A top Republican congressman working on a bill to address undocumented youth doesn’t believe they should get their own path to citizenship.
Bob Goodlatte (Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is working on a yet-to-be-released bill that would offer legal status to many undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. But his reluctance on citizenship could threaten already-dim hopes of the bill picking up support from Democrats and some Republicans.
Perhaps more importantly, it may prove to be a discouraging sign for the overall reform effort.
“I think there’s a more compelling argument to be made for [undocumented youth],” Goodlatte told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday. “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.”
Republican lawmakers working on the bill haven’t divulged its details, other than to say it would be different than the DREAM Act, a long-stalled proposal to offer a path to citizenship to undocumented young people who attend college or serve in the military.
But the bill has been anticipated as a test of whether there’s an appetite among House Republicans for any pathway to citizenship, even a limited one.
Goodlatte’s comments reveal that his measure may differ in a way that will turn off Democrats and some pro-reform Republicans. Democrats and immigrant-rights advocates have said they will oppose any proposal to legalize undocumented immigrants that blocks many of them from earning full citizenship, arguing it could create a permanent underclass of immigrants.
And around two dozen Republicans in the House have said they could support a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to earn full citizenship, according to immigration activists. That’s given advocates hope that there’s some room in the House to pass a bill that contains a path to citizenship for a broader universe of the undocumented population.
But Goodlatte told constituents at a town hall meeting on Monday that he’s against such a “special” path. He’s open to allowing legalized immigrants to eventually seek citizenship through existing pathways, such as family or employment ties. That would leave out the vast majority of immigrants living in the country without authorization.
While it’s still too early to declare that a death knell for immigration reform, it’s certainly not a good sign. Goodlatte’s committee has jurisdiction over most components of immigration reform, so the Virginia Republican might need a change of heart for the reform effort to move forward.
On the other hand, Goodlatte’s opinion isn’t necessarily that of GOP leaders. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who is working with Goodlatte on the undocumented youth bill, has previously said they should have a path to citizenship.
"A good place to start is with the kids," Cantor said in February. "One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home."