The head of the House committee tasked with overseeing the nation's immigration laws has come out squarely against a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, yet another sign that a comprehensive reform bill could face a tough road to passage.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told NPR he opposes allowing many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States from eventually gaining full citizenship.
"People have a pathway to citizenship right now: It's to abide by the immigration laws, and if they have family relationships, if they have a job skill that allows them to do that, they can obtain citizenship," Goodlatte said in a piece that aired Thursday. "But simply someone who broke the law, came here, say, 'I'll give you citizenship now,' that I don't think is going to happen."
Goodlatte's comments should come as no surprise. He is a favorite of immigration restrictionist groups and has long voiced skepticism about a path to citizenship. Goodlatte called a path "extreme" during a committee hearing on immigration reform earlier this month.
But the congressman's comments are an indication that comprehensive immigration reform, which is supported by President Barack Obama, a bipartisan group of senators, and a majority of the American public, could still face significant trouble passing Congress.
"If people start prescribing or prejudging how we're going to find common ground in the middle, he's simply going to not have a bill," Goodlatte said of President Obama during his interview with NPR.
That could be an alarming warning for supporters of comprehensive reform. Should the House take up an immigration reform bill using its traditional process, the legislation would have to be passed out of the Judiciary Committee before it reaches the full House floor. The committee includes several other high-profile Republican lawmakers such as Reps. Lamar Smith (Texas), Steve King (Iowa), and Louie Gohmert (Texas), each of whom have long opposed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Goodlatte told NPR he would favor other reforms such as streamlining the legal immigration system and strengthening immigration enforcement, both on the border and on employers that hire undocumented immigrants. For many people who have entered the country illegally, however, there is virtually no existing path to citizenship.
While many Republican leaders have urged the party to support immigration reform, Goodlatte may very well be speaking for a majority of the GOP rank-and-file. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month showed that a majority of Republicans oppose a path to citizenship. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is helping negotiate an immigration bill, heard an earful from constituents who were angry over the proposal at a town hall event this week.
A plan crafted by a bipartisan group of eight senators contains an earned pathway to citizenship that could take years to complete. It would allow many undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary legal status, and eventually seek a path to citizenship if certain border security metrics are achieved. A bill being drafted by the White House contains an earned path to citizenship that could take 13 years to achieve, but Obama has said he will only introduce that bill if Congress fails to produce one of its own.
Democrats and immigration advocates have pushed hard for a pathway to citizenship and Obama has indicated that he will not support a bill that does not contain a path.
"It has to have a pathway to citizenship that is real," he said in an interview with Univision's Maria Elena Salinas in January.
Rep. Goodlatte's comments came on the same day that business and labor leaders reached a broad agreement in principle on a system to asses the future flow of immigrant workers, a contentious issue that helped torpedo the last immigration overhaul effort in 2007.