GOP leader reveals strategy for immigration bill push

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The GOP’s leadership will try to persuade GOP legislators to back an immigration plan that includes tighter enforcement, an effective amnesty for 12 million people and more immigrant workers, according to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte.

“We’re trying to find a way to give the members of the House a way to see how all these things would work in our step by step approach. … Finding a way to build that consensus is critical,” Goodlatte told an interviewer Sunday on the Spanish-language Telemundo network.

But Goodlatte acknowledged deep GOP opposition to the plan, and indicated that the leadership won’t push a plan in the face of broad opposition in the caucus.

“We have to have something where a sizable majority of Republicans can support it,” he said.

GOP legislators will likely be pressed to support the series of immigration bills at a closed-door strategy session in Maryland, late in January.

However, Goodlatte and the interviewer, Jose Diaz-Balart — the brother of Florida GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart — largely ignored the most contentious issue, which is industry’s demand for an increased inflow of foreign low-wage workers.

The Senate’s June bill would triple legal immigration over the next decade, by awarding green cards to 33 million immigrants and work permits to roughly 13 million guest workers. That influx would be larger than the 28 million teenagers in the country, and also larger than the pool of 20 million unemployed and underemployed Americans.

Any House bill would have to be merged with the demands of Senate Democrats before it could be signed by Obama. The president and his aides have said an immigration increase is one of his highest second-term priorities.

Goodlatte has won committee approval for a bill that would allow food-industry companies to hire 500,000 guest-workers a year.

Since last year, influential business donors — such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — and progressive advocates have played up the unpopular amnesty issue, so minimizing media coverage of the very unpopular effort to increase low-wage immigrant labor.

The political obstacles described by Goodlatte include intense public suspicion of President Barack Obama’s willingness to enforce parts of any immigration deal that he does not like.

“There have been — not just with this president — but a history of presidents not enforcing our immigration laws,” he said.

There “has to be an agreement that there’s not going to be a future wave of illegal immigration. … That is difficult to bring together,” he said, citing the 1986 amnesty bill that yielded three million legal immigrants and many millions of illegal immigrants.

The distrust is boosted by the president’s unilateral change to the 2010 Obamacare law, Goodlatte said. GOP legislators see “a president who steps in and says, ‘You know what? That didn’t quite work out the way I wanted so I’m gonna change this. Or I’m gonna change that.’ But he doesn’t have the authority,” Goodlatte said.

One fix would be legislative language granting greater enforcement authority to the states, he said. “That’s why we think there needs to be, for example, involvement by the states and local governments, not just the federal government, in dealing with the issue,” he said.

The deal could delay some benefits to the 12 million illegal immigrants — such as “legal status” — until the government has established some system that lets companies determine if a proposed hire is a citizen or a residents or a legal guest worker, he said.

“We can say the legal status is not provided until things like employment verification — electronic employment verification or entry/exit visa programs are up and operating effectively,” he said.

Goodlatte should get some credit for his emphasis on boosting security inside the country, not just at the border, said Roy Beck, the founder of NumbersUSA, a group that pushes for low immigration levels. He is also right to be skeptical of presidents’ willingness to enforce laws, said Beck.

Goodlatte, however, also endorsed an amnesty and more foreign workers, said Beck. “He didn’t show any concern for American workers and the reason you have immigration laws is to protect workers and the unemployed,” Beck said.

Goodlatte is under intense pressure from House Speaker John Boehner who is trying to pass an amnesty-and-guest-worker bill, so “we don’t know where the real Bob Goodlatte is,” Beck said.

In his TV interview, Goodlatte didn’t use the word “amnesty.” The word spikes public opposition to the planned deal, according to focus groups run by consultants such as Frank Luntz.

Instead, Goodlatte described the proposed amnesty as “an agreement that there’s going to be a legal status for people who are already here.”

Current political polls show the GOP’s base is eager to vote in the midterm elections, and swing voters are backing the GOP.

Democrats, however, plan to regain support from voters by arguing that the GOP is unfair to American workers, and by pushing for a raised $10.10 minimum wage. Obama is also claiming that GOP policies have expanded the wealth gap between rich and poor since 2000. Many voters and journalists are eager to believe that claim, partly because of the GOP’s image as friendly to big business.

However, immigration reformers say that large-scale immigration is widening the wealth gap. The gap widened by only 2.4 points in the 36 states with the lowest rate of immigration, but grew by by 4.2 points in the 15 states with the highest levels of immigration, from 2000 to 2010, according to an April 2013 report by FAIR.

However, Goodlatte indicated that the GOP leadership is going to push the guest-worker and amnesty plan.

“We’re working on it,” Goodlatte said.

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