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Bob Goodlatte: GOP point man on immigration urges 'regular order'

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte says that wherever the immigration debate winds up, nothing gets done in the end without education and building consensus in committee.

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Goodlatte’s education efforts could be key to whether immigration reform survives in the House, as Speaker Boehner has vowed not to bring bills to the floor that won’t earn votes from more than half the GOP caucus.

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“It’s more important to me at this point to educate my members on what immigration is all about,” Goodlatte says. "The average member of Congress does not deal with immigration law.”

Goodlatte, one of three former immigration lawyers on the House Judiciary Committee, certainly has his own views on how immigration reform should look. But playing a key role in listening to his colleagues means avoiding making pronouncements about his own preferences.

“As the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, if I were to say, as [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid said a few weeks ago, ‘[a deal] has to have a pathway to citizenship,’ I would be deconstructing a solution to this problem. That was not a constructive thing,” Goodlatte says.

“If you noticed in the president’s State of the Union [address], when he said we need to do comprehensive immigration reform every member but a handful stood up and applauded that,” he continues. “When he said the specific things, they weren’t there on the Republican side of the aisle standing and applauding.”

Goodlatte did, however, offer a few thoughts on discrete pieces of immigration reform Friday. On overall immigration levels, Goodlatte says he doesn’t believe there’s “anything magical about a particular number” of immigrants to the US, which currently stands at about 1 million new legal permanent residents annually.

The question of how many new legal residents the US admits every year is a key question for several conservative advocacy groups, like Numbers USA, who aim to push that number lower. (Goodlatte is among three dozen lawmakers with an A+ lifetime rating from Numbers.)

While overall immigration levels are a question to be resolved in future negotiations, it's clear he hopes to drive up the percentage of immigrants who are admitted for their skills and education from under 10 percent currently toward the better-than-50 percent levels in Canada and Great Britain.

And he hit a broadly positive note about the state of immigration debate on Capitol Hill today.

“I’m optimistic to the extent that the mood is very much where many, many people both inside and outside the Congress want to do something on this issue. But beyond that, in terms of how broad a package we can put together, I remain to be convinced that there is enough bipartisanship to do it,” Goodlatte says.

“People on both sides are going to have to say, ‘We’re going to find solutions to these problems, both in terms of bringing people who are unlawfully [present] out of the shadows and in terms of making sure that this does not happen again [through border security], ”’ he continues. “Both sides understand that if they give some on each of those, they’ll get a lot from it."

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