AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Here to talk more about immigration from the House point of view is Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican and chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Welcome to the program.
REPRESENTATIVE BOB GOODLATTE: Good to be with you and your listeners, Audie.
CORNISH: Now, do any of these provisions from the Senate make the proposal any more palatable to Republicans in the House?
GOODLATTE: Well, certainly securing the border is important and these are additional steps that I think are very helpful in that regard. The House Judiciary Committee, however, is focused on the problem of enforcement of the laws once somebody is in the United States. You know, about 35 to 40 percent of the people who are on lawfully present in the United States entered lawfully on student visas, visitors visas, business visas, visa waivers and so on, and then simply overstayed their visas. That needs to be addressed with interior enforcement.
We think we should have a clear statutory guideline so that under the right circumstances, state and local governments can participate in helping this limited number of federal enforcement officers enforce our immigration laws in the interior of the country.
CORNISH: Critics of the House approach say that your committee isn't necessarily doing anything to handle the current undocumented population, in terms of giving them any kind of path to citizenship - dealing with that 11 million people that are here. Your response?
GOODLATTE: We are taking a step-by-step approach to addressing all three of the major areas that are needed to fix our broken immigration system: legal immigration reform, to create a healthy economy and create jobs for Americans; enforcement, as we've just discussed; and finding a way to bring out of the shadows those people who are unlawfully present in the United States, and have some kind of legal standing for them.
We've passed, so far, four bills out of the Judiciary Committee, plus our own border security bill passed out of the Homeland Security Committee. And so, we're making a lot of progress. We're moving steadily forward. But we're carefully examining each aspect of immigration reform to make sure we get it right and to try to build the kind of consensus and support that we need, particularly on the Republican side in the House.
CORNISH: There's also this House bipartisan group that's drawing up a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill. Have you agreed to hold committee hearings on that proposal?
GOODLATTE: Yes, so far that group has not been able to produce a specific piece of legislation. But we've encouraged them to do so because we think that anything that happens with immigration is going to have to be bipartisan. And if they do come forward with a specific bill or a specific legislative language, we will examine it very closely in the House Judiciary Committee. Because we think that it will benefit the process whether it's looked at as a whole or whether it's taken in individual pieces that might help inform the work that we're doing on all of these different areas of immigration reform.
CORNISH: So, Chairman, it sounds like you're not opposed to some comprehensive legislation, then. Is that correct? There's been critics who say that the immigration effort to die a slow death in this piecemeal approach to getting something done.
GOODLATTE: Well, we don't believe it's piecemeal. We believe it is step-by-step. And again, we are working both with the bipartisan group in the House and in the Judiciary Committee, to try to find consensus to address each of these major areas.
CORNISH: And looking at this action in the Senate, are Republicans there misguided in assuming that the majority of support from them means that House Republicans would want to do the same?
GOODLATTE: Well, House Republicans are going to want to see what the Senate Republicans have been demanding. And that is greater enforcement of our immigration laws. We do not want to make the same mistakes that were made in 1986, when nearly three million people were given an easy pathway to citizenship on the promise that there would be more enforcement of immigration laws and none of that has been fulfilled in any significant way.
CORNISH: So this idea that if they have a bill that gets 60 or 70 votes, that will somehow pressure the House to do more, it doesn't sound like you're convinced.
GOODLATTE: It's not going to change the way I think we should approach this. And I believe that is the approach that our leadership and the overwhelming majority of the rank-and-file in the House have also been very supportive of our approach, to try to find the solutions that are needed, and not feel rushed by the Senate or by past precedent, which we think is very bad.
The Senate bill gives a legal status to all of the millions of people who are unlawfully in the United States before they put in place the kinds of enforcement reforms that we think would assure the American people that there won't be another wave of illegal immigration. And therefore, we think that's a mistake. They're putting the cart before the horse.
CORNISH: Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, thank you so much for speaking with us.
GOODLATTE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.