Sen. Lee meets with Trump on immigration: ’We need to fix the loopholes’

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, leaves a Republican lunch meeting and heads to the chamber where he voted to reject President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency at the southwest border, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 14, 2019. Twelve Republicans joined Democrats in defying Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Washington • After meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday, Sen. Mike Lee said he’s hopeful that a long-anticipated reform to the nation’s immigration system is on its way.

The Utah Republican was one of several GOP senators to meet with Trump to discuss an immigration plan spearheaded by senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump has made Immigration a major issue as he gears up for re-election and one that has become a lightning rod of controversy because of his hard-line policies.

Lee said after the meeting that there’s no question the “southern border is in crisis,” a reference to an increase in immigrants seeking asylum or illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Not even the most liberal papers on the East Coast are denying that anymore,” Lee said. “We need to fix the loopholes that the cartels and their smugglers are using to take advantage of us and the desperate migrants they are trafficking.”

Trump has rallied his base by arguing that caravans of immigrants, mainly from Central America and South America, are overrunning the southern border and threatening Americans’ safety and livelihoods.

Lee was one of 12 conservative senators to join Trump and top aides at the meeting.

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the meeting was an “important and productive conversation.”

“The president and senators discussed a potential plan that would secure the border, protect and raise wages for the American worker, and move toward a merit-based immigration system,” Gidley said in a statement. “President Trump wants a commonsense, lawful and safe immigration system that Americans, and those wanting to become Americans, have deserved for a long time."

Lee agreed.

“The immigration proposals discussed today at the White House not only begin to address our current crisis, but they also make much needed reforms to the rest of our outdated immigration system,” the senator said. “I look forward to seeing the principles outlined today turned into solid legislative text in the coming weeks.”

Trump has come under fire from a host of Democrats and immigration advocates for what they see as a wholesale attempt to attack people seeking asylum in the United States from poverty-stricken and violence-ravaged countries, as well as efforts to block Muslims and people of color. The president has also made disparaging remarks about countries with predominately black populations.

Courts repeatedly struck down earlier versions of Trump’s executive order to block immigrants from mostly Muslim-dominated countries, though the Supreme Court upheld a third order.

Lee voted for independent Evan McMullin in the last presidential election as a protest vote against Trump. He criticized the Republican nominee during the election, especially his proposals for what Lee described as a “religious test” in deciding to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

But he has been an enthusiastic supporter of efforts to build a border wall and increase security measures aimed at curbing illegal immigration.