Goodlatte on immigration: Congress should take Obama to court

If Wednesday's effort by the House to deny funds for the president's executive action on immigration doesn't work, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee says Congress should pursue litigation.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte speaks at a breakfast for reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor at the St. Regis Hotel on Wednesday in Washington, DC.

House Republicans on Wednesday used their power of the purse to deny funds for President Obama’s "overreach" on immigration – but it is a doomed effort, sure to face a presidential veto, if it even gets that far. And so the next step must be for Congress to challenge the president’s executive immigration action in court, according to a key lawmaker.

If the House effort “doesn’t work out” in the end, then “Congress itself should bring its own litigation because of the separation of powers argument,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia, at a Monitor breakfast on Wednesday. He is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which, in the last Congress, passed several immigration reform bills that were never brought to the floor for a vote.

Congressman Goodlatte was speaking before House Republicans passed a funding measure for the Department of Homeland Security through the fiscal year, along with several amendments that Democrats and the president consider to be “poison pills.”

The amendments say funds can’t be used to implement the president’s executive action in November to defer deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants, including an amendment that effectively ends the deportation deferral program for certain children of undocumented workers – so-called “dreamers.” 

The package now moves to the GOP-controlled Senate, where Democrats, despite being in the minority, can still block it through filibuster, denying Republicans the 60 votes needed to send the measure to the White House. 

Goodlatte said that immigration will be a “very hot topic” at a joint Republican House and Senate two-day retreat that begins later on Wednesday in Hershey, Pa. The first priority, he said, is to stop the president’s executive overreach on immigration.

“We expect to work very collaboratively with the Senate to see what way that this new Senate can help to challenge a president who is exceeding his authority," Goodlatte said. 

A slew of state attorneys general have joined in a lawsuit against the administration over his executive action on immigration, but Goodlatte said that the states’ standing and judicial theories are different from those of the House or the House and Senate together.

Still, he said that “no decision” has been made about a potential congressional legal challenge to the president’s immigration moves.

As for actual immigration reform, he said that his committee and the House Committee on Homeland Security are reviewing and revising step-by-step immigration reform bills passed by their committees during the last Congress. They will be “reintroduced and I hope acted upon in this Congress.”

The order would be first bills related to enforcement – such as dealing with the problem of overstaying visas, and then legislation to reform legal immigration, including visas for high tech workers.

The status of the 11 or so million undocumented workers already in the United States “is worthy of addressing,” he said. “But it has to be held back because of the fact that there is not trust on the part of the American people on the enforcement of our laws.”

Goodlatte made it quite clear that his No. 1 priority is to challenge the president’s executive action. His committee will continue to work on reform bills, but the lack of trust in the president to enforce the law and his November executive action have “complicated this considerably.”

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