Lawmaker pressed on immigration reform at town-hall meeting

VERONA, Va. — Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) faced off against more than three dozen immigration reform advocates at a packed town hall meeting at the Augusta County Government Center on Monday evening.

The 11-term congressman fielded questions ranging from government spying programs to background checks on gun purchases and defunding ObamaCare before a packed room of about 200 voters for nearly two hours.

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But the focus of the evening for the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee was immigration reform, as Goodlatte defended his step-by-step approach and explained his desire to implement enforcement mandates before creating a pathway to legal status for people in the country unlawfully.

Jossimar Diaz-Castro, a 22-year-old Latino who is in the U.S. legally, pressed Goodlatte on why he wouldn’t take up the Senate-passed immigration bill when it has border security requirements written into it.

“I am troubled by your proclamation that border security will not be dealt with before documentation is given to immigrants,” said Diaz-Castro, who is a member of the Virginia Organizing activist group.

“The current comprehensive immigration reform bill does provide that the benchmark of 90 percent of border security before citizenship can be given to…”

Goodlatte interrupted the Harrisonburg resident to argue that under the Senate bill, while citizenship would not be easily attained, legal status could still be given to illegal immigrants before the border security requirements are instituted.

“Citizenship, but not legal status,” said Goodlatte.

“In my opinion a great many people who are not lawfully here, the main thing they want is to be lawfully here. Well, if you give them that status before you secure the border, I think you’re repeating the mistake of 1986,” the lawmaker said.

“We’ve had a far greater problem with illegal immigration because we’ve had more people come in because we haven’t enforced the laws that are already on the books,” Goodlatte said.

More than three dozen people stood up with Diaz-Castro to express their support for the Senate-passed bill.

But proponents of Goodlatte’s approach appeared to dominate the room.

Goodlatte received an overwhelming amount of applause after explaining why addressing visa enforcement, employment verification mandates and guest worker reform — among others measures — was necessary before creating a pathway for legal status.

Another of the meeting’s participants, Dayana Torres, who co-founded the Dreamers of Virginia group and was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child, asked Goodlatte to take up a bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for young people like her.

Goodlatte said he expected that a bill addressing children in the country illegally would be introduced “soon” and that he would be taking the matter up when Congress returns in September. He stipulated that there had been no consensus among Republicans on the specifics of how to move forward on the issue.

“We have to take this one step at a time,” he said. “I think there’s a decent chance that we will take something up, but we have to have enough consensus within the majority, and hopefully we’ll get some support from the minority party as well, to be able to actually move it out of the committee. So we’re going to find out when we get back.”

The so-called gun show loophole, which allows people to sell guns at some gun shows without requiring a background check of the buyer, was also raised as a concern, with one voter asking Goodlatte to explain why he would be in favor of making it easier for potential criminals to buy guns.

Goodlatte objected to the premise of the man’s question. A measure that would have required background checks for all gun sales at gun shows failed to pass the Senate earlier this year.

“First of all, it’s not a gun show loophole. It is an exception to the background check law for individuals, and I’m not going to support something that further deprives the right of individual United States citizens to exercise their lawful Second Amendment right,” said Goodlatte to a large amount of applause.

While Goodlatte acknowledged that perhaps some criminals buy their firearms at gun shows to avoid facing a background check, the veteran lawmaker argued that most purchase their weapons illegally on the street.

“I’m sure that some criminals do that, but most criminals buy their gun out on the street, and you know that as well as I do,” he said.

Goodlatte also argued for more oversight of the National Security Agency’s spying programs, a repeal of ObamaCare and promised to investigate the IRS by pressing incoming FBI Director James Comey on the matter when Congress returns from its recess next month.

As the sun set after the close of the largely cordial meeting, the dozens of immigration reform advocates gathered outside the building on the steps holding signs and chanting: “What do we want? Immigration reform." “When do want it? Now.”