July 3, 2013

Isakson says Congress will act on immigration, student loans

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— Congress will likely pass an immigration reform bill this year, but it won’t be the bill that recently passed the Senate, says U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

“Ultimately, I think you will see an immigration reform law, but it will be more like the House (of Representatives) approach than the Senate’s,” he said.

Isakson spoke Tuesday at the Dalton Rotary Club meeting. He said he did not think the Senate bill would make it through the House.

“I could be wrong. But now that they have it in their lap I think they have to do something,” he said.

Isakson said he expects the House to pass a law that requires that the border with Mexico be secured before any of the immigration reforms take place.

“We have to stop the bleeding down there. We have to secure the border,” said Isakson, who said that currently it’s too easy for drug smugglers and human traffickers to cross the border.

The Senate bill, which Isakson and fellow Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss voted against, also calls for securing the border. But Isakson said those provisions have too much “wiggle room” which would allow the government to begin giving some illegal immigrants legal status before the border is closed.

Isakson said he also expects Congress to address student loan interest rates when it returns from its Independence Day break. The interest rate on need-based subsidized Stafford loans rose to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent on July 1. Those rates only affect loans made after July 1. Loans made before that are not affected.

Isakson said he expects Congress will adopt a bipartisan proposal that would tie loan rates to the interest rate for 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds, which would roll back almost all of the increase on Stafford loans.

Isakson also addressed U.S electronic intelligence programs and Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency who recently leaked details of those programs.

“He stirred up a lot of controversy,” Isakson said of Snowden.

Isakson defended the programs from charges they unduly compromise the privacy of American citizens.

“The constitutional rights of no American citizen have been violated in my judgment,” he said.

Referring to a secret court order requiring Verizon Communications to provide metadata on all phone calls made on its system, Isakson said that order only required the phone company to provide the number making a call, the number it called and the length of the call. Isakson said the government uses that data to see what numbers are contacting the phone numbers of known terrorists. He said the government would have to get a warrant to match any of those numbers to the names of the people they belong to. He said the program is necessary to pursue terrorists who now plot and coordinate over the Internet or by telephone.

“It puts us on a level playing field with those who would kill us,” he said.