Key chairman in House offers chilly response to Senate immigration bill

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee offered a chilly response to the far-reaching Senate immigration overhaul introduced this week, saying the proposal “repeats some of the same mistakes from the past.”

“While the bill makes a good-faith effort to overhaul our broken immigration system, there are some flaws which could lead to the same problems in the future that we have today,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said in a statement Thursday.

Goodlatte heads the House committee with jurisdiction over immigration, and his criticism of the bipartisan Gang of Eight proposal is the latest indication that an immigration overhaul would proceed slowly in the lower chamber. The Judiciary Committee has held initial hearings on immigration, and Goodlatte said the panel would meet to consider the Senate bill soon.

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The 844-page Senate bill links a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants with enhancements to border security. It also revamps the legal immigration system and creates a guest-worker program.

“The bill’s enforcement components need to be strengthened and the new temporary agricultural guest-worker program needs to be improved to make sure it meets the needs of farmers,” Goodlatte said. “I am also concerned about the bill’s cost to the American taxpayer since it doesn’t comply with ‘pay-as-you-go’ and contains some budget gimmicks to avoid a high score from [the Congressional Budget Office].”

A bipartisan House group hopes to introduce its own immigration overhaul in the coming weeks, but Republican leaders are considering splitting up any legislation into several pieces to ease its passage and soothe member concerns about “comprehensive” bills.

“While I have concerns about the bill, I am hopeful that we can produce better solutions to make sure we get immigration reform right,” Goodlatte said. “One way to do this is for the House to examine these issues in a step-by-step process.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier on Thursday congratulated the Gang of Eight on the introduction of its proposal, although he steered clear of opining on the substance of the bill.

Republican leaders are meeting with members in small groups to educate them about immigration law, as Boehner estimated that three-fourths of House members have no experience dealing with the issue legislatively.