WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday pledged action on immigration overhaul legislation even as most of the attention on Capitol Hill is focused on fights over the budget and debt. Rep. Bob Goodlatte said the immigration issue needs to be solved and work is happening behind the scenes toward that goal.
Goodlatte, R-Va., said members of his committee are working on four bills to address various aspects of the immigration system, in addition to four that the committee already has approved. He didn't elaborate on the bills in the works, but he and others have previously discussed legislation to grant work visas to lower-skilled workers, as well as a bill to give immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as kids an "earned path to citizenship," as he described it Thursday.
Goodlatte also has raised the need for changes to the asylum and refugee program, and, most controversially, to resolve the status of the 11 million people already in the country illegally.
His committee already has approved a bill on agricultural workers, one on high-skilled visas, a third to strengthen immigration laws and empower state and local governments to enforce them, and a fourth to require employers to verify their workers' legal status.
The approach stands in contrast to the Democratic-led Senate, which passed a single, far-reaching bill in June including billions for border security, new legal work visa programs and a path to citizenship for the immigrants already in the country illegally.
"We are taking what we call a step-by-step approach. We have objections to the Senate bill, but we don't say we want to kill the Senate bill," Goodlatte said at a gathering organized by House Republicans with Hispanic Republican leaders to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month. "We say we want to do immigration reform right."
Goodlatte said he'd like to see the full House begin voting on the committee-passed bills next month. Although it's not clear that will happen, such an approach could result in House approval of a package of bills that could lead to negotiations with the Senate on a compromise immigration bill. The issue is one of President Barack Obama's top second-term priorities.
But the fall House agenda is crowded with fiscal fights that have commanded lawmakers' agenda and crowded aside immigration — an issue that many rank-and-file Republicans have little appetite for anyway.
Goodlatte pledged that the House approach would address the major problems of the immigration system — enforcement and security; legal immigration; and the status of the millions living in the country illegally.
As he has in the past, Goodlatte rejected the "special path to citizenship" he said was in the Senate bill, instead saying that immigrants here illegally — aside from those brought as kids — should be allowed to obtain legal status, then use the existing avenues of work or family sponsorship to attain citizenship. Immigration advocates see the possibility for compromise in this approach.
"That will not result in every single person who came here unlawfully getting all the way to citizenship, but I feel very strongly in my conversations with people it would be a major solution to the problem," Goodlatte said.
For people brought illegally as kids — often called DREAMers after Dream Act legislation that failed in an earlier Congress — Goodlatte endorsed what he called an "earned path" to citizenship that would give people legal status and allow them to get citizenship through education, military or other routes.