Wall Street Journal
By Corey Boles and Sara Murray
April 25, 2013
Tensions between the House and Senate approaches to overhauling immigration law emerged Thursday, as a House committee chairman said he would undertake a piecemeal approach rather than pursue a single comprehensive measure, as the Senate is considering.
Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R., Va.), who leads the House Judiciary Committee, said he plans to start with a measure creating an agricultural guest-worker program, followed by a bill requiring employers to use a federal system to determine prospective employees' legal status.
Mr. Goodlatte declined to say how many bills he would pursue or whether one would provide a pathway to legal residency for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S. He said he doesn't back granting citizenship to the group—as the Senate legislation would allow—but would be in favor of some form of legal status.
His approach raised the prospect that the House could pass provisions toughening border security or which help businesses gain access to temporary labor from abroad before dealing with the status of those in the country illegally.
Senators who favor an overhaul say the best approach is to put everything in one bill, so that no interest group feels left behind. "You can't do individual bills, because the problem is people say, 'What about me?' " Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), who helped craft the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday. "The best way to pass immigration legislation is actually a comprehensive bill, because that can achieve more balance. Everybody can get much, but not all, of what they want."
Mr. Goodlatte didn't rule out eventually stitching House bills together into a single legislative package that could move to the floor. He made it clear the House would take its time considering proposals.
The differing approaches in the two chambers point to the long legislative process any immigration overhaul could face. While the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin debating a bill on May 9, the House has moved more slowly. A bipartisan group in the House has yet to unveil a plan that it has been developing for several years.
A bipartisan group of eight senators crafted a bill that would increase border security, create new work-visa programs and offer a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.
The top House Democrat said she doubted any members of her party in the House would support legislation without a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the country. "I don't think we want America to be a place where we have two kinds of people in our country," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), the House minority leader. "We always make comments about other countries where they have workers coming in and are in a different category. I don't see House Democrats supporting legislation of that kind."
Ms. Pelosi said that she supported the Senate bill and hoped there would be bipartisan support for that legislation, if the Senate sent it to the House.
Members of the Senate immigration group also saw flaws in any House approach that doesn't offer a path to citizenship.
"Any attempt to say, in the House, that you will not have a path citizenship will be a nonstarter," Mr. Schumer said. "I'd say that, unequivocally, it will not pass the Senate. I don't think it would get a Democratic vote."
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) echoed Mr. Schumer. He added that offering a permanent legal status to illegal immigrants without any chance of citizenship "offends our fundamental principles of fairness in our society."
The two senators set a high bar for their legislation in the Senate: They hope to win 70 votes in the chamber, where Democratic and independent senators account for 55 votes and Republicans hold 45 votes. Passing the bill with just a handful of Republican senators "would bode poorly'' for the legislation once it moved to the House, Mr. Schumer said.
A senior House Republican leadership aide said a more-narrow bill or a package of bills as envisaged by Mr. Goodlatte could be one strategy for moving forward, if the Senate were to pass its bill and Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and other House leaders were to determine they need to pass legislation to kick start negotiations with the Senate on a final package.