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The Congressman in charge of assembling immigration reform in the House of Representatives has come to reassure the public that a bill can pass, but it could take a (very) long time. To alleviate the growing fears that the most unproductive Congress in history will kill immigration reform, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte sat down with me during his whirlwind tech and fundraising tour in Silicon Valley.
For the skimming reader, there are four takeaways:
1) It’s possible for the bill to take up to a year to pass and will definitely extend into fall.
2) House Republicans will likely push to make it harder for undocumented workers to become citizens but easier to live and work in the U.S.
3) Tech lobbies, such as Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us, help to educate congressmen, but they aren’t influencing members in the most anti-reform districts.
4) Everyone needs to calm down; Democrats and Republicans can agree on things.
Immigration reform has failed four times since 1986 (1986, 1996, 2001, and 2007) . Goodlatte contends that past bills have failed because industry groups have tried to prematurely force feed controversial bills down the public’s throat.
“In 2007, the Senate took a bill that didn’t even go through the committee and dropped it on top of the Senate, the public freaked out and they got more calls and emails on that bill than any other bills in the history of the Senate,” said Goodlatte.
To avoid triggering that same minefield of anti-reform anger, the House of Representatives has vowed to tip-toe methodically through the “regular order” of committee hearings, amendments, and debates that may eventually stitch together a handful of immigration-related bills into a single comprehensive package.
In stark contrast, the Senate squeezed through a single bill composed largely by a “gang of 8″ influential members. Goodlatte says not enough of his colleagues would support the Senate version, so the House has to come up with its own.
However, earlier this month, Mike Allen’s Politico dropped a damning report that predicted the House’s approach would lead immigration reform to a “slow death,” sparking a torrent of fatalism. Goodlatte is here to allay those fears
It’s Going To Take A Long Time
“Absolutely, it’ll go into the fall, no question about it,” says Goodlatte, squashing earlier predictions by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid that the bill was going to pass by the end of summer.
So, how long could it take? Goodlatte is exceedingly cautious with the way he describes the timeline. I’ll post his response in full and let readers make up their own minds. I took this to mean that it’s possible the bill could take up to a year.
“But that takes time, and it is far more important to get this done right than it is to say we have an artificial barrier created by the President, who say that its got to get out by July, or other people who say that it’s got to get out by the end of the year. Or that it can’t be done during an election year. Why can’t it be done during an election year? The thing that is bringing this about is public pressure on both sides.”
For historical context, the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Obamacare) took a year longer to pass than President Obama expected, so it is certainly possible the infighting could extend the debate well into the 2014 election year.
An Easier Home, More Difficult Vote
“We will not do a bill in the House that has an easy path to citizenship,” he says. The more xenophobic fringe of the Republican party is seriously freaked out about giving citizenship to the 11 million undocumented workers residing in the country — not just because they tend to vote Democratic.
To appease this wing of the Republican party, Goodlatte and the House leadership are leaning towards a solution that would allow an easier path to residence, but a more difficult path to citizenship. “They can work here, they can own a business here, they can travel to or from their home country or anywhere in the world, they can pay their taxes, and then they can have an opportunity that they don’t have now.”
But, at the very least, he thinks that undocumented workers are going to have to get into line with other residents who have been patiently waiting years (sometimes more than 10) to get citizenship.
Don’t Overestimate Tech Lobbies
A host of new technology lobbies are spending big bucks to pressure Congress into passing high-skilled immigration reform. I asked Goodlatte whether organizations, such as Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us or Engine Advocacy, were being mentioned in Republican meetings or whether they were having an influence over his more reform-resistant colleagues. His answer was a flat-out “no.”
“No, I think that they are cognizant that that is not something new,” he says, “but, it’s certainly a reality that they’ll have to deal with.”
Indeed, as I’ve written before, the major barrier to immigration reform is heavily white, gerrymandered districts that strongly oppose the Senate’s immigration reform plan. And even though some tech lobbies have lots of cash, many middle-America members of Congress don’t much care what lobby groups out of Silicon Valley or New York think.
Stop Freaking Out
Goodlatte is convinced that Republicans broadly support immigration reform and that Congress can forge a bi-partisan bill. For instance, last year, the House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act, which eliminated the Diversity Visa lottery program of 55,000 visas for underrepresented countries and re-allocated them for high-skilled immigrants with graduate degrees from U.S. universities.
Even though Democrats bitterly fought for the Diversity Lottery program, a version of immigration reform without the program has already passed the Senate.
In other words, Congress has and will continue to find compromises that can pass the House.
A Final Word
The House Judiciary chairmanship is one of the most powerful positions in the nation on technology policy, since most tech bills must pass through the Judiciary Committee. Goodlatte’s predecessor, Representative Lamar Smith (CrunchGov Grade: F) was the arch nemesis of the tech industry, and not just because he was the champion of the Stop Online Piracy Act.
Though it is still early in his tenure, Goodlatte has established himself as a productive bridge between the technology industry and the rest of his party. In addition to immigration reform, he’s also come out against patent trolls and advocated for making the controversial Internet sales tax simpler. He’s neither a cheerleader nor an enemy of the industry, and that’s what could make him an effective leader.
The Essential: U.S. Can’t Protect The Internet, Jack Shafer Wants Partisan Journalists, XKCD On Social Media News
U.S. Can’t Protect The Internet [TechCrunch]
–Jeff Jarvis writes for us that, because of NSA spying, the United States has lost its moral high ground to defend the web against states who want to control the Web
–”Our net is in danger — not because of Edward Snowden, but because of what we now know about the actions of the U.S. government. The threat is bigger than SOPA or PIPA or ACTA. It is a threat to the nature of the net.”
Let’s Hear It For Opinion In News [Reuters]
-Reuters columnist Jack Shafer doesn’t care whether people think The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald is a journalist or an activist
-”I care less about where a journalist is coming from than to where his journalism takes me.”
Not Everything Relates To Facebook [XKCD]