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Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner Discusses Immigration Meeting With Trump

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Our next guest is Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. He has been part of the negotiations in Washington trying to find a long-term solution for those hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Senator Gardner was at the White House yesterday when the president outlined his plan. Phase one of that plan is to figure out permanent protections for DREAMers and to increase border security, and that means saving phase two, comprehensive immigration reform, for later.

When I talked to Senator Gardner today, I asked him what he thinks about the plan.

CORY GARDNER: I think it is the right way to go. And I think that for too long we've had a debate over immigration reform where we haven't built the trust up with the American people to the point where we can actually pass major legislation addressing immigration. And so I have talked about how you put this into pieces to prove to the American people that we can do our job, that we can get this right. Use that to build on to an overall immigration solution that addresses everything that we need, whether that's entry-exit systems, whether that's people who are here without documentation. I think this situation today gives us a way to start to prove to ourselves we can do this and to address a very important policy issue, and that's what to do with children who were brought here to this country through no fault of their own.

MCEVERS: Let's talk about phase one. Let's talk about DREAMers and border security, I mean, the stuff that is on the table right now. Do you feel like there is bipartisan consensus about protecting DREAMers?

GARDNER: I believe there is bipartisan consensus. I believe the furthest to left, the furthest right all agree that we need to protect kids, these DREAMers who were brought here at a very young age through no fault of their own. You know, I've heard people like Trey Gowdy say it. I've heard others say it - that we don't charge a 3-year-old for walking across your neighbor's lawn with trespass. We just don't do that in this country. So I think there is as close to some unanimity as you can get in Congress to address this situation.

MCEVERS: Yesterday we talked to the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, and he was also at that meeting. He seemed positive. You know, he says broad bipartisan agreement is coming and that even the president sounds more and more like it's not about a wall - right? - a physical barrier across the entire U.S.-Mexico border. He said Democrats and Republicans are starting to agree about something else - about securing the border with something - you know, a so-called virtual wall using technology and surveillance. Do you see broad agreement there?

GARDNER: I think the language the president used yesterday was a wall protection system - I think was the actual phraseology that they used. And the way they described that was, you know, a wall, technology, personnel. And that's something that I think I've seen and heard from this administration over several months of conversations on this. It's not just a sea-to-shining-sea wall, as some have described but a system in place, a border protection system that involves technology, personnel because the president himself said it yesterday. There are places where it doesn't make sense to put something like a wall in because you've got a river or a mountain area that just doesn't make sense.

So I do think that that is an area that can gain support, and I don't think that's actually going to be the most difficult part of this discussion. I think that border security will probably be one of the easier of a very difficult conversation.

MCEVERS: Of the elements that are on the table right now, what is the toughest thing?

GARDNER: Well, the toughest thing is going to be how to address this issue of families, how to address the issues of nuclear family. And that's what the president described as chain migration. That is going to be the most difficult part of this discussion in my opinion as people try to describe, all right, how do you have a solution that addresses people who were brought here against the law through no fault of their own? And so that's going to be tough to address, you know, parents, brothers, sisters - how to make that work and how to do so in a way that the United States can be proud of.

MCEVERS: You know, many say that a more cost-effective way to slow illegal immigration might be to go to the source, to crack down more aggressively on employers who are hiring illegal immigrants. Do you imagine that that will be part of the conversation around border security?

GARDNER: That I think has been a part of the conversation around border security. I haven't heard that as much a part of this discussion because I don't know that there will be a prescriptive, so to speak, border security approach. I think there will be conversations about appropriations, you know, for the border protection systems.

I don't know that this will yet encompass some kind of a mandatory, you know, e-verify (ph) different than it is today. I do think that that will be part of the discussion - ongoing discussion. Now, whether that's the solution, I don't know. Nobody has said that it has to be at this point, at least to my knowledge, so - but it will be part of the discussion.

MCEVERS: Chances that a deal can be reached - like, percentage chance, in your mind...

GARDNER: My problem is I'm an eternal optimistic person, and so I'm eternally optimistic. And I believe that we will find a solution. The president has committed it. The president has said we would. So I'm committed to that, and I don't think failure is an option.

MCEVERS: Senator Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, thank you for your time today.

GARDNER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.