The immigration reform strategy emerging from House leaders will depend on revamping immigration policy first, including border security, and then dealing with the issue of "appropriate legal status" for current unauthorized immigrants second, say House staffers working on the issue.
Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chair of the Judiciary Committee, has been one of the main leaders on immigration reform in the Republican-controlled House. According to a senior staffer with knowledge of the legislation, Goodlatte has three primary goals he wants to accomplish: 1) strengthen border security and enforcement of immigration laws, 2) reform the current immigration system in a way that will help the economy and create jobs for current citizens, and 3) provide an appropriate legal status for current unauthorized immigrants.
Unlike the Senate's immigration reform legislation, Goodlatte does not want to tackle all three of his goals in a single bill, or with different bills at the same time. Rather, Goodlatte and other Republican leaders want to pass legislation dealing with the first two goals before bringing a bill to the floor that would provide a path to legal status for unauthorized immigrants. To that end, Goodlatte's committee passed four bills that address the first two concerns, but there is currently no legislation passed out of a committee that would address what to do about the immigrants currently living in the United States without legal permission.
The four bills are:
1) The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (H.R. 2278), to strengthen border security and immigration law enforcement.
2) The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1722), to establish an "E-verify" system, which would allow employers to verify the legal status of new hires.
3) The Agricultural Guestworker Act (H.R. 1773), to update and expand the agricultural guestworker program.
4) The Supplying Knowledge Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas Act (H.R. 2131), which would expand the number of visas for immigrants who graduate from American universities with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees.
In addition to the Judiciary Committee bills, the Homeland Security Committee passed H.R. 1417, the Border Security Results Act of 2013, which also addresses border security.
In a Wednesday interview with The Christian Post, Robert Gittelson, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, noted that there are other House members who are working on their own versions of immigration reform.
Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is working on a middle-ground legalization bill which would provide a short term, six year, legal status for unauthorized immigrants, to provide time for the other details of immigration reform to be worked out. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Ted Poe (R-Texas) are working on a similar bill but would set the transition period at nine years. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also appear to be working together on a legalization bill.
House leadership is placing much of the workload on Goodlatte. They have confidence in Goodlatte, partly due to his depth of experience with the immigration issue. Before joining Congress, he worked as an immigration attorney for many years.
Gittelson, who is part of a coalition working to get immigration reform passed, said he has spoken with Goodlatte many times about immigration and he is satisfied knowing that Goodlatte is the point person on immigration.
"I believe his heart is very full of conviction on this issue," Gittelson remarked. "This is something he wants to do, and, if possible, he wants to do it now."
While immigration reform may not happen until early next year, the time is running short, Gittelson explained. If Republicans do not act soon, the door will be closed on immigration reform in the current congress.
Privately, Gittelson added, most House Republicans understand that they must pass immigration reform this Congress in order to build bridges with Latino communities. Otherwise, they will be "blamed as obstructionists."
"Doing nothing, allowing the status-quo to remain, is not acceptable to the Hispanic community," he said.