National Journal has published a piece asking Whose Leading Immigration Reform in the House? The issue is whether too many cooks in the kitchen are causing chaos, or whether the House Republicans’ decentralized leadership will produce legislation that has been exhaustively vetted and enjoys majority support within the party.
As background, the Senate has passed S.744, a “comprehensive” immigration reform bill touching on many subjects, such as border security, skilled immigration, e-verify, a path to citizenship, etc. In contrast, the House has taken a “piecemeal” approach. Multiple Republican legislators have introduced bills on more narrow topics (except that no bill has yet been introduced proposing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants).
Here’s a look at the cooks:
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA): Boehner said from the outset that reform efforts will go through “regular order,” with bills being considered in committee before hitting the House floor. This meant most immigration bills would go through the House Judiciary Committee, with Chairman Goodlatte running the show. For months Goodlatte’s panel has held hearings on various aspects of the immigration debate, and he has exercised plenty of authority over the process. (Goodlatte has introduced the AG Act aimed overhauling the guest worker program for agriculture-specific jobs and the SKILLS Act to reform skilled immigration.)
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC): Goodlatte, who opposes the concept of a comprehensive bill, has often left the heavy legislative lifting to Gowdy, who chairs the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee. Gowdy, another opponent of the Senate’s comprehensive approach, is perhaps the leader of the House’s “border-first” coalition—those lawmakers like Brady who want a border-security bill passed before any legalization measures are considered. (Gowdy earlier this year authored the SAFE Act, which allows states to enforce federal immigration laws.)
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX): At the same time, another panel chairman—McCaul of the House Homeland Security Committee—is another central player in the border-security debate. McCaul has introduced the Border Security Results Act, which enjoys widespread support within the House GOP, aimed at strengthening border security and installing enforcement triggers that could ultimately determine the potential legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): On that front, Cantor is spearheading an initiative to deal with legalizing a specific segment of the undocumented community. Having recently floated a trial balloon to test the support of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, Cantor is writing a bill that is known as the “Kids Act”—legislation that would put young illegal immigrants on a pathway to citizenship. Cantor’s bill, expected early this fall, will be the sixth single-issue immigration measure.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI): Pushing citizenship for children is one thing—and if last week’s Immigration Subcommittee hearing was any indication, it enjoys significant support among House Republicans. But some members of the House majority think legal status should eventually be bestowed upon the entire undocumented community. At a town hall in his native Wisconsin last weekend, Ryan outlined a plan in which illegal immigrants would receive a “probationary visa” that brings them out of the shadows while they wait—at the back of the line—for citizenship. Ryan, who commands the respect of his colleagues in the GOP conference, has been campaigning privately and publicly to convince skeptical conservatives of the case for comprehensive reform.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID): Still, not everyone thinks citizenship should be the goal. Labrador, perhaps the most influential player in the debate because of his background in immigration law and his standing among conservatives, has said repeatedly that citizenship is not the only solution. Another advocate of the border-first approach, Labrador nodded in agreement last week as his colleague, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), told of how many illegal immigrants he meets aren’t seeking citizenship–just legal status. Labrador, a bilingual member of the Judiciary Committee, has warned that Democrats will be responsible for the failure of immigration reform if they insist on a “citizenship or nothing” approach. Once a member of the House’s “Gang of Eight,” Labrador left the group earlier this year over disputes about health care for illegal immigrants.
The Gang of Seven: That group, now made up of seven members (three Republicans and four Democrats), has been working for years on a comprehensive bill. A finished product was expected several months ago, but a series of setbacks and delays the group has encountered call into question whether it will ever release a bill. The Republicans still involved in the group are Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Sam Johnson (R-TX), and John Carter (R-TX).