House of Representatives debuts piece-by-piece immigration plan

House Republicans announced that they would attempt to reshape the immigration system one piece at a time, a contrast to the comprehensive approach the Senate is taking. On April 25, the House announced that it would introduce a series of bills to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. The move was designed to keep the committee in the middle of the debate over the issue, and to press a bipartisan group in the House that has been working in private on its own broad legislation.

“This process can be long, but it allows every representative and senator to have their constituents’ voices heard,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) “And by taking a fine-toothed comb through each of the individual issues within the larger immigration debate, it will help us get a better bill that will benefit Americans and provide a workable immigration system.”

Goodlatte’s announcement is going to create unrest within the House group, particularly its Democratic members, and urge them to introduce broad legislation. Many Republicans in the House prefer an approach that’s split up into pieces, though Democrats fear that this method would make it tough for them to win support for a path to legalization.

Details of the House bills were not fully explained on April 25, but the first two would deal with an agricultural guest-worker program and a requirement that employers confirm the legal status of workers using the E-Verify system. Other bills would probably involve border security, which has been a top priority for Republicans.

Although Republicans are pushing for a piecemeal approach to immigration, Senate officials say that it isn’t going to be effective and warn against using this type of tactic.

“The idea of doing separate bills is just not going to work- it’s not worked in the past, it’s not going to work in the future,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Other groups were unsure of how the new proposals would work out, but were ultimately glad that some changes were being proposed for immigration reform.

“I don’t know if it helps or hurts,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a member of the House group drafting a bipartisan bill. “The only thing I’m glad about is immigration is on the agenda.”

President Barack Obama spoke April 25, noting that if a new immigration overhaul passed, credit would be due to George W. Bush. He noted that the current proposals to strengthen border security and offer a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants were due to an effort to finish the work that Bush started in 2007, saying it “has taken a little longer than any of us had expected” to accomplish.

“We remember his commitment to reaching across the aisle to unlikely allies like Ted Kennedy because he believed that we had to reform our schools in ways that help every child learn, not just some,” said Obama. “That we have to repair our broken immigration system. And that this progress is only possible when we do it together.”

House Democrats remain hopeful that a broad immigration bill will ultimately emerge, and they want to introduce the legislation by the end of May. One thing holding it back is the Republican unwillingness to accept the Senate plan for a guest worker program, which has already been endorsed by leading business and labor groups.

“There is reluctance that establishment Republicans like the Chamber of Commerce are cutting deals with big labor,” a House aide said. “That’s not where House Republicans see themselves. They think establishment Republicans are the problem.”