A few months ago I was pretty down on House Republicans and the prospects for immigration reform legislation in that House of Congress. I was basing this pessimism on past votes, the tone of committee hearings and the ratings by anti-immigration groups of those chosen to head the committees dealing with immigration.
There are still voices in the House that worry me, but the Democrats in the Senate could also blow it both in terms of pushing provisions that doom the final passage of a bill or, if we get a bill, putting us in the situation where we're back in the same place in a few years and need new legislation.
There are three areas where House Republicans can make a bill more better.
1. Guest workers - The 1986 immigration bill legalized three million people and gave us the I-9 enforcement system. Both addressed major problems. But the Congress couldn't agree on what to do about the future flow of immigrants and decided to let a future Congress figure it out. Guess what? They never did. And we now are talking about legalizing 11 million people.
In 2007, immigration reform efforts failed when union opposition to a guest worker program led many Democrats to pull their support for reform. Senator Schumer has smartly tried to get the US Chamber and labor unions to hammer out a deal on the front end to avoid a similar result. But from what I am hearing, Big Labor is forcing a deal that will result in a wholly inadequate guest worker program that will lack enough numbers and cover only unskilled workers as opposed to the workers the economy needs.
House Republicans need to remember they are the pro-business party and hold a tough line that ensures the unions don't doom long term immigration reform. If employers can't bring in guest workers when they can prove Americans are unavailable, we will simply end up with a new illegal immigrant flow.
2. Path to citizenship - Many of my pro-immigration colleagues think differently on this than I do, but I LIKE what I'm hearing from people like Rep. Labrador and Goodlatte that we need to avoid setting up a path to citizenship for legalized immigrants that is easier than that being used by everyone currently in line. We shouldn't have a special path to citizenship. Legalized immigrants should have to apply for green cards using the family and employment-based green card categories already on the books and go through the same application process as immigrants currently in line. What we can do, however, is make enough green cards available to process everyone currently in line in a more reasonable timeframe and once all of those people process, then begin processing the new applicants. We also should ensure that enough green cards are made available to absorb all the new family and employment-based green card applicants in the pool of legalized immigrants.
I don't agree that we need to link enforcement benchmarks to allowing legalized immigrants to file for green cards. But I also could live with benchmarks if they are reasonable. We will never have a completely sealed border. But if we put more resources in to enforcement and have a decent guest worker program, we should be able to dramatically cut illegal crossings.
The Senate sounds like they're looking at a measure similar to what was proposed by President Obama - simply allowing people to file a green card application after a certain number of years without going through the conventional green card application process. I think that doesn't serve us well if people perceive the legalized immigrants as having gotten a better deal than those who are currently in line. And I think the conventional path to citizenship being suggested by some House Republicans makes more sense.
3. Skilled workers - The Senate has been very vague on what is going to be proposed on skilled workers. The I-Squared marker bill proposed by Senators Klobuchar and Rubio is superb and if the Gang of Eight simply inserts it as is in to the big bill, I'll be very happy. But I'm already hearing that some of the protectionist forces out there are trying to mess around with the language. I hope I'm wrong. But this is also an area where House Republicans can channel Ronald Reagan and give employers the freedom they need to pursue the best talent and make us as competitive as we can be. If the Senate bill doesn't deliver on the skilled worker provisions, House Republicans need to push back. Fortunately, I think Reps. Goodlatte and Gowdy get it.
We'll know in a couple of weeks where we stand when the Gang of Eight introduces its bill in the Senate.
On a separate note, I wanted to sincerely apologize to Congressman Goodlatte for the harsh post I wrote in November where I labeled him an extremist and made the snarky statement questioning whether he had practiced immigration law. I updated the post at the time after doing some checking and let readers know he was, in fact, a member of the immigration bar before joining Congress. But it was a dumb thing to have suggested and I shouldn't have written it.