, it remains to be seen whether a compromise can be reached.

Barbour suggests the measure would supported by, “the vast, vast majority, because it deals with border security. It deals with cost and economics and it deals with not rewarding people for breaking the law. And you’re never going to please everybody.”

“[Speaker John] Boehner is being honest when he says he doesn’t have the votes right now, but that he and others in the House are working on it,” Barbour said of the likelihood of the measure succeed. “And they have until the end of the year.”