Tammy Baldwin Talks Immigration, Student Loans, SCOTUS

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Tammy Baldwin Talks Immigration, Student Loans, SCOTUS

Premiere Date: 
June 27, 2013

Sen. Tammy Baldwin discusses immigration reform, student loan rates and SCOTUS rulings.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

The US senate voted Thursday in favor of an immigration reform bill. It provides a 13-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country. The bill’s provisions also boost border security. But those must be in place before immigrants can get legal status. Here tonight to talk about the bill, its prospects as well as other congressional topics of the week, is Wisconsin Democratic US senator, Tammy Baldwin. Thanks very much for being here.

Tammy Baldwin:

It's a delight to join you. Thanks.

Frederica Freyberg:

So you voted for this bill on immigration reform. Why?

Tammy Baldwin:

Well, we have a system that's broken, and a solution has eluded the congress for almost a generation. I think that this is imperfect, but an important step forward to fix something that-- You know, the fact that it's broken causes real problems for the Wisconsin economy and for people across the country. So I think it's an important step forward, and I think the strong bipartisan vote in the senate gives it some momentum heading over to the House, where it's going to be a tough political battle.

Frederica Freyberg:

Absolutely. So I wanted to ask you, how would this measure affect immigrant labor that is so important to Wisconsin's agricultural sector?

Tammy Baldwin:

Well, you know, that's why it's so key for Wisconsin. In the last decade, the typical dairy farm that hires workers off the farm has gone from zero percent immigrant labor to 40%. And it's apparent throughout rural Wisconsin. And yet there's a lack of certainty for employers because of questionable documentation, et cetera. I've been hearing urging across the political spectrum, from farm groups that say it's time to fix this, it's time for certainty.

Frederica Freyberg:

What have you heard from your constituents about how this path to citizenship would change their lives?

Tammy Baldwin:

Well, one of the groups that's been very active and really courageous in telling their stories is a group that's known as the Dreamers. These are young people who were brought to the United States as young children by their families. This wasn't a choice they made to come in in violation of our laws, but because they're undocumented, their futures are in great question. They may work really hard and graduate from high school with good grades, but they can't get financial aid and there's not a clear path for employment. The Dreamers are addressed in this legislation, and I think their narrative has been very, very powerful in this debate. And it's going to affect, you know, thousands of them in Wisconsin.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, you cite deficit reduction of about $175 billion in the next ten years if this bill were to become law. How does it reduce the deficit?

Tammy Baldwin:

Well, it is about collection of taxes. There is a fee and a penalty to be paid for those who are here without documentation and that revenue is used first for some of the provisions of the bill, including the bolstering of border security. But what's left over does reduce our deficit.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, provisions in the bill that you just mentioned to strengthen border security must be in place before immigrants can gain this legal status. Could it happen that those border provisions are implemented and not the other piece?

Tammy Baldwin:

Well, while it is a trigger in the legislation that some provisions need to be fulfilled before the path to citizenship begins, on the Homeland Security Committee on which I serve, we've held a number of hearings on where we are right now with our southern border security and where we can presume to be once the provisions of this bill begin to take effect. And I feel confident that these changes will trigger the rest of the bill going into effect.

Frederica Freyberg:

When we started talking about this, you said that it's imperfect. What is the most imperfect part of this bill?

Tammy Baldwin:

Well, I think during the negotiations when the bill was on the floor, I felt that the bill was introduced with adequate border security measures. But there were clearly a group of senators who were not going to support it without additional provisions. And, you know, I think they-- I think we're probably spending too much, throwing too much money on our southern border that won't actually make a huge difference. But, on the other hand, we have been stymied by the lack of progress on this issue for, as I said, a generation, and it's high time we move forward. And if this gets us there, I think it was important to make those compromises and move forward with the bill on a strong, strong bipartisan vote.

Frederica Freyberg:

I want to ask your reaction to the major ruling from the US Supreme Court this week granting benefits to legally married same-sex couples and affirming the lower court ruling that California's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. Your reaction.

Tammy Baldwin:

I was delighted. I felt like the Supreme Court in issuing these decisions made America a little more equal. And marriage equality has been a contentious topic in the United States, but we've seen opinion change. And I think of all of my colleagues in the US senate who in recent months have announced publicly their support for marriage equality, senators from both sides of the political aisle. And that's been very encouraging to me. and I think this is about fairness. It's about opportunity. And it's about freedom. And so I think it's an important step forward. Now, there's a lot of work left to be done. And one of the questions I got all week is, well, how does this affect people in a state like Wisconsin, which still has a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage on the books? And what it means is that citizens here in a valid, same-sex marriage entered into maybe in our neighboring state of Minnesota or Iowa, will be recognized-- those marriages will be recognized equally by the federal government if not by the state. Still work to be done.

Frederica Freyberg:

Finally, where is congress on preventing the doubling of student loan interest rates for federal student loans?

Tammy Baldwin:

Well, late to the task, I would say. There's been a number of attempts to pass legislation to prevent the doubling of the Stafford student loan interest rate from 3.4% to 6.8%. This happens on July 1, so it's just around the corner. Nevertheless, even though we haven't been able to, I hope that this will be a temporary student loan interest rate increase, and we will retroactively fix it when we return. The senate is scheduled to vote on July 10 on a measure that would freeze these rates for a year. But I also think that this is part of a larger debate about accessibility and affordability of a higher education. You know, a four-year college degree, a two-year technical college degree, used to be a path to prosperity and now for too many students it's a path to indebtedness. We've got to reexamine that. This should be a step into the middle class, not a barrier.

Frederica Freyberg:

Senator Tammy Baldwin, thanks very much for joining us.

Tammy Baldwin:

Thank you. 


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