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House, Senate differences endanger immigration reform

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Photo - FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2013 file photo, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Republicans will take on the immigration issue in bite-size pieces, shunning pressure to act quickly and rejecting the comprehensive approach embraced in the Senate, Goodlatte said Thursday.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2013 file photo, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Republicans will take on the immigration issue in bite-size pieces, shunning pressure to act quickly and rejecting the comprehensive approach embraced in the Senate, Goodlatte said Thursday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Immigration

The path to immigration reform in Congress has suddenly become much more complicated now that House lawmakers say they won't accept the sweeping, comprehensive changes that the Senate wants.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said House lawmakers instead will take a piecemeal approach to reforming the nation's immigration laws, taking up individual bills that deal with border security and employment verification to the creation of a guest-worker program for Mexican farm laborers.

"The House Judiciary Committee intends to examine immigration reform in a step-by-step approach," Goodlatte said. "We welcome the ideas of all the members of the House."

Goodlatte's decision was welcome news to many conservative House Republicans, who are wary of an 800-page Senate bill that includes a number of provisions that House Republicans oppose, like a pathway to citizenship for those already living illegally in the U.S.

The House approach, however, could make it more difficult for the two chambers to agree on a path forward to immigration reforms that can clear both chambers and make it to President Obama's desk.

The Senate legislation, written by a bipartisan group of lawmakers dubbed the "Gang of Eight," is an all-inclusive proposal that couples new border security with a litany of other changes, including legal status for the 11 million immigrants already living here illegally.

"The legislation we're offering is comprehensive and a workable solution to our broken immigration system that piecemeal responses have not and cannot repair," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of the Group of Eight.

McCain said the House's piecemeal approach would be doomed from the start.

"It just doesn't work," McCain told The Washington Examiner. "I appreciate [Goodlatte's] view, but it doesn't work. We tried it here in the Senate for years. You have to have a comprehensive approach. I respect what the House wants to do. But it doesn't work in the Senate."

McCain pointed to past piecemeal failures like the so-called DREAM Act offered by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., which would allow some younger illegal immigrants to earn citizenship. Senators ultimately defeated the bill because, unlike the Senate's current proposal, the DREAM Act did not address border security measures that would discourage future illegal immigration.

But House Republicans say Goodlatte's approach, which he likened to "taking a fine-tooth comb" through the immigration reform process, is preferable to a hefty bill that lawmakers, let alone the public, don't even have a chance to scrutinize.

"If we can bring it out a piece at a time, and people have time to process it, you are going to have a bill that is actually going to work, and the American people are going to support it," said Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.

The House may be able to force the Senate to break up the Gang of Eight's plan into separate bills if that is the only path to compromise. And that would be fine with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the principle architects of the Senate proposal.

"I've always said we would get a better bill if it was done in individual pieces," Rubio told The Examiner. "That is not the direction the Senate has gone. I'm going to try and influence what the Senate here is doing, and ultimately, that is the way it may end up happening."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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