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Senate, House pursue sharply different paths to immigration reform

Senate's bill is sweeping, and it's moving fast. The House so far is taking up immigration reform piecemeal, and is proceeding at a, well, deliberative pace. Why are the approaches are so different?

By Staff writer / April 25, 2013

In this February photo, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rep. Goodlatte and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) of South Carolina, who chairs the House subcommittee charged specifically with immigration policy, plan to push ahead on immigration reform by focusing on a few specific bills.

Susan Walsh/AP/File

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Washington

Two key House Republicans plan to push ahead on immigration reform by focusing on a few specific bills, keeping the issue before the chamber widely expected to have the hardest time with immigration reform legislation even as the Senate's sweeping, bipartisan bill speeds toward the finish line.   

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Whatever their differences in style and substance, though, immigration players in both Senate and House expressed confidence Thursday of approving some kind of reform before the year is out. 

“We do have a broken immigration system, and the House does intend to play a leading role in making sure this is solved,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia, whose panel oversees immigration law.

Mr. Goodlatte and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) of South Carolina, who chairs the House subcommittee charged specifically with immigration policy, are starting with smaller pieces of the immigration puzzle rather than one overarching bill. They say their committee's members will introduce two stand-alone measures – one on foreign agricultural workers and one to make mandatory an employee verification system known as E-Verify – as a first stab at immigration reform.

That drip-drip-drip approach contrasts markedly with action in the Senate, where two leaders on immigration reform on Thursday offered the hope that their sweeping measure could win significant bipartisan support. Sens. Charles Schumer (D) of New York and John McCain (R) of Arizona argued that it is “very possible” majorities of senators in both parties could support a comprehensive immigration reform solution, leading to a final tally of “ayes” north of 70.  

In that chamber, a bipartisan “gang of eight” senators unveiled a comprehensive reform bill last week, and it has already had three hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Pat Leahy (D) of Vermont, the panel's chairman, started the bill toward the Senate floor on Thursday by scheduling time to amend it in early May when Congress returns from a district work week.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada says the bill could hit the Senate floor for further debate and amendment in June.

At a breakfast with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, Senators McCain and Schumer said they had taken care to anticipate the needs of their GOP colleagues, stripping from the bill a diversity visa program that conservatives dislike and ensuring that interests of Southern farmers are accommodated. 

“If we were to pass this bill with, say, over 50 Democratic votes ... but only eight or nine Republican votes, it would pass, we would get to 60, But it would bode poorly for [the reform effort in] the House,” Schumer said.

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