Rep. Bryan Steil says the U.S. immigration system is broken, and he favors changing the law to allow visas for more foreigners so they could work on Wisconsin dairy farms, which have a hard time finding workers.

The 1st Congressional District representative spoke Tuesday with The Gazette Editorial Board. Steil acknowledged farmers are among employers who rely on undocumented laborers.

Steil, a Republican, said he wants an immigration system that focuses on supplying the country’s workforce needs more than it does now, and he’s in favor of enforcing the E-Verify process for employers to check the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

But Steil said E-Verify should be enforced only as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

If employers were required to E-Verify all employees without the U.S. increasing visas for agricultural workers, there would not be enough workers to meet the needs, Steil said.

“I would be concerned that there would be large numbers of people that would be holding jobs illegally, and that would have a massive negative impact on the operations of farms all across Wisconsin, if you implemented that without a way for people to enter the country legally to fill our workforce needs,” Steil said.

“So what I would like to see is an E-Verify program combined with reforms that match our workforce needs,” Steil said.

Steil said Democrats and Republicans try to use the immigration issue to partisan advantage, “instead of figuring out a solution.”

He said he visited a spot on the border in New Mexico that included fencing approved by Democrats and Republicans and newer “wall” that most Democrats oppose.

The difference between referring to fencing or a wall is “purely political gamesmanship,” Steil said.

“I think it’s rational to get control on the Southern border and allow our immigration and border patrol agents to be able to do their jobs, but I think we’ve allowed our immigration system to get so far broken that we’re going to have to do a large change to get back to where we need. Anytime you do a large change, it’s going to be a lot more complicated to get through.”

Steil, a Janesville attorney, was elected in 2018. Three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to oppose Steil in the November elections.

In other comments, Steil said:

  • He has reviewed the evidence and does not believe Trump’s actions that are the focus of the impeachment trial warrant removal from office.
  • He believes there’s enough agreement on both sides of the aisle to pass laws addressing rising health care costs and prescription drug prices, but partisanship gets in the way.

“I think the partisanship we have right now in Washington is one of the biggest problems we have,” and it shows in the impeachment process and other areas that Congress should be addressing, he said.

One example is the Spike Act, which Steil co-sponsored, which he said would require drug companies to publicly justify big increases in drug prices. The bill passed committee with overwhelming bipartisan support months ago, but Democratic leadership hasn’t brought it to the floor for a vote.

  • He opposes a bill that would have the federal government set drug prices and tax anything above those levels at 95%. That would kill the research and development that brings new cures, Steil said.
  • He opposes letting Medicare negotiate drug prices because Medicare is so big that it would set the price nationwide with the same effect—killing research and development that brings new cures.

Steil prefers a change in law to forbid maneuvers that allow drug companies to bypass a limit on how long they can retain exclusive manufacturing rights to drugs, preventing other companies from making the drugs. He said such a law change would inject competition into the market and drive down prices.

He would not mind Wisconsin going to a system in which a nonpartisan panel redraws voting district lines after each census as a way of avoiding redistricting to the advantage of one party, but the challenge would be how to make the panel nonpartisan.

“Ultimately, everyone benefits by having competitive races,” Steil said.