Sunday, February 24, 2013

Goodlatte seeks middle ground on immigration

If he pushes for a comprehensive bill, the political risks are high, advocates across the spectrum say.

Blue Ridge Caucus


The latest from our Blue Ridge Caucus politics blog

    From The Roanoke Times

    Rep. Bob Goodlatte may not think that President Barack Obama can sell the country on a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — but the Roanoke County Republican thinks he might be able to find a consensus on letting at least some have the right to stay here.

    As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte's the man who would write any House bill.

    But though he'll be in the middle of what is already some highly charged politicking, Goodlatte said he hopes to lead Congress slowly and carefully through the complexities of immigration law — a kind of law he practiced in Roanoke before his election to the House. He already has held a first briefing of fellow members of Congress, and plans more, as well as holding more formal hearings on immigration issues.

    "I'm not prejudging anything," Goodlatte said last week, as he spent the Congressional recess touring his district.

    So, though he thinks there's no way to build a consensus for immigration reform that includes letting anyone who is in the United States illegally become a citizen, he does think there's a middle ground between that and simply deporting everyone.

    What that is, is an open question still, Goodlatte said. But he did offer some clues.

    "Do we want to treat someone who was brought here as a child, when they couldn't do anything about it, the same way as someone who just crossed the border?" he said.

    "Some people have been working to get permission to stay when their visas expired — they've been trying but they ran out of time: Are they the same as someone who simply overstayed a visa and decided to stay illegally?"

    Goodlatte's search for the middle ground seems to echo proposals such as one by Boston College political scientist Peter Skerry. He has suggested giving illegal immigrants status as "permanent noncitizen residents," who could stay legally but could not become U.S. citizens.

    But the search for a comprehensive plan that changes the status of illegal immigrants concerns those who want to see immigration to the United States, legal and illegal, cut.

    "I don't like bills that call themselves comprehensive. We don't need a 1,000-page doorstopper," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based research group that argues America should admit fewer immigrants.

    And for politicians such as Goodlatte to rule out a pathway to citizenship just seems unfair, many supporters of immigrants' rights say. They say people are in the United States illegally because we let them and have been willing to benefit from their work and the taxes they pay for many years.

    "Basically, what he's saying is we want to exclude, to have an underclass, to say people cannot become one of us," said Claire Gastanaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

    Even if there's no consensus on the middle ground Goodlatte seeks, the representative said he and his colleagues still need to fix what he calls a broken immigration system.

    Part of that is clarifying the status of farm workers who come to the United States for seasonal work, in Goodlatte's view. Another part, he said, would be a program to allow foreign graduate students to stay after earning degrees in science, math, engineering and technical fields.

    "They could be great job-creators," Goodlatte said.

    With that, though, he'd like to do away with the system where 55,000 permanent residence visas — "green cards" — are allocated by a lottery to people from countries deemed to have low immigration rates to the United States. Green card holders can become citizens.

    He said he thinks it might make sense to require employers use the E-Verify system, through which employers can get confirmation that job applicants' Social Security numbers are valid.

    Goodlatte also said he thinks the United States needs to step up enforcement efforts. That's not just a question of the border, either, as more than a third of illegal immigrants overstayed visas. Goodlatte wants enforcement efforts to focus on those immigrants as well.

    If Goodlatte pushes for a comprehensive bill, the political risks are high, advocates across the spectrum argue.

    Many Republicans worry that the 2012 election shows they've alienated key voting blocks, and that the immigration debate risks painting them as permanently out of touch with a changing country, said Krikorian, of the immigration studies center.

    "I have to wonder. My guess is Goodlatte and others would be open at least to try for some kind of comprehensive bill," Krikorian said. "But anything the Democrats could come close to supporting is not going to be a comprehensive deal the House Republicans could support."

    But pushing for a bill that doesn't include citizenship would likely rub most Americans wrong, Gastanaga said.

    "I think he's out of sync with Virginia, and out of sync with Americans," the ACLU leader said. "It's time to let people come out of the shadows and into the light of day."

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