House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte warned that unilateral executive action on immigration enforcement by the Obama administration will make it even harder for comprehensive immigration reform to pass Congress.
"When the president takes action unilaterally in areas that far stretch what the law intended ..., that builds mistrust. Will the president execute the new laws if we agree to them for immigration reform, for example?" the Virginia Republican said Thursday at a National Journal and Atlantic Media event underwritten by the National Association of Broadcasters. "So the push by some to have the president act unilaterally in areas because they're frustrated and tired of waiting for the Congress to act is actually very counterproductive to having legislation done in certain areas."
The Obama administration is currently considering potential executive action to further curb deportations. For months, advocates have been pressuring the White House to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants. In 2012, the administration enacted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that delays deportation proceedings for certain young people, or "dreamers."
"He's attempting to rewrite laws to suit what he perceives to be demands from certain groups. That's a mistake," Goodlatte said. "He should keep putting the pressure on the Congress to act, and the public should as well, and not create a release, a safety valve, by doing something unilaterally that then causes to make it even harder to do the full panoply of things that need to be done in immigration reform."
During his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama said he will use his executive powers to act when Congress has failed to do so. One of the chief proponents of further executive action on deportations, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, warned on the House floor this week that if the House doesn't pass immigration reform by July, Obama will take such action.
Goodlatte said immigration laws "need to be reviewed and changed today," but that the pressure created by enforcing the current laws is what will push Congress to act.
The House Republican leadership unveiled a set of immigration reform principles earlier this year. Goodlatte said much of the objection in the conference wasn't to the principles but to the timing, and that many House Republicans didn't trust the president. That's a point that Democrats on the Hill have criticized as an excuse to not pass reform this year.
The House Judiciary Committee has approved four immigration-related bills, but it's unclear when the full House will ever take any of them up. In response to a question at Thursday's event from a self-identified undocumented teenager, Goodlatte said he did not support "a special pathway to citizenship" for the undocumented.
Goodlatte: 'We need to have legal immigration, not illegal immigration.'
"What I have focused on is an appropriate legal status for people. It's especially true for a young person like this young lady who was brought here illegally by her parents—really she knows the United States as her country, and I think that needs to be addressed," Goodlatte said. But, he added, he didn't want to encourage families to illegally bring young children, via a dangerous journey, to the United States.
This article appears in the April 4, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.