Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), second from left (Bill O'Leary/Washington Post) Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), second from right, had interesting things to say about immigration reform.
(Bill O’Leary/Washington Post)

Despite the best efforts of anti-immigration reform pundits and left-wing media (who delight in painting the GOP as anti-immigrant) immigration reform is pretty much on track in the House.

This is what key house member Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) had to say in a Bloomberg interview with Al Hunt:

HUNT:  The House Republicans said this week they’re going to do immigration on a step-by-step basis as opposed to a comprehensive bill. What steps will come first and when?

GOWDY:  We have already passed an E-Verify bill, so if you think of security as a tripod, we have employment security with E-Verify. Internal security would be the second part of the tripod, so. . . .  They’ve passed out of full committee. They will go to the floor — now, they may well be cobbled together at the floor. They may not be standalone bills. So I don’t think we’re going to have a comprehensive bill where everything is put together, but some of the pieces fit naturally together.

HUNT:  You may cobble some together.

GOWDY:  A guest-worker program fits naturally with E-Verify. We passed a guest-worker program, and we passed a high-skills visa, so four out of Judiciary and a border security plan out of Homeland Security.

HUNT: And when do you think those will go to the floor?

GOWDY:  I don’t think it’ll be before August, but that’s still being debated by people whose titles are a lot more important than mine. So we discussed it yesterday in conference, and — and I think it’ll be when we come back in September as opposed to before the August break.

HUNT: There seems to be a split, that John Boehner and Paul Ryan have said, yes, do our individual bills step-by-step and maybe combine some, but we have to pass immigration this year. On the other hand, conservative activists Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol wrote an op-ed — Tom Cotton seemed to say the same thing – just kill it and wait for the next Congress.  Which camp are you in?

GOWDY:  I like Tom Cotton a lot. He’s one of my better friends. He’s a freshman, very bright guy. And he and I have had some robust discussions about it. I think doing nothing means that you’re an advocate for the status quo, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think the current system is broken. So if you think the current system is broken, how can you then fashion an argument that we should do nothing?: [Emphasis added.]

The most critical part of this is the last — a full rejection of the do-nothing approach. Moreover, as I have suspected, there is more room for wiggling on the path to citizenship that the mainstream media have let on:

GOWDY:  [A wall is] a symbol.  Same reason you and I may wear wedding bands or crosses or religious symbols — I view security in three parts.  There’s the border, but we have two borders, and — and if this is about national security, we need to secure both. And to me, it is about national security. You have to have internal security, because almost 50 percent of the current 11 million were visa overstays. So there’s no fence in the world that’s going to prevent that. And you have to have employment security.

HUNT: So what do you do to those — that almost 50 percent? Do you deport them?

GOWDY: These overstays?

HUNT: Yeah.

GOWDY: No, I think you — I think you — number one, you have to ask them, do you want to be on a path, not a special path, a path to citizenship? Or do you want to live and work in a legal status without fear of being deported And — and whatever group elects for legal status, I don’t think you force citizenship on them.

You then have to apply a background check, and the notion that 11 million of any category in this country could all pass a background check is not realistic. Eleven million congressmen can’t pass a background check. So you apply a background check.

And then you — it . . . [can] better to divide the 11 million or whatever’s left after a background check into natural subgroups. Children, for instance, would be on a much abbreviated path to citizenship.  People who are willing to trade military service for citizenship, that would be abbreviated. . . . But by the same token, I could not look an Ecuadorian couple who did it the way we asked them to do it in the eyes and say, ‘You’re going to have to go behind someone who crossed the border or overstayed a visa.’  From a fairness standpoint, I can’t do that.

Suffice it to say the Senate bill wasn’t forcing citizenship on anyone and did pretty much what Gowdy describes. But if restating it or qualifying it gives the House Republicans confidence to do what is needed to pass a bill, well, then more power to them.

So much of the immigration debate is buzzwords (“path to citizenship,” “open borders,” “amnesty”) that when you finally get down to talking specifics it may surprise some observers to see that the outlines of a deal are faint but not invisible.