The lead author of a conservative immigration bill said Tuesday that, in a bid to move it through the House, he is discussing making the legislation more generous toward young immigrants who are now at risk for deportation.
The bill sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and others would grant legal status to those who have been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Trump has moved to cancel. But as written, Goodlatte’s bill would grant that status for only three years at a time, forcing recipients to deal with a constant cycle of renewals and a potential lifetime of uncertainty regarding their future in the United States.
That has been one of several obstacles in getting moderate Republicans on board with the Goodlatte bill, which would also make other changes — including cracking down on “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, cutting back on legal immigration allowances, boosting border security and immigration enforcement, and requiring employers to use the “E-Verify” program to ensure their employees can legally work in the United States.
At a Tuesday news conference with several conservative Hispanic leaders, Goodlatte said the authors of the bill “are discussing lengthening that time and doing some other things” to benefit DACA enrollees, though he stopped short of committing to any particular changes.
“We are listening to a lot of groups, and as we have listened, we have indicated interest in making some additional changes, but I think until we actually announce the changes, I will leave it at that,” he said. “But, yes, we are definitely willing to work with members to address concerns.”
The Goodlatte immigration bill is increasingly seen by Republican leaders as the last chance this election year to kickstart congressional action to protect “dreamers” — young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Many, though not all, have applied for DACA status, and while Trump’s decision to kill that program is now in court limbo, many leaders of both parties are pushing for legislation that would grant them legal status — and in some cases, a pathway to citizenship.
But Goodlatte’s bill — with its crackdown on “sanctuary” cities, new limits on legal immigration and E-Verify mandate — is much more conservative than any of the bipartisan bills that have been floated in recent months. In fact, it goes further than the “four pillars” framework released by Trump earlier this year, which would grant a path to citizenship to dreamers — even those not enrolled in the DACA program — while also funding a border wall and cutting back on two legal immigration pathways.
Democrats have rejected it entirely, and Republicans have yet to coalesce behind it. The bill has fewer than 100 co-sponsors, and Republican aides say it remains short of the clear majority needed to move it through the House.
Among the thorniest issues for Republicans has been its effect on the agriculture industry. The E-Verify mandate could mean some farmers and ranchers could be at immediate risk of losing their workforce, and many GOP lawmakers have argued that a guest worker program established under the Goodlatte bill would still leave too many agricultural businesses vulnerable. Goodlatte released a suite of revisions to the bill last month, which got the American Farm Bureau Federation behind it, but numerous Republicans remain unconvinced.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Tuesday that her all-Democratic group remained firmly opposed to the Goodlatte bill, calling it the “Mass Deportation Act.”
“This hyper-partisan, sweeping bill would fundamentally change our legal immigration system and negatively impact our economy, which is why the bill has not garnered the support of a majority of the Republican conference,” she said in a statement. “If enacted, these nativist policies would undermine local law enforcement, hurt businesses and rip apart communities through mass deportation, while only providing Dreamers with temporary protections and no pathway to citizenship.”
Various Democrats have endorsed several other bills, ranging from the Dream Act, which would grant qualifying young immigrants legal status and an eventual path to citizenship, to a more restrictive compromise bill drafted by Senate moderates that would grant legal status alongside some border wall funding and changes to legal immigration rules.
Speaking alongside Goodlatte, Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said the competing bipartisan bills had no chance of moving through the Congress and that it was futile for Democrats to keep talking with “their few Republicans of choice, members who are outliers and cannot sway the majority of the Republican Congress.”
“This bill is the last and only vehicle to move the issue forward,” Aguilar said. “I recognize the bill is not perfect. There are some issues I would deal with in a different way. But it is a fair and middle-ground approach to immigration.”