Immigration reform? Here's what Obama must do first, a top Republican says.

The environment in the House for immigration reform is 'exceedingly difficult,' Rep. Goodlatte says at a Monitor breakfast with reporters. First, Obama must show 'some leadership.'

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee speaks at a Monitor Breakfast on Thursday, June 26, 2014 in Washington, DC.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia, at a Monitor breakfast Thursday, laid out what steps President Obama can take to move immigration reform along in the House, where the environment for reform is “exceedingly difficult,” he said.

Take that to mean “not possible,” at least not until Mr. Obama “shows some leadership” on the surge of minors crossing the US-Mexican border and on enforcement generally, Representative Goodlatte said.

The House Judiciary Committee has passed several individual immigration reform bills, but they are stalled, as is the Senate’s bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed that chamber a year ago this week.

If the administration were serious about enforcing the law, Goodlatte said, “They would not simply call the matter at the border today a humanitarian crisis, but would acknowledge that this is a serious national security issue, law enforcement issue, respect-for-the-rule of law issue.”

Obama needs to pressure Mexico and Central American countries to assist the United States in helping to prevent the surge, he said. And he urged the president to work with Congress on new legislation to help discourage the influx of minors and family units. Right now, he said, the law does not allow minors to be held in a facility, so they are released to relatives or foster care, and then given a court date to reappear. More than 90 percent do not return, he said.

On Wednesday the chairman sent a letter to the president saying he would “be delighted to work with you on legislative reform efforts if you believe them necessary to successfully obtain removal orders against or otherwise remove the unaccompanied alien minors and family units overwhelming our southern border.” Goodlatte is leading a committee trip to the border next Wednesday and Thursday.

As for the general issue of immigration reform, he repeated the GOP demand for “enforcement first.”

That means agreeing to enforce current laws on the books and new laws that are necessary to impose that enforcement. As examples he listed: the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (SAFE), which allows state and local officials to aid enforcement of immigration laws; mandatory employer verification of legal status of workers – rather than today’s voluntary system; and a biometric entry-and-exit system to track visa overstays.

These things need to be done first, he said, before there can be any movement on other immigration issues.

Goodlatte said the “overwhelming majority” of Americans want to see enforcement first. He blamed the president’s approach to immigration – particularly his executive action of deferred deportation for certain children of illegal immigrants, which he considers unconstitutional – for the border surge of young migrants. He called the surge “an administration-made disaster” because of the lax-enforcement message the administration is sending to people in other countries.

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