House Homeland Security Committee will mark up a bill today, the Secure Our Border First Act (HR 399), that would require increased border enforcement. It would appear that Republicans are backing themselves into a security-only reform position; that the border can be secured by force alone.
As its title indicates, the GOP leadership wants this bill to be seen as the first step in the long-promised march of piecemeal immigration reform. The fact that Republicans are willing to pass immigration legislation before defunding the president’s executive actions is encouraging because it demonstrates a willingness to proceed with immigration reform regardless of the president.
After this bill passes the House, free market conservatives should move as quickly as possible to pass guest worker legislation. That would enhance the prospects for the Homeland Security bill by channeling would-be workers into legal avenues for entry. If House Republicans pass bills that reform the legal immigration system, they can improve their position in a confrontation with the president over his executive orders by undercutting his “Congress-isn’t-acting” talking points. This plan is exactly what groups that oppose all immigration – legal and illegal – fear is underway.
Much of the work on immigration reform has already been done. The House Judiciary Committee passed a reform of high-skilled visas (HR 2131) and passed a new program for lesser-skilled agricultural guest workers (HR 1773). Reps. Raul Labrador (ID) and Ted Poe (TX) have spent the better part of two years crafting a proposal to reform immigration rules in non-agricultural sectors, legislation that would take care of a significant portion of the illegal immigration problem. Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA) is already making noises that, once enforcement issues are dealt with, the next step will be reforming the high-skilled immigration rules and that he intends to reintroduce his other bills which include reforms to the guest worker program.
House Republicans should move these bills regardless of how the Senate chooses to handle those issues. With a united Congress, they can feel confident that an immigration conference would turn out much differently than one might have played out in the last Congress. The Secure the Border First Act contains a promise of second and third steps. Congress can – and should – fulfill that promise.