Back room deals are underway in the House of Representatives to advance a number of immigration bills to the Senate before the end of October. But a growing number of lawmakers and border security experts say passing any bill now may derail efforts to get border security measures enacted.
Why? Because it will open the door for closed-door “conference” negotiations that are expected to focus on amnesty for nearly 11 million illegal immigrants and gut or weaken border security measures.
How? It all comes down to timing.
Five separate immigration-related bills are progressing through the Republican-controlled House, with only one addressing border security, and some lawmakers fear that they may be bundled into a package that will face off against the Democrat-controlled Senate’s versions. Critics such as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) expect such a face-off to lead to a compromise that could strip out the border provisions to make it more likely to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.
“The public and Republican members need to understand that going to conference with the Senate will bring about a similar ‘Gang of Eight’ bill that rejects real border security measures,” said King. “Doing business with the president is not going to give us anything that we like. He’s completely untrustworthy on this and there’s no merit to the House taking up anything because nothing good can get to the president’s desk that he’ll put his signature on.”
King, vice-chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, told TheBlaze he will do all he can to inform the American public and members of his party that taking any immigration bill to the Senate at this point could lead to a failure for a comprehensive immigration reform package.
In meetings with his colleagues in the Judiciary Committee and those who work with Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), King said he is asking a simple question: How can they get any of their piecemeal legislation bills “to the President’s desk on their own — without compromising — and doing what he wants?”
Over the past several months immigration overhaul has found its way back into official and not-so-official meetings on the Hill. House Republicans, like House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, of Virginia, Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor of Virgina, Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin and McCaul are all pushing for some resolution on their bills on immigration reform.
Goodlatte, who has been working closely with Cantor on immigration issues, has been vocal about taking action at the end of October on five step-by-step House bills that have already passed their committees.
A senior GOP aide, who spoke to TheBlaze on condition of anonymity, said “if Goodlatte’s bills are allowed to come up for a vote in the House it will certainly open the door” for a bicameral conference committee. He said “border security measures will be gutted and it could eventually pass if House leadership is able to put pressure on the rest of its members to vote” after it returns to the House.
“All roads lead to Goodlatte,” he said. “If Chairman Goodlatte thinks the Senate bill is so bad, why won’t he rule out going to conference with it? As long as he’s willing to go to conference with the Senate plan he’s willing to put a comprehensive bill on the President’s desk.”
Goodlatte told TheBlaze, however, that there will be no room for negotiations when it comes to the Senate immigration package.
“From the outset, I have made it clear that the Senate immigration bill is a non-starter in the House,” said Goodlatte. ”The Gang of Eight bill is fundamentally flawed and unworkable since it repeats the mistakes made in past immigration overhauls. Among my many concerns, the Senate bill gives a legal status before enforcement is up and operating effectively, provides a special pathway to citizenship for those who have broken our immigration laws, and allows the President to waive many, if not most, of the bill’s interior enforcement requirements.”
But just last month, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, of Illinois, told reporters that he was “happy that (Goodlatte) says that he’s moving forward, that he’s looking for a bill that can go to conference,” according to an MSNBC report.
“That is a step in the right direction,” Gutierrez said.
Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), who also met with Goodlatte in September, said he was encouraged by his apparent enthusiasm for advancing immigration reform, according to that news report.
Cuellar said Goodlatte had asked for his help in selling a compromise to Democrats.
The a-la-cart bills that will be brought to the floor are the SAFE Act bill, which increases authority of state and local law enforcement in punishing illegal migrants; E-Verify, which will mandate that employers check on the legal status of employees or face harsh fines; Goodlatte’s Agricultural bill, which would allow up to 500,000 or more foreign agricultural workers to temporarily come to the United States and the High Skilled Workers Act, allowing 155,000 visas for high skilled workers and an additional 40,000 for immigrants that graduated from a U.S. university.
The only border security measure is McCaul’s Border Security Results Act, which will add technology and manpower at the border in an effort to increase apprehensions and tighten border security.
McCaul, whose border security bill has already passed his committee, told TheBlaze he has no intention of addressing immigration reform at this time.
“The Border Security Results Act only addresses border security; it does not address immigration reform,” McCaul said. “The reason is simple: We cannot repeat 1986, where legalization happened but the border security enforcement measures were never fulfilled.”
Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center For Immigration Studies, a nonprofit think-tank dedicated to immigration research and law, said most people should be very wary of what will happen once these immigration bills reach the Senate floor because once they’re in conference there’s a stronger chance a bi-partisan compromise will be reached through leadership without the input of House members.
Krikorian noted that it’s not just the five bills that should be of concern but new legislation still being drafted, like the low skilled guest workers bill sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador, of Idaho and Rep. Ted Poe, of Texas, which would increase the number of low skilled workers in the U.S. from the 200,000 requested in the Senate bill to 400,000.
“The worst thing that could happen is the Democrats and Republicans get together in conference and pass an Obama style monstrocity, like the mammoth Obama Care package,” said Krikorian. “Obviously the tactic is to pass any kind of bill that has immigration in it and then go to conference and replace it with Senate bill and then the rest will be under pressure to pass it regardless — they can do anything they want when they get to conference.”
The Republican leadership, however, has ”drunk the Kool-aid regarding the Hispanic vote believing they will get more votes by getting this issue off the table and Republican leadership, under enormous pressure from Corporate Lobbyists - also want to increase foreign labor through the visa program.”