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The Newest Twist In The US Immigration Debate: The House Strikes Back

The immigration debate has recently turned from boiling to erupting.

Over the past few weeks, I have written about Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) proposals made by Senate. Specifically, the so called 'Gang of Eight', a group of Republican and Democrat Senators, has introduced an Immigration Reform Bill which will be marked up by the Senate Judiciary Committee, debated, and eventually voted on in the Senate. More information about the Senators' efforts is available here.

With the Senate's immigration reform proposals being the talk of the town, the House of Representatives was falling largely in the shadows in this respect. However, we do know that a House bi-partisan group has been meeting on and off for the past four years to discuss yet-unpublicised immigration reforms. And the House has certainly made its presence known in the past week.

The newest twist comes from House of Representatives' Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. On 26 April 2013, he introduced two immigration bills, one aimed at employers' duty to verify that their employees are authorised to work in the USA (E-Verify), and the other addressing the agricultural guest worker programme. Like many Republicans, Mr Goodlatte favours a piecemeal approach where specific issues within the larger immigration topic are changed, rather than the comprehensive immigration reform proposed by the 'Gang of Eight'.

Depending on whom you ask, this latest development is either an attempt to disrupt and delay comprehensive immigration reform, or a healthy contribution to the lively US immigration reform debate which is seeking to find a middle ground amongst widely diverging opinions on an admittedly controversial topic. Undoubtedly, the newly introduced bills will also put pressure on the House bipartisan group to release its proposals for immigration reform.

Goodlatte, who became chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in January 2013, defended the introduction of the bills and the additional controversy they create. "This process can be long, but it allows every representative and senator to have their constituents' voices heard. And by taking a fine-tooth comb through each of the individual issues within the larger immigration debate, it will help us get a better bill that will benefit Americans and provide a workable immigration system," Goodlatte said.

Representative Xavier Becerra, California Democrat and a member of the House bipartisan group working on immigration reform, reaffirmed his commitment to the comprehensive approach. "This group has worked long enough that it will work toward producing a good compromise on a total fix to our immigration system — not a partial fix, not a piecemeal fix, but a total fix," he said.

'Gang of Eight' member Charles Schumer, Democrat Senator of New York, echoed this view. "What we have found is, ironically, it may be a little counterintuitive, that the best way to pass immigration legislation is actually a comprehensive bill, because that can achieve more balance and everybody can get much but not all of what they want. And so I think the idea of doing separate bills is just not going to work," he opined.

If you're starting to feel confused about why the American political system has a House and a Senate, and why there is a Senate Judiciary Committee and a House Judiciary Committee both working on immigration reform, a brief and over simplistic explanation is that this is part of the system of "checks and balances" which is at the heart of the US system. The Founding Fathers' belief that power should be shared amongst the branches of government means that Congress is divided into two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senators represent voters of an entire US state and, because they are elected for a longer term (6 years), they generally consider a bill's long term impact and are less likely to be swayed by the tug-and-pull of public opinion. Representatives in the House represent geographical districts within each state and are elected for a shorter term (2 years), therefore generally being more in touch with their constituents' views, but also being more prone to be swayed by short-term public opinion. The two chambers balance each other out, thereby achieving the "checks and balances" so fundamental to the American political system.

As the US immigration reform debate continues, the American Immigration Law Office will monitor developments and provide you with updates. 'Like' or 'Follow us' on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ to learn the latest US immigration news as they become available!