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Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman Says Family Separation Policy Should End

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman was in that meeting with President Trump this evening. He's a Republican critical of the White House policy of separating families who try to cross the border unlawfully. Congressman Coffman, welcome to the program.

MIKE COFFMAN: Hey. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So tell us what you heard from the president - for instance, whether or not he will sign any of the legislation out of the House.

COFFMAN: Oh, he made it very clear that he will sign the legislation. I think that probably about five elements - two of those - certainly one is keeping families together through this adjudication process. He realizes that it's problematic and that it has to go, and it has to be changed.

And so he pushed the Republicans to support legislation to end the problem at the border in terms of separating families but also certainly acknowledged that if there was a compromise bill that would give him his border security, would give young people who were taken to this country illegally as children that are under the DACA program - that he would give them a path to permanent legal residency. And then they would default to current law, where they would have a path to citizenship and then would plug what he called loopholes at the border. It was I believe positive.

CORNISH: So just to understand what you're saying, you're saying President Trump said that he would sign legislation that would create a path to citizenship for DREAMers or DACA recipients. He also would sign legislation that would end the practice formally or bar the practice of separating families at the border. Those are two yeses that he says he's will to give.

COFFMAN: That's correct. And certainly he said that, you know, these are important. These are important to get done.

CORNISH: But the trick is, as you said, the votes. So the president got you all in a room and said, this is what I'm willing to do. Do you guys have it together enough behind any one piece of legislation to offer something to him?

COFFMAN: I think we're - right now we're trying to count the votes to see. I think on - you know, on the conservative side, it's, quote, unquote, "amnesty" - little bit less than 800,000 that are in DACA right now. There are those on the right that don't like that, and there are those on the left that don't like the idea that in this proposal - it ends the visa lottery program. It changes up familial-based immigration or chain migration and more to the nuclear family and more to a merit-based system.

CORNISH: That was going to be my next question. You've mentioned the sticking point - for instance, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the DACA program - as something that conservatives are concerned about. But what about these changes to essentially legal immigration? Is that something that you can get behind?

COFFMAN: It's something that I can get behind. I mean, obviously I think that there are a lot of other issues in immigration that need to be resolved, and I think that we could have used those in terms of being part of that more comprehensive negotiation. But the fact is, I will support this bill as it's written. I do think that we need more of a balance between merit-based and familial-based immigration. And I get the issue on the visa lottery, but I think it's so important to help these young people that are enrolled in DACA to give them certainty, to give them a future as well as - I think it's important to secure the border and to keep these families at the border together and not tear them apart.

CORNISH: So are you a betting man? Do you expect to actually be voting on something?

COFFMAN: I do. I do, and I - possibly this week but certainly if not this week, next week.

CORNISH: You said earlier in our conversation that the way that this family separation policy was implemented - I think you said it was incomprehensible or incoherent. How do you feel about how this administration has performed on these issues? I mean, both DACA and this policy are things that the administration could change themselves, and they've foisted it on Congress to fix.

COFFMAN: Well, no, I do think that they needed to push harder on Congress. I think that we need a permanent solution for the young people in DACA, not just something that's temporary through an executive order or an executive action that could be reversed by another - a president or reversed even in the same administration. I think they need some permanency, and I think that this administration should just be pushing much harder in that direction.

CORNISH: Republican Congressman Mike Coffman, thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

COFFMAN: Hey, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.