Republicans in the House of Representatives kicked off their first hearing on immigration Tuesday with a stated goal of harmonizing the principles of humanity and the rule of the law.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee met after a wave of comprehensive immigration proposals from President Obama and a bipartisan group of senators calling for a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants now residing in the United States.
Tuesday’s gathering emphasized how many House Republicans still oppose granting a path to citizenship, which several committee members referred to as “amnesty.”
“The question of the day,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), was whether there were any signs of compromise between the “extremes of mass deportation and path to citizenship.”
“America is a nation of immigrants,” he said. “… But we are also a nation of laws.”
Julian Castro, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio, testified on behalf of a path to citizenship.
He cited the hearing as an example that the country is “on the cusp of real progress,” bu warned that any plan that doesn’t include a path to citizenship risks creating a population of “second-class noncitizens.”
Castro joined seven experts on immigration who spoke about proposals to rework the laws, attract more high-skilled immigrant workers and improve border security.
Julie Myers Wood, a former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said any new legislation must consist of stronger employment-verification systems and improve the resources of agencies that were charged with enforcing immigration laws. “If we’re going to do this again, we’ve got to get enforcement right and get it right from the get-go, or otherwise will be in this situation again,” she said.
As the meeting got under way, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), praised the ongoing efforts of Senate and House bipartisan groups that are working on immigration proposals, and he advised members to take their time.
“This is not about being in a hurry,” he said. “This is about trying to get it right on behalf of the American people and those who are suffering under an immigration system that doesn’t work very well for anybody.”
Several members of the House immigration group are also on the Judiciary Committee, including Democrats Zoe Lofgren of California and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, along with Republican Raul Labrador of Idaho. Other House members of the immigration group include Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra of California.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, cited his concerns and those of other Republicans about repeating the mistakes of the so-called amnesty legislation of 1986.
That law, signed by President Ronald Reagan, also promised to grant legal status to illegal immigrants, secure the borders and beef up worker-verification protections. But the enforcement protections were largely unmet, and millions more illegal immigrants flooded into the U.S.
“In the minds of many, Mr. Chairman, the country got amnesty, but we’re still waiting 25 years later on the border security and employment verification,” Gowdy said. “So here we are back again asking our fellow citizens to trust us.”