Congress can’t establish a new guest-worker program or provide some form of amnesty to illegal immigrants until President Barack Obama starts enforcing current law, says Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the House judiciary committee.
“I have no doubt if that [enforcement] takes place… it would lead to the kind of legal immigration reform that we need to have because our legal immigration system is not doing the job it could to promote economic growth and job creation for Americans,” Goodlatte told reporters at a June 26 breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
“As part of that [reform], I have no doubt that it would also include figuring out what to do about the people who are not lawfully here,” he said.
Goodlatte’s focus on enforcement shows that the caucus isn’t ready to break from the business groups and donors that are pushing their unpopular demand for more lower-wage workers, said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
“It serves his purposes because he gets to appear with voters on the most high profile issue [of illegal immigration], while still maintaining ties with the corporate lobbyists,” he said.
But that defensive stance means the GOP isn’t trying to get on the right side of popular opinion, which strongly opposes extra immigration and more guest-workers, Krikorian said.
“They’re trying to manage the issue, rather than capitalize on it,” by pushing popular immigration-reform policies that would boost Americans’ wages by reducing the inflow of foreign labor, he said.
The U.S. government approved an inflow of 10 million guest workers and 13.4 million immigrants from 2001 to 2013.
The Senate immigration bill would roughly double the inflow over the next decade to four million guest-workers or immigrants per year. That’s roughly equal to the number of Americans who turn 18 each year.
GOP leaders have refused to pass the Senate bill, despite massive spending by business and progressive groups. Form 2007 to 2012, for example, those groups spent $1.5 billion trying to pass immigration bills, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
But the long-running dispute has made it harder for GOP politicians to win Latino votes, and has caused splits within the GOP. For example, GOP primary voters in Virginia rejected the GOP’s Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, in favor of an upstart reformer — Dave Brat — who argued that the push for more immigration was intended to help “crony capitalists” reduce Americans’ wages.
The same reform pitch is being pushed by conservative governments in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. In Canada, for example, the government announced this month it would bar the use of low-skilled guest workers in regions where unemployment is above 6 percent.
When questioned by The Daily Caller, Goodlatte said the GOP has a positive agenda on immigration.
If immigration laws were enforced, Congress could pass additional measures to block illegal immigration, such as new rules that would require companies to verify prospective employees’ right to work, and allow border officials to verify the departure of tourists and temporary immigrants, he said.
He also said enforcement would allow government officials to allow companies to hire more guest-workers.
“The [guest-worker] bills that we have passed out of the judiciary committee that deals with legal immigration reform, I very strongly support, and those bills put very strong protections on U.S. workers,” he said,
In April 2013, Goodlatte pushed though a bill, dubbed the “Agricultural Guestworker Act”, or H.R. 1773, that would allow the food industry to hire 500,000 foreign workers each year on 18-month visas. If made law, the bill would provide employers in Virginia with about 20,000 low-wage foreign workers for use in meat-processing plants and other blue-collar workplaces.
Critics say his bill greatly reduces protections for U.S. workers, and would make it harder for U.S. workers to find well-paying jobs.
Goodlatte insisted the extra infusion of foreign workers would be good for Americans. “A very strong case is made that those bills would create more jobs for American citizens… [so] it is a positive initiative that we have,” he said.
However, Goodlatte argued, the guest-worker bills have been sidelined by the surge of illegal immigrants caused by Obama’s refusal to enforce immigration law. “His actions have now come home to roost in the form of hundreds of thousands of people who are surging our border today, who have gotten the word that if you show up here, they’re going to let you in,” the congressman stated.