U.S. Rep. Joe Heck said Tuesday he will continue to push for immigration reform, focusing on efforts to better secure the border and to protect from deportation young illegal immigrants raised in the United States.
President Barack Obama on Monday said he would take executive action on immigration because House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he didn’t plan to bring immigration bills to the House floor this year.
Obama said he would boost border security as tens of thousands of Central American children have crossed the border in hopes of seeking asylum in the U.S., creating a humanitarian crisis. The president said he wants to spend $2 billion on new efforts to deal with the problem.
Heck, R-Nev., said he agreed with Obama’s moves, but he still believes Congress could find the political will to act despite it being an election year and despite objections from conservative House members.
It appears for now that somebody “pulled the plug,” killing immigration reform for this year, Heck said, days after he said the issue was “on life support.” But he added that he wants the House to bring up a bill that would combine border security with so-called DREAMers before the August congressional recess.
“I have not heard the speaker say it’s dead,” Heck said. “So maybe some pieces (of immigration reform) might get out. … If we can get the two things done before the August recess” there might even be a chance to approve more measures when Congress returns later in the year, he said.
Heck said he has spoken to Boehner about the matter, including just before the July 4 congressional break this week.
“I would say put border enforcement and the DREAM Act together,” Heck said, mentioning two issues that have bipartisan support.
Later, Heck spokesman Greg Lemon clarified that Heck has not yet taken a position on whether Congress should approve the $2 billion Obama is seeking to beef up border security and to take other measures.
“Congressman Heck previously suggested some of the steps the administration has taken in recent days to address the crisis at the southern border, including announcing that parents should not send their children unaccompanied to our southern border and going after the human traffickers preying on poor Central and South American families,” Lemon said in a statement. “He has not, however, taken a position on the president’s request for $2 billion.”
A year ago, the U.S. Senate passed a broad immigration reform bill, but Heck and other Republicans who want to fix the system don’t agree with the entire package. And the House wants to handle the issue in several bills, including those that have passed House committees, Heck said.
On securing the border, Heck said it’s not necessarily a matter of spending more money to put more border security agents on the ground.
Instead, he said Congress should pass a bill, for example, to require businesses to use e-verify to ensure they are hiring legal immigrants and increase penalties on firms that are caught cheating. Now, about 11 million immigrants live in the country illegally, mostly for job opportunities.
“When you start taking away the incentives” to come to the U.S. illegally, less immigrants will cross the border, Heck said.
Heck’s comments came during a brief news conference after he spoke at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Four Seasons on the South end of the Strip.
On another topic, Heck said he agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday in the Hobby Lobby case. The high court said businesses that are family owned or closely held don’t have to provide health care coverage for birth control because the companies have religious objections.
Heck said the ruling was narrowly written to accommodate religious beliefs that life begins at conception and he didn’t believe it should be broadly interpreted to apply to companies that aren’t closely held.
“I think it’s a reasonable decision by the Supreme Court,” said Heck, who is an emergency room physician.
On another hot-button issue, Heck said he favors legalizing medical marijuana at the federal level by changing pot’s designation from a schedule one drug — which is illegal — to a schedule two drug. That would allow medical research to determine how well medical marijuana works, he said.
Heck said he has no plans to introduce such a bill himself, partly because “the medical community is still divided” on its efficacy in helping cancer patients and others regain their appetites and relieve other symptoms.
If marijuana became a schedule two drug it would actually provide more protection for users in the long run, however, because the federal government could then regulate its use and track its users, Heck said.
“It allows it to be better regulated, better tracked and (to put) better safeguards in place,” Heck said.
Still, many other issues need to be addressed, including how to know whether drivers are under the influence of pot, which would require a blood test. Marijuana stays in the system for some time and so a driver might not have consumed marijuana recently, but still could test positive for the drug, Heck said.
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