September 8, 2013

THOSE SEEKING a standard-bearer for the do-nothing Congress need look no farther than Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican. When it comes to delay, denial and delusion, Mr. Goodlatte is an exemplar.

Mr. Goodlatte is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which handles measures to overhaul the nation’s badly broken immigration system. The Senate, with support from Democrats and some Republicans, approved broad immigration legislation in June. But Mr. Goodlatte and his Republican colleagues have declared it dead on arrival in the GOP-led House — even though it would likely have the votes for passage if it were allowed on the floor for a vote.

Instead, Mr. Goodlatte’s panel has passed a handful of piecemeal immigration bills, all of which avoid the main issue, which is what to do about the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States. Those bills passed without Democratic support and stand no chance of success on the House floor, where some Republican lawmakers are wary of voting for any immigration bill, no matter how narrow, for fear it could become a vehicle for compromise (gasp!) with the Senate.

All this is fine with Mr. Goodlatte, who told the Wall Street Journal that it’s okay to simply debate the immigration mess without doing anything to fix it.

“We pass bills all the time that don’t get passed all the way through and signed into law, because we want to spell out to the American people what we think the right solutions to our problems are,” he said. “I don’t believe immigration reform should be any different than that.”

As it happens, Mr. Goodlatte has a long track record of opposing meaningful immigration reform, including legislation to extend a path of citizenship to undocumented youngsters who grew up in the United States after being brought into the country as children by their parents.

He is part of a Republican caucus in the House that prefers to allow the immigration problem to fester than embrace any solution that includes a path to citizenship, derided as amnesty, for 11 million undocumented immigrants. Never mind that the legalization provision in the Senate bill, which would also beef up border security, establish a guest-worker program and add muscle to immigration enforcement, enjoys broad popular support.

Mr. Goodlatte’s alternative to legalizing undocumented immigrants, most of whom have lived and worked in this country for more than a decade, is stepped-up enforcement at the local level and making unlawful presence in the United States a federal crime. The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, which he co-sponsored in June, has no chance to become law, but it does give voice to the Republican fantasy of self-deportation, the notion that millions of people will leave the country on their own accord if they are sufficiently harassed.

After repeated delays, GOP leaders said this summer that they expected to bring immigration legislation to the House floor in September. Now they say the agenda looks too crowded. They should reconsider. With millions of hardworking immigrants and their children waiting to leave the shadows, an empty legislative process is not good enough.