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Immigration Bills Are Taking Shape, but Can One Pass?

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - January 29, 2013

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Other proponents, including some in the bipartisan House group, would like the legislation to come in a single bill because they fear important components could be jettisoned or fail to win approval if the process is a piecemeal one.

House Republicans are on recess this week, and many were mum on the Senate’s plan. Boehner was noncommittal but “welcomes the work of leaders like Sen. Rubio on this issue, and is looking forward to learning more about the proposal in the coming days,” his spokesman said.

South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, the conservative chairman of the subcommittee on immigration, appeared open to the Senate’s outline. "The current immigration system is broken and inspires confidence in no one,” he said. “So, proposals which balance the humanity which defines us as a people with respect for the rule of law which defines us as a republic are welcome."

Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a conservative from Virginia and traditionally a hardliner on immigration, said the system desperately needs repair and that his committee plans to explore ways to fix it. But how to address those already here illegally has long been a complicated point of contention. “When we look at proposals that deal with the legal status of 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S., we have a lot to discuss,” Goodlatte said. “The American people and members of Congress have a lot of questions about how this would work, what it would cost, and how it will prevent illegal immigration in the future. This will have a huge impact on the American people and so we have to carefully evaluate its impact.”

Goodlatte’s predecessor on the committee took a harder line, saying the path to citizenship outlined by the Senate group would only encourage illegal immigration. “No one should be surprised that individuals who have supported amnesty in the past still support amnesty,” said Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the former Judiciary chairman who now serves on the immigration subcommittee. “When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration.”

The lawmakers working on reform legislation recognize that there are some members who simply will not come aboard. But having proponents like Rubio leading the effort on the Senate side helps to rally those who are reluctant. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has endorsed Rubio’s approach. “Immigration is a good thing. We’re here because of immigration. We need to make sure it works,” the former vice presidential candidate said Sunday in an interview on “Meet the Press.” “I think that there are Republicans and Democrats, many of us are talking to each other, that can come together with a good solution to make sure that this problem is fixed once and for all.”

Such advocacy could help change colleagues’ perception of a pathway to citizenship that smacks of amnesty. As Diaz-Balart asserted, “If we don’t pass legislation, we are going to have millions of people here. So if you want to do something about people here illegally, we’ve got to pass legislation. Right now there is amnesty.” 

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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