COEUR d'ALENE - The U.S. hasn't for the past two decades enforced the immigration laws already on the books, Congressman Raul Labrador complained.
That needs to change and the country's immigration system must be modernized, Labrador, a former immigration lawyer, said Monday night during a packed-house town hall meeting at the Coeur d'Alene Library.
"I think we have a broken immigration system and we need to fix it," he said.
He doesn't favor new pathways to citizenship for Mexicans and others who have come across the southern border illegally. But legislation is needed that allows them to come out of the shadows for a guest-worker program.
"What I suggest we do is create a real guest-worker program, something that works for the future, not just that deals with the 12 million who are here," he said. The cost to find and deport that many people is too high, he said.
If they won't register to work, however, "We kick them out," he said.
Switching to the issue of "gun control," Labrador said no legislation on that issue is likely to make it out of Congress, putting the minds of gun owners in the audience at ease.
Labrador hardly faulted proposals by President Barack Obama to reduce gun violence.
"I was waiting for one of (the administration's proposals) to be really objectionable," he said. "None of them were really that strong."
The administration has come up with several proposed executive and legislative actions to limit access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and improve background checks for gun purchases.
"I read them, and they're all pretty much duds," Labrador said. "They're things that should be happening."
For example, he said, if somebody lies on their application, they should be prosecuted.
At the same time, he said, "We already have enough laws on guns; we should do what we need to do to enforce those laws."
He said there will be plenty of hearings in Washington, D.C. At those, he's planning to demand that anyone who proposes a gun law also prove the law would save lives and prevent mass shootings.
When it comes to cutting spending, Labrador proved Monday he's willing to go after sacred cows, even in his own Republican party.
"I can't go to Washington, D.C., and tell the Democrats that they're going to have to rethink Medicare, Medicaid and all these social programs when we're spending more as a nation than all other nations combined on the military," he said.
The mission of the military must be examined and Congress must make sure it's sustained and strong, said Labrador, who wants the U.S. military out of Afghanistan.
He said, "I think it's OK for us to cut military spending," adding that many leaders in the military agree with him.
Too many of his colleagues, though, rely on military spending within their districts for votes.
"The question I always ask my Republican colleagues is: 'I thought government spending didn't create jobs?,'" he said.
He added, "It's funny to me that Republicans will say, 'Well it doesn't create jobs, but it does in the military.'"
He only wants to spend what's necessary to protect the nation.
"We need to have some re-thinking about this as Republicans," he said.