House Republicans will engage next week in a series of listening sessions to educate members about immigration, a move advocates say could be a sign that party leaders are willing to move forward with immigration reform legislation.
The sessions will be hosted by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who serves as chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Also involved is House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), who opposes the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens.
Gowdy told CQ Roll Call on Thursday that no immigration legislation will be drafted during these upcoming meetings. Instead, the meetings will be held for the purpose of “purely educating members on the current law.”
“Our position is the current system is broken. We have to carry the burden of persuasion with our colleagues in our own conference, and the way you do that is illustrate, prove to them, why it’s broken,” he told CQ Roll Call. “Vote your conscience, vote your district, but at least know what the current law is before you do.”
House Republicans commended for immigration efforts
Immigration reform advocates say the news about the series of informative sessions gives them a reason to believe that Republicans are turning a new page on the immigration issue.
Bob Quasius, president of the pro-immigration reform organization dubbed Cafe Con Leche Republicans, lauded the House Republicans for their efforts to educate their colleagues on immigration.
Quasius argued there is a lack of knowledge on the immigration issue among some House Republicans. He said part of the reason for that is due to national groups that are “manipulating” Republicans and are putting out false narratives about immigration in an attempt to prevent the passage of an immigration reform bill.
“Republicans need to become better educated and better informed about the immigration issue so that they can make rational decisions,” he told VOXXI.
The meetings are also part of the latest efforts from Goodlatte and Gowdy to tackle the immigration issue. This past week, they participated in two committee hearings that examined agriculture workers and the employers verification program used to weave out undocumented immigrants who are not authorized to work in the United States.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) commended Goodlatte and Gowdy, saying he was pleased with the constructive discussions and the panelists chosen to speak in both committee hearings.
“The chairman and the subcommittee chairman are approaching this issue from a new and much more constructive perspective which gives me great hope that we can come to agreement across party lines on immigration this year,” Gutierrez said in a statement.
The Illinois Democrat—along with House members Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Albio Sires (D-N.J.)—will be on the road this weekend to listen to what people want included in an immigration reform bill. Next weekend, he’ll be in Texas and California to do the same. Additionally, he plans to continue meeting with constituents in Chicago on a weekly basis and with groups that visit Washington to discuss immigration.
“If Republicans are doing the same thing on immigration, that is a very helpful sign that they are serious about this issue,” Gutierrez told VOXXI.
Piecemeal approach vs. comprehensive immigration reform
Though it seems many House Republicans and Democrats agree that an immigration reform is critical this year, members from both parties still haven’t reached an agreement on several immigration issues.
One issue is whether to allow undocumented immigrants to be put on a path to citizenship. Several top House Republicans are still opposed to the idea while most House Democrats support it.
Perhaps the most pressing issue still left unresolved among House members from both parties is whether to address the immigration issue as a whole or by pieces.
Republicans favor tackling the issue by breaking it down into pieces, while Democrats want to move forward with a comprehensive bill that covers all aspects of immigration.
Both House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have hinted that they support a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, saying it could be more manageable. Other House Republicans agree, saying it could be easier to pass bills both parties support, such as allowing certain undocumented youth to be put on a path to citizenship.
But Quasius warns that a piecemeal approach to immigration reform could result in only the enforcement part of immigration being addressed and the undocumented workers issue being ignored.
Democrats and immigration reform advocates are also concerned that a piecemeal approach could divert Congress from creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
“We weren’t able to do much last Congress. People were trying to do things piecemeal,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters last month. “We’re not going to do anything piecemeal, that’s over. We’re going to do comprehensive.”