Rep. Goodlatte keeps hope alive for comprehensive immigration reform [UPDATED]

Rep. Bob Goodlatte is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He has come under fire from conservatives who oppose amnesty-style immigration reform for signaling his desire to bring a series of immigration bills to the House floor as early as next month.

One such bill reportedly could make it possible for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status and to apply for citizenship through existing channels, as opposed to providing a “special pathway.” Younger illegal immigrants who meet certain qualifications (the “DREAMers”) would be able to pursue a more streamlined path to citizenship.

Goodlatte has responded to conservative criticism in a post on NRO’s Corner. He assures us that he does not support the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill. To the contrary, he finds it “fundamentally flawed and unworkable.” His objective is a “step-by-step approach to immigration reform” by considering targeted legislation addressing discrete issues.

But the point of his conservative critics is that, in the present context, it’s a serious mistake to pursue any immigration reform. First, there is no hope of enacting immigration reform legislation that isn’t comprehensive and that doesn’t grant broad amnesty in one form or another. The Democrat-controlled Senate simply won’t cooperate. If the Senate Dems can’t get amnesty, they will block alternative legislation and use the issue against Republicans in the upcoming election.

Second, and decisively, by playing the immigration reform game at all, Goodlatte is increasing the odds that amnesty-style comprehensive immigration reform will be enacted. If the House refuses to play that game, the odds are zero; if Goodlatte plays his pointless game — remember, his discrete reformist approach has no chance of leading to enacted legislation unless it includes large-scale amnesty — the odds become considerably shorter than zero.

Why? Because the pieces of legislation that Goodlatte produces will be passed by the House and become, in effect, a House immigration bill. That legislation will then proceed to conference with the Senate.

Here the trouble begins. In the Senate, as noted, the Democrats are of one mind on immigration reform and enjoy some Republican support. Thus, there is no chance that, in conference, the Senate would yield on amnesty.

In the House, Republicans are divided (the Dems, of course, are solidly in favor of amnesty). Thus, it’s an open question whether the House would yield to the Senate.

Goodlatte’s NRO post doesn’t address this concern until its final sentence. There, he writes: “Any final product must reflect conservative principles and be supported by a majority of the House Republican majority.”

Nice words, but no guarantee — not even on its face — against Senate-style reform.

Mark Krikorian explains the danger:

It’s true that Speaker Boehner has said he’d abide by the Hastert Rule, not bringing to the floor any bill that didn’t have the support of the majority of Republicans, but once the conference had given its imprimatur to a slightly revised version of the comprehensive Senate bill, the pressure would be overwhelming to approve it.

It’s clear Boehner wants to pass such a bill, and the White House is actually fine with the targeted approach so long as it’s just a ruse: “Piecemeal bills are ‘OK if we can get to a place and sit down and negotiate a final product,’ she [WH immigration adviser Felicia Escobar] said.” …

[I]t’s not impossible Boehner would push a comprehensive amnesty bill over his own party’s objections as his final act as speaker, and retire to a promised lucrative lobbying gig. Or a comprehensive bill might get 50 percent plus one of the GOP caucus by amnestying the illegal population only with work visas rather than citizenship, thus giving (they hope) political cover to gelatinous Republicans desperate to satisfy the demands of relentless corporate lobbyists.

I don’t question Rep. Goodlatte’s motives or his good faith [but see below]. But he’s clearly playing into the hands of the comprehensive reform/amnesty crowd by keeping their hopes alive.

It’s understandable that Goodlatte wants to produce reform legislation in an area that could use reform. That, under ordinary circumstances, is part of his job.

But a responsible legislator doesn’t act for the sake of acting. To forge ahead when doing so can’t possibly produce the right kind of reform, but opens up the possibility of massively ill-conceived action, is highly irresponsible.

UPDATE: This report shows that Goodlatte is actually quite sympathetic to amnesty on a large scale. No wonder he’s keeping hope alive for comprehensive immigration reform.


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