The Republican-led House plans to rewrite U.S. immigration law through a step-by-step process of individual bills, an approach that sponsors of a comprehensive Senate measure say won’t work.
“This process can be long,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, told reporters yesterday in Washington. Revamping immigration law “is not an easy task, but a solution is not out of reach,” he said.
The House is taking a different approach than the Senate, where the Judiciary Committee plans next month to consider an immigration plan introduced last week by a bipartisan group of senators. President Barack Obama has called the Senate legislation “largely consistent” with his views.
“It has got to be a comprehensive approach,” Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a co-sponsor of that chamber’s plan, said yesterday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. There is “no way of getting this job done” unless it includes a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S., as the Senate bill does, he said.
Pushing separate bills “is just not going to work,” said another sponsor of the Senate bill, New York Democrat Charles Schumer, at the breakfast.
“We can’t do individual bills because the problem is people say, ‘What about me?’” Schumer said. “The best way to pass immigration legislation is actually a comprehensive bill because that can achieve more balance and everybody can get much, but not all, of what they want.”
The Senate bill introduced last week was the product of months of negotiations between four Republican and four Democratic senators. They sought to strike a balance: provide a path to citizenship that Democrats insist must be part of any broad rewrite and tie it to enough border security enhancements to satisfy Republicans.
The Senate measure includes a deal between labor and business leaders on a low-skilled guest-worker program and an accord between farm workers and agricultural businesses on revisions to the visa program for fruit and vegetable harvesters.
Goodlatte said his panel will start with the introduction of two bills this week: one focusing on farmworkers and another on an electronic system used by employers to verify workers’ legal status.
McCain said he and Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican co-sponsor of the Senate plan, had spoken with House Republicans to encourage them to support a comprehensive overhaul.
“The time to do that is probably after we finish on the floor of the Senate with a completed package so we can go over specific points with them,” McCain said.
In the House, a bipartisan group has been working on a rewrite of immigration laws for more than four years and is poised to present its plan in the coming weeks.
Goodlatte said his committee will examine how immigration proposals would fit with the bipartisan group’s plans. He said “no decision” has been made on how to address a proposal by the bipartisan group, and that his panel will allow lawmakers to ensure their constituents’ views are heard.
Representative Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who leads the Judiciary panel’s immigration subcommittee, said while standing alongside Goodlatte that the House approach would ensure “this is the last time we have this conversation as a country.”
The bipartisan House group is discussing a plan to provide a path to citizenship taking at least 15 years for many undocumented immigrants now in the U.S., according to a congressional aide who last week asked not to be identified because the plan hadn’t been completed.
Undocumented immigrants would have a probationary period of two to five years and would have to wait in line behind those seeking to live in the U.S. legally, the aide said.
The House negotiators include Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, John Carter and Sam Johnson of Texas and Raul Labrador of Idaho, along with Democrats Zoe Lofgren and Xavier Becerra of California, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.
A rewrite of the immigration laws has “got to be this year,” Diaz-Balart told reporters at the Capitol. “Once you go into congressional elections, then the focus changes, the priorities change. Things get a lot more difficult.”
If Congress doesn’t enact a plan “it potentially doesn’t happen for the next number of years,” Diaz-Balart said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to start considering amendments to the measure May 9. Senators said they will allow an open amendment process to gain support.
“It would be wonderful if we could get a majority on both sides” of the aisle to vote for passage of the Senate bill, Schumer said.
McCain added, “It’s very do-able.” He said the Senate bill’s authors are open to changes needed to prevent another attack like the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, though he said it’s “way too early” to know what might be needed.