This week, Bob Goodlatte chairs the House Judiciary Committee and has long had a restrictionist record on immigration. He made news this week when he told National Public Radio he didn't favor a "path to citizenship" for the millions of people who might legalize under an immigration reform bill. According to the story:
"People have a pathway to citizenship right now: It's to abide by the immigration laws, and if they have a family relationship, if they have a job skill that allows them to do that, they can obtain citizenship," Goodlatte says. "But simply someone who broke the law, came here, [to] say, 'I'll give you citizenship now,' that I don't think is going to happen."
What was not reported by many news outlets is the fact that Goodlatte also sent a "Dear Colleague" letter this week that urged fellow House members to ignore any efforts by Republican leaders to bypass his committee and move toward action on a Senate bill directly on the House floor.
Read in the worst light, some pro-immigration advocates fear moving an immigration reform bill through the House committees would mean the bill would likely die before reaching the floor. And even though a bill could pass committee and be completely reworked through amendment on the House floor, passage of an extreme bill (such as one that has no legalization program) would only further damage the Republican's national branding problem with Hispanics.
On the other hand, some believe Goodlatte is posturing for his fellow Republican committee members and would not be all that upset if Republican leaders get their way. Furthermore, it is possible his remarks signal a moderating view on immigration reform. He is focusing on not creating a special citizenship path for immigrants and has not said he is against granting some kind of lesser status that would be indefinite and provide one with the right to work. That's a big change if, in fact, that is his view.
Furthermore, his words might signal a willingness to move along a compromise strategy that I have previously suggested on this blog. Rather than allowing legalized immigrants the ability to apply for green cards simply by waiting eight years (as the President's plan suggested), you can require them to pursue green cards through conventional green card paths (like the family and employment routes Goodlatte mentioned in his quote). The key is to make green card quotas large enough to absorb them and also allow them to waive the three and ten year overstay bars (such as by paying a fine). The approach has two big benefits - it would allay the concerns about creating a special citizenship path that is easier for legalized individuals than everyone else who has pursued green cards through the current system. And it would require everyone pursuing green cards this way to wait in line behind those currently in the queues.