Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va) chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a panel at the center of the national immigration debate, declined to be interviewed for the accompanying article but sent written answers to question through his communications director, Beth Breeding. Here is the interview in its entirety.
Q. Parts of your district, including Roanoke, have seen a significant surge in immigrants in the past 15 years. This includes refugees, legal immigrants and illegal immigrants. What is your general view of how this surge has affected your district, including its economy, culture, spending on services, and political climate? Has it brought both benefits and challenges? What are they?
A. We are a nation of immigrants and the Sixth District is no different. In Roanoke, we have a vibrant cultural scene that celebrates the heritage and many of the traditions of the people who now call the region home. The contributions of the immigrant community are many and can be seen in nearly every industry. We are also a nation of laws and illegal immigration undermines the integrity of our immigration system.
Q: As you know, Virginia’s important poultry industry has become heavily dependent on immigrant labor, and many industry leaders, including those in your district, favor immigration reforms that would make it easier to employ more immigrant laborers. What is your view on the best solution to this issue? Should adult illegal immigrants be given some limited status to be able to work legally, if they have not committed any other crimes, or should there be an expanded guest worker program?
A: For far too long, American farmers have faced unnecessary hurdles and excessive red tape when hiring foreign workers under the current H-2A program. I’ve heard from farmers in the Commonwealth who want to use this program, who have tried in good faith to use the H-2A program, but have faced roadblock after roadblock. The agriculture industry needs reliable farm labor and workers who want temporary work need access to stable, legal, temporary employment. It’s in our nation’s interest to create a sensible way for workers to come in on a temporary basis, fill empty jobs, and go back to their home countries.
That is precisely why I introduced the Agricultural Guestworker (AG) Act, which the House Judiciary Committee approved last year. The AG Act replaces the broken H-2A program with a new, sensible guestworker program. In contrast to the current, bureaucrat-driven H-2A program, the new guestworker program created under the AG Act is a market-based approach that removes red tape, streamlines access to a reliable workforce, and protects farmers from abusive lawsuits. It also allows more participation in the guestworker program because it will be available for those working in the handling, packaging, or processing of raw agricultural commodities. This includes dairies, meat plants, and aquaculture facilities, among others.
It is vital that American farmers have access to a workable guestworker program now so that they can compete in the global economy and continue putting food on Americans’ tables. However, new enforcement measures are the first step to immigration reform and it will be difficult to pass anything before people trust that enforcement is actually going to happen.
Q: As a former immigration attorney, you are familiar with the problems and needs of both legal and illegal immigrants who come to this country. How has your professional experience in this field affected your larger ideas about how to improve the nation’s immigration system? Have your views changed significantly on these issues in recent years?
Before I was elected to Congress, I worked as a lawyer and about half of my practice was immigration law. I had the privilege to help people from more than 70 countries immigrate legally to the United States. My practice included nonimmigrant and immigrant visas, applications for labor certification, applications for permanent resident status for employees of businesses, and family based immigration as well.
In 1986, when Congress passed the last major immigration overhaul, I had concerns that it did not guarantee the enforcement of our immigration laws and secure the border. Unfortunately, these concerns materialized over the years as Presidents of both parties have not fully enforced our immigration laws. In any immigration reform proposal, we must ensure that our laws will be enforced and that we will have a zero tolerance policy for future illegal immigration. We must also improve our legal immigration programs to spur economic growth and job creation.
Q. Do you think there is any realistic chance for meaningful immigration reform this year in the Congress? If you could design your own comprehensive legislation, what would be its major components? Do you generally agree with the principles on immigration outlined by Speaker Boehner recently? If not, what areas do you agree with and what would you change?
Our nation’s immigration system is broken and our laws are not being enforced. To achieve immigration reform, we must avoid the mistakes of past immigration overhauls and keep our promise to the American people that we will secure the border and enforce our laws. House Republicans are taking a step-by-step approach to immigration reform, starting with enforcement first. It’s more important to get immigration reform right than rush to pass legislation. We should not adhere to an arbitrary timeline. With that being said, however, President Obama’s continued refusal to enforce our immigration laws is making immigration reform increasingly difficult. His record of inaction has caused a lack of trust among the American people and House Republicans.