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Goodlatte: No Immigration Reform This Year

Goodlatte: No Immigration Reform This Year

By Alexis Simendinger - June 26, 2014

Proposed immigration reforms will not clear Congress this year -- and may be politically untenable as long as President Obama is in office.

That, in translation, was the message Thursday from Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said conservative lawmakers must first be satisfied that enforcement of existing immigration laws and border protections are “up and operating effectively” before they will vote on any reform legislation.

“Enforcement has to take place first,” he told reporters at a roundtable breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Republicans have long argued that border enforcement is a threshold requirement for their votes, but Goodlatte’s descriptions of what the Obama administration would need to achieve prior to any House action indicated hurdles impossible for the two parties to clear this year and potentially out of reach in 2015 under the GOP-dominated House predicted by numerous political analysts.

Immigration’s stall in the lower chamber this year practically guarantees the issue will remain unresolved in Congress until after there’s a new president in the White House in 2017. 

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform measure, which House Republicans oppose.    

The Judiciary chairman criticized the president for “a clear lack of leadership,” especially when it comes to border enforcement, arguing Obama’s policies have contributed to a new crisis at the border involving unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, who are trying to enter the United States because they’ve been told in their home countries that they’d be permitted to stay.

The White House denies that Obama’s policies are responsible, pointing to disinformation and criminals’ exploitation of Central American families -- parents desperate to send their children to the United States, initially, in some cases, to be cared for by a network of relatives and friends. It takes time to sort out the immigration status of unaccompanied minors, but many of the children eventually will be deported, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said this week.

Goodlatte said House Republicans are waiting for the president to enforce existing immigration laws; take tough steps to stop illegal entry into the United States; and turn back the surge of unaccompanied children who are permitted to remain in the United States for long periods rather than being returned quickly to their countries of origin.

“The president needs to do more,” he said.

The chairman hailed House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement Wednesday that Republicans plan to file a lawsuit against the president and his administration for what they describe as the unconstitutional exercise of his executive powers on a host of issues. One of them is immigration. Republicans fault Obama for creating in 2012 a new administrative status that shields from deportation many of the offspring of illegal immigrants brought into the United States as children.

Goodlatte said the scope and costs of a House lawsuit are outside his committee’s jurisdiction, and will be established by the House leadership, along with the House Rules and Administration committees.

The chairman, who represents Virginia’s 6th Congressional District, declined to analyze the extent to which immigration played a role in the primary defeat this month of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, also from Virginia, whom he called “a dear friend of mine.” Cantor, before his surprise loss, expressed measured support for an incremental approach to immigration reform, organized into separate House bills rather than into an omnibus measure, as approved by the Senate in 2013.

But Goodlatte made clear GOP candidates face intense pressure from many of their constituents to show “zero tolerance of illegal immigration” and to venture with care toward any proposed changes to existing immigration law, as promoted by the president. He asserted that Obama’s approval ratings have “plummeted” in part because of immigration, which he said made it harder for members of Congress “who agree with him.”

On immigration as an issue, most Americans say they are closer to Obama than to the GOP, but on leadership, including fixing the flawed immigration system, the president and Democrats have lost ground with some of the base voters they need in November’s midterm contests. According to an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released June 18, the share of Hispanics who view the president favorably and approve of the job he’s doing dropped from 67 percent in January 2013 to 44 percent this month.

 “I think members are discussing immigration with their constituents,” Goodlatte told reporters with some understatement. “People want enforcement of the law. And if they don’t hear about that [from candidates], they are upset.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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