April 25, 2013 -- For a comprehensive immigration reform package to pass, it will likely have to go through the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Va.).
But Goodlatte wants to leave the door open to the possibility of passing a series of bills, instead of one complex, interrelated package.
"The House Judiciary Committee intends to examine immigration reform in a step-by-step approach," Goodlatte said at a press conference Thursday morning. "We welcome the ideas of all the members of House."
You can expect legislation from members of the Judiciary committee this week, Goodlatte said. Among the bills in the pipeline are an item addressing agricultural workers and a proposal to make it mandatory for businesses to use E-Verify, a system to check employment authorization in the workplace.
Whether immigration reform should be passed in pieces or in one large bill cuts to the heart of the immigration debate in Congress.
A bigger bill allows for more bipartisan trade-offs. An immigration reform plan devised in the Senate, by four Democrats and four Republicans, contains a mix of provisions to satisfy both parties. For example, undocumented immigrants are offered a path to citizenship, but that path is dependent on the county meeting certain goals for border security. That tackles issues that are important to the left and right.
"The best way to pass immigration legislation is comprehensively because that can achieve more balance," Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), a leading Democrat in the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Eight" told reporters Thursday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "I think the idea of doing separate bills is just not going to work."
A piecemeal approach would mean looking at different parts of the immigration system independently. That would be good news for the parts of the bill where there is broad bipartisan agreement -- adding more visas for tech workers, for example -- but could mean a harder road for some provisions. For example, Democrats are committed to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, while a faction of conservatives opposed it.
Goodlatte opposes granting a pathway to citizenship for the entirety of the country's undocumented immigrants.
"I prefer not to see a special pathway to citizenship," he said on Thursday. "But a status that were to give them some kind of legal status is certainly something that we should consider."
If members of the House begin to introduce their own immigration bills, reform supporters could have another concern: that the resultant debate and partisan dealing could slow down the process and lessen the chances of a big bill passing Congress.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who also spoke at the press conference, said that he wants members of Congress to speak about immigration in their districts. And many Republicans, including Goodlatte, have called for a robust debate around any immigration legislation.
"While we all agree we need to fix our immigration laws, there are many ideas about how to get to a solution," Goodlatte said. "Regardless of one's position on the larger debate, the way forward is for Congress to pass immigration reform through regular order."
The Boston Marathon bombing could further influence the process. Congressmen working on reform in both parties are open to the idea of amendments that might increase security against future attacks.
One leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee doesn't seem too worried about the progress of immigration reform. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) released a statement today after the announcement from Goodlatte and Gowdy:
"Today's press conference confirms what I have been saying publicly and privately about the new tone and new interest among Republicans," he said. "They want to solve the immigration policy issue and not just exploit it for partisan politics."
This story was updated at 1:55 p.m.
Jordan Fabian contributed reporting.