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Latham: No immigration reform this year
There likely won’t be any immigration reform legislation passed by Congress until President Barack Obama gives up on amnesty, U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Ames, said during a town hall meeting in Webster City Thursday.
“Nothing will done on it this year, I’m sure of that,” Latham said. “It will be difficult to get anything signed by [the president] that doesn’t involve amnesty.”
Obama’s support for comprehensive immigration reform, including some sort of pathway to citizenship for existing undocumented immigrants, has been labeled repeatedly as amnesty by Republicans. And a memo last month by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that laid out options to defer removal actions against a some of undocumented immigrants, such as college students, sparked outrage from many Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who labeled it “de facto amnesty.”
Frustrated attendees at Latham’s Webster City town hall want Washington lawmakers to secure U.S. borders and take away other reasons why immigrants come across the border, including jobs from business owners who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
“I don’t fault them for wanting to come here,” Latham said of undocumented immigrants. “When your family is in dire poverty and starving, you do whatever you can to help them. But, jobs are the reason they come here, and I do think business owners who knowingly hire them need to be held accountable.”
Republicans have recently began pushing to amend the first section of the 14th Amendment, which states all individuals born in the U.S. are citizens, regardless of background and if the citizen’s parents are legal U.S. citizens. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Gramham, a South Carolina Republican, has said he would offer a constitutional amendment to change the rules of birthright citizenship. Grassley has said he would support public hearings on changing the amendment, although he has stopped shot of offering his opinion on the idea directly.
Latham remained vague on his stance about whether the amendment should be altered. While he said the amendment should “be tested,” he doesn’t believe it will change.
“By the time [the amendment] is repealed and ratified… I don’t think it’ll happen,” he said.
Latham also declined to give an opinion about another idea making rounds in Iowa Republican politics. Last month, Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad said children in the country illegally should be denied a public school education. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that state’s must provide education to these children.
“That’s a state issue,” Latham said.
Latham is conducting 27 town hall meetings in his district before the U.S. House reconvenes Sept. 13. Though only a handful of people — mostly retirement-aged and Latham supporters — attended the Webster City event, the group was very verbose, asking Latham about topics ranging from immigration to health care to Social Security. Latham took time before and after the meeting to personally meet with attendees and permitted everyone who had a question or comment to make it.
One of the most frequently asked questions was: When will things in Washington change?
Residents expressed frustration over Democratic leadership, heath care reform legislation and the state of Social Security, the last of which could prove to be in dire straits for the next year of two, Latham warned.
“There’s no money in the trust fund for Social Security,” Latham said. “This year, we’re in a situation where the pay-out is more than the pay-in. It is difficult to address, but it is a serious long-term discussion that needs to happen.”
Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the Social Security Administration will take in less than it pays out, resulting in an approximately $29 billion shortfall. In an interview with the New York Times, Stephen Goss, chief actuary of the SSA, explained that the recession has put people out of work while more people apply for benefits sooner than expected. Simultaneously, fewer jobs means fewer paychecks are going out and that translates to less collected by the government in taxes.
Gross also said the SSA has a $2.5 trillion balance that will carry benefits for a while.
When it comes to talking about an Islamic cultural center planned to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City — a topic that has drawn scorn from many Republican lawmakers and some families of 9/11 victims — Latham stands with his fellow Republican legislators.
“I’m shocked at the insensitivity of anyone who would put a mosque there,” Latham said. “From the mixed messages from the president, to [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid saying he’s against it, to [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi wanting to investigate people opposed to it, it’s just… well, I think it’s just common sense to not poke a finger in the eye of those victims’ families.”