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Rep. Smith To Introduce Bill Similar To Senate's New Immigration Measure

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are taking a closer look this morning at a new immigration proposal that President Trump supports. It would reduce legal immigration and give preference to English speakers and people with higher job skills. Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas plans to introduce a version of this plan in the House soon, and he's on the line with us. Good morning, Congressman.

LAMAR SMITH: Good morning. Good to be with you and your listeners, as well.

GREENE: Well, we appreciate you taking the time. The argument for this plan is that it would help the U.S. economy. Can you explain for us how that is?

SMITH: Right. It will help in two ways. First of all, it will help American workers because it will not allow so many people to come in and compete with them. Right now, we admit a huge number of individuals who have little education and have few skills. And they typically compete with blue collar Americans for the same job.

So it will help protect American workers. And it will help, frankly, increase economic growth. We'll be admitting more individuals with the skills and the education and the experience we need in America. They're the ones who would, you know, start businesses. They're the ones who will generate jobs. And so it does both. It protects American workers, and it helps the economy.

GREENE: Let me press you, if I may, on a couple of things you said there. There is an argument that some of the jobs that you say are being competed for are actually jobs that many American workers would not actually want themselves. Is that a fair point?

SMITH: No, I don't think that's the case. A lot of studies have shown that actually all these low-skilled immigrants coming in drive down the wages. And therefore, Americans may not want to work for those wages. But if the low skilled, uneducated immigrants are reduced in number, it is likely that those wages will go up. And that will attract more American workers at a higher pay.

GREENE: You've seen studies that are absolutely definitive on that in your mind?

SMITH: Yeah, absolutely.

GREENE: Let me ask you about another argument, that there are a lot of lower wage workers in sectors like agriculture and tourism that have been critical to the economy, the economy of many states and that those companies could really be hurt by this proposal. What do you tell, say, you know, that the owner of an agriculture company who's really fearful here, could you reassure him or her?

SMITH: Well, first of all, about - you know, you've got a lot - you've got - what? - a half a million people or maybe more in the agriculture industry. And there is going to be another bill to address those. That's not under sort of legal immigration reform. We're going to have a guest worker program coming up I believe in September as well that will help the ag industry. But this is legal immigration reform.

This is reform that is going to change the mix. We're going to have fewer extended family members and more individuals, again, who are admitted - who have the skills and the educational and experience we need in America. And that's going to be good for America. I mean, most Americans think the immigration system is broken. Most Americans want to reform immigration. That's what this bill does.

GREENE: You said a guest worker program that might come up later in the year that would help the agriculture industry. Is that going to revive the question of guest workers and a potential path to citizenship?

SMITH: I don't know whether it will or will not, but we need guest workers. And this is going to be a bill that - we have a guest worker program today that just is dysfunctional. And so this will admit more guest workers. It's not going to be my bill. It'll be introduced by the chairman of the judiciary committee, Bob Goodlatte, but I'm sure it will address a lot of the needs of the folks in the ag industry.

GREENE: Just a few seconds left. Are you open to talk about comprehensive immigration reform and reopen that debate?

SMITH: I don't think there's any room for talking about amnesty at this point until we secure the border. We still have hundreds of thousands of people coming in illegally every year. We don't know who they are. We don't know where they're going. We don't know what they're going to do when they get to this country.

GREENE: Forgive me, Congressman, we're out of time. I look forward to continuing this conversation. Republican Lamar Smith of Texas. Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSH O'NEAL'S "ONE DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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