WASHINGTON — Republican Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte slammed the White House’s lax enforcement of immigration laws Thursday, but suggested that the Republican leadership wants a deal that would provide companies with more workers and would also allow younger illegal immigrants to stay in the country.
The GOP caucus doesn’t want to make a deal with President Barack Obama yet, he said, because of a “lot of mistrust of the president.”
“Congress legislates, not the executive branch, and he’s attempting to rewrite laws to suit what he perceives to be demand,” said Goodlatte, who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s a mistake.”
Republicans want “zero tolerance of illegal immigration [but] today we have a measure of ‘How serious a crime have you committed before we will deport you from the United States?’” he told a Thursday meeting hosted by National Journal.
Goodlatte’s comments follow revelations over the last few weeks showing that President Back Obama has sharply reduced enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws. In 2013, for example, federal immigration officials released 68,000 illegal immigrants who had committed crimes in the United States. Officials deported tens of thousands of illegals for violating criminal laws — such as theft and drug-selling — but deported less than one percent of the illegal immigrants in the country for immigration violations.
Obama’s failure to enforce the law makes it difficult for the GOP to negotiate a new immigration law, Goodlatte said.
GOP leaders are, however, now considering whether to add a measure in the emerging defense funding bill that would allow illegal immigrants to get legal permanent residency, and eventually citizenship, by joining the U.S. military, Breitbart reported.
Goodlatte says the GOP should make a deal with the White House that would boost worker-immigration levels and border enforcement, and also legalize some who are already here, despite high unemployment and declining wages among American low-skill workers.
Young people who were brought to the United States by their parents illegally should be allowed to stay, he suggested. “That needs to be legally addressed, but we also want to make sure there’s not another family in the future that would take a young child through dangerous tunnels in the backs of trucks suffocating,” he said.
“We need to have legal immigration, not illegal immigration,” he said.
Up to 40 percent of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants actually arrived legally in the country, he said. They “simply overstayed their visas,” he said. “As a result of that, we have got to have a more comprehensive view of enforcement” than just beefing up security along the border, he said.
Any deal should also allow state and local governments to enforce immigration laws if the federal government won’t cooperate, he suggested. There should be “an appropriate role for state and local governments.”
Any deal should also rewrite rules for legal immigration, he said. “This is a tremendous opportunity that is being missed in my opinion, to grow jobs, to grow our economy and grow jobs for American citizens,” he said.
In 2013, Goodlatte’s Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would allow companies to employ up to 750,000 blue-collar guest workers each year. That inflow would provide roughly 30,000 foreign workers for employers in Goodlatte’s home state of Virginia.
Also, foreign professionals should be allowed to stay in the country after they graduate from American universities, he said. “I definitely very strongly want to do that,” he said.
Roughly 800,000 Americans graduate from college each year with skilled scientific, engineering, medical or business degrees, which is more than enough to fill current demand for expertise.
Last June, the Senate passed its immigration bill that would ensure roughly 40 million additional foreigners would be allowed to work in the United States during the next decade.
That total would include at least 11 million who are currently in the country illegally, plus roughly 20 million new legal immigrants and more than 10 million guest workers.
During the same decade, 40 million Americans will turn 18 and begin looking for jobs that can help them build enough wealth to get married and buy a house.
For the moment, the House’s GOP leadership is blocking the Senate bill, partly because of political opposition from Republican base voters.
Seventy-nine percent of conservatives, and 50 percent of swing-voting moderates, oppose the increased immigration set by the Senate’s bill, according to a recent Rasmussen poll.