House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., isn’t interested in waiting on immigration.
While a bipartisan group of House members works behind closed doors toward a comprehensive reform package, Goodlatte is going to start considering single-issue immigration bills in his committee.
In the coming days, several single-issue immigration bills will be introduced in House Judiciary to address parts of the system that the chairman thinks need reform, according to a committee aide. The purpose of the move, Goodlatte told National Journal, is “to move the process forward, to get good discussion, [and] good debate on a lot of the different issues.”
Unlike Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, who expressed his frustration at the delay in getting legislation from either the upper chamber’s Gang of Eight or the president last month, Goodlatte insists he is not trying to preempt the work of the bipartisan House group.
“I am very interested in seeing what these bipartisan groups produce but we are also going forward with the work that we’ve been doing in committee,” he said. “We were holding hearings on it all year long, we’ve been working on legislation, so I think soon you’ll see legislation.”
Based on the committee’s six hearings on the immigration system this year, the legislation likely to be put forward in committee will include measures on agricultural workers, employment verification, high-skilled immigration, and family immigration.
The chairman said that “a lot of people” would be involved in the process, though he declined to name lawmakers who might put their names on a bill. Many previous immigration bills have been authored by Goodlatte’s predecessor, Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, who declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
But as of Friday, Goodlatte was playing it close to the vest. The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and the ranking member of the immigration subcommittee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., declined to comment for this story through a committee spokesman, saying they didn’t have enough information to talk about Goodlatte’s efforts.
Goodlatte’s move also might not sit well with all Republicans on the committee, especially those working on the comprehensive package.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is reticent about passing any legislation through the committee. He fears it would be co-opted by the Republican leadership, which has been supportive of the group working on a comprehensive reform bill, as a vehicle to go to conference and adopt a modified version of legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
But one House Republican working on a comprehensive bill, Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, seemed unfazed by Goodlatte’s plans. The chairman “is going to be looking at different options and I think that’s a positive thing. We’re going to be doing our thing, they’ll be doing theirs, and ultimately the House will work its will,” said Diaz-Balart said, expressing confidence that his group still had the backing of the Republican leadership. “There’s no competition here.”
In addition to Diaz-Balart and Raul Labrador, R-ID, other members of the working group – who have declined to publicly identify themselves – include Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra and Lofgren of California, Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., John Yarmuth, D-Ky., and Texas Republican Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson.
Goodlatte hasn’t said what he’ll put forward in committee.
But it could include something like Smith’s “Legal Workforce Act,” which was passed out of House Judiciary in the 112th Congress, and would have required employers to verify the legal status of their employees.
Smith’s bipartisan “STEM Jobs Act,” which passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 245 to 139, would have reallocated green cards from the diversity visa lottery to top foreign students graduating from U.S. universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math.
Smith hasn’t re-introduced either bill yet this Congress, but he authored an op-ed in Politico last week saying that border security and interior enforcement need to precede any proposals to legalize people living in the U.S. illegally. “Everyone understands that any proposal without real border security and robust interior enforcement is unacceptable to the American people,” he wrote.
Goodlatte and Smith have worked together on border security legislation before, including a 2007 bill they authored with Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., as an alternative to the comprehensive reform legislation being debated in the Senate.
Another possible piece of legislation is the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act,” which would remove the country caps on the number of legal permanent residents who are admitted to the U.S. each year. The bill, authored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has bipartisan cosponsors and a previous version passed the House in 2011 with 389 votes.
This article appears in the April 16, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.