House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), one of the most influential Republicans in immigration reform negotiations, drove another nail into the effort’s coffin Monday when he spoke out in opposition to one of the few reform plans to generate any bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.
During an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Goodlatte declared that “DREAMers” — undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and could receive permanent residency through the DREAM Act — should not be placed on a path to citizenship by any immigration reform legislation.
“If you were to do something, I would start first of all with children who were brought here illegally by their parents. They’ve grown up here. They’ve been educated here. They are ready to face the world and they have no documents. I think there’s a more compelling argument to be made for them,” Goodlatte told Hewitt.
“But, even for them, I would say that they get a legal status in the United States and not a pathway to citizenship that is created especially for them,” he continued. “In other words, they get that legal status if they have an employer who says I’ve got a job which I can’t find a U.S. citizen and I want to petition for them, ah, they can do that, but I wouldn’t give them the pathway to a green card and ultimately citizenship based simply on their entering the country illegally.”
Goodlatte has been drafting a Republican alternative to the DREAM Act with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Their bill, tentatively named the KIDS Act, was expected to include a path to citizenship after Cantor spoke out in favor of the idea in July. “It’s an issue of decency, of compassion,” he said at the time. “Where else would these kids go?”
Goodlatte has also suggested that he supported the broad outline of the DREAM Act in the past. In early July he told a 16-year-old high school student who had been brought to the country at the age of three that “maybe for someone like you,” reform legislation “could include a path to citizenship.” Since then, however, the 11-term Republican has apparently veered to the right.
Without a path to citizenship, it’s unlikely that the KIDS Act will receive any significant Democratic support. That calls into question whether the House can pass any immigration reform whatsoever. The broader “Gang of Eight” reform bill, which passed the Senate in a 68-32 vote in June, was dead on arrival in the House. During a town hall meeting on Monday, Goodlatte threw cold water on the bill’s chances of becoming law, insisting that “We should pass what the House majority of the majority is willing to support, and that’s as far as we should go.”
As Greg Sargent notes at his Plum Line blog, Goodlatte may also have provided a preview of how the GOP hopes to get away with failing to pass an immigration bill.
“Even if [a House reform bill] doesn’t go all the way through to be signed by this president — because I have a hard time, like you do, envisioning him signing some of those things — it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least show the American people that we are interested in solving this very serious problem that we have in our country,” Goodlatte told his constituents. In other words, Goodlatte and his Republican colleagues may be hoping that merely debating and passing any sort of immigration reform — even a bill with no chance of becoming law — would be a show of good faith that could help stop the GOP’s slide among Hispanic voters.
Given the massive electoral implications of the Republican Party’s horrible numbers among America’s fastest-growing minority, that’s a very dangerous gamble.