House GOP immigration plan conflicts with Senate measure

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee plans to introduce the first of several immigration proposals this week and says he prefers holding votes on several standalone proposals instead of one comprehensive package -- a strategy that senators have warned will kill any chance of a deal this year.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). (AP)

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who is responsible for steering immigration legislation through his chamber, plans to introduce two bills: one on a temporary agricultural guest worker program and another requiring employers to verify the status of workers by using the government's E-Verify system.

Unlike the targeted approach preferred by a bipartisan group of senators working on immigration, Goodlatte said, "We welcome the ideas of all members of the House."

His broader approach means the committee could eventually consider a mix of proposals from individual Republicans and Democrats, plus the House bipartisan "Gang of Eight" -- which has spent years working on immigration issues -- and the Senate bipartisan "Gang of Eight," which introduced an 844-page proposal last week.

After weeks of speaking generally about how the process, Goodlatte said any debate on immigration should focus on three areas of concern: Reforming the nation's legal immigration system, improving enforcement of immigration laws and determining the status of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

"This process can be long, but it allows every representative and senator to have their constituents' voices heard," Goodlatte said. "And by taking a fine-toothed comb through each of the individual issues within the larger immigration debate, it will help us get a better bill that will benefit Americans and provide a workable immigration system."

Aides to top House Republicans said that a final decision on how the House will proceed is still months away, but that they're encouraged by Goodlatte's decision to move ahead while lawmakers continue working on potential proposals.

"It is crucial that every member – especially on the relevant committees – and the American people have their voices heard," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Goodlatte's strategy directly conflicts with the Senate's "Gang of Eight," which includes Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who insisted Thursday that breaking up immigration legislation into pieces would kill any potential for a deal. At a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, the two senators argued that interest groups favoring different parts of the comprehensive proposal would be angered if their concerns were not addressed in a smaller bill.

“We can’t do individual bills. The problem is, people say, ‘What about me?’” Schumer said. “What we found, and it might be counter-intuitive, is that the best way to pass immigration legislation is a comprehensive bill because that can achieve more [political] balance. Everyone gets much, but not all, of what they want. The idea of doing separate bills is just not going to work.”

McCain added, “It’s got to be a comprehensive approach.” Both emphasized that any deal must include a path to citizenship for up to 11 million illegal immigrants as a prerequisite to winning enough support in the Senate.

The bipartisan Senate proposal offers a 13-year path that would require applicants to pay fines and taxes, learn English, undergo a criminal background check and wait until additional border security initiatives have been implemented.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Follow David Nakamura on Twitter: @davidnakamura

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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