Why Immigration Reform Won’t Pass the House
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The Fiscal Times
July 1, 2013

For those Democratic and Republican senators who optimistically predict House Republicans will eventually get behind  bipartisan immigration reform for the good of their party, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has a message: Forget it.

The two-term self-styled  “conservative constitutionalist” and hardliner on immigration is  highly dismissive of any suggestion or prediction that he and other House Republicans will eventually come to their senses and support the Senate-passed immigration plan if they hope the GOP will  remain viable as a national party.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ) and other “Gang of Eight” members who drafted the Senate-passed bill contend that House Republicans must support a similar approach – including a path to citizenship for nearly 11 million illegal immigrants – if they hope to appeal to the potent and fast-growing bloc of Hispanic voters.

“I was moved almost to the point of tears by Senator Schumer’s concern for the future prospects of the Republican Party,” Gowdy quipped on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday. “But we are not going to take his advice. The Senate bill is not going to pass in the House. It’s not going to pass for myriad reasons. I’ll support immigration reform. I think the current system is broken.

“But our framers gave us two legislative bodies,” added Gowdy, who is chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. “I assumed they did it for a reason. And the House runs every two years with the theory being that we will be closer to the will of the people.”

Gowdy’s appearance helped explain why it may be virtually impossible for the two chambers to reach agreement this year on comprehensive immigration reform.  

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By a solid vote of 68 to 31, the Senate last Thursday passed a bill that combines efforts to tighten security along the U.S.-Mexican border with a lengthy pathway for illegal immigrants to achieve legal status or citizenship. But many House Republicans and conservative forces are arrayed against the Senate-passed bill, saying it is tantamount to “amnesty” without the guarantee of an all-but-impenetrable southwestern border. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has vowed to keep any immigration reform bill from the floor that lacks majority support of his members.

And House leaders and influential members, including Gowdy and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, are pursuing a piecemeal approach: It  focuses on border security, empowering state and local authorities to ferret out illegal immigrants, and making it a crime to be in the country without status.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) yesterday seconded the argument that House Republicans will have little choice but to support immigration reform this year. “I believe that the members of Congress … will do what is right for our country,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“And it’s certainly right for the Republicans if they ever want to win a presidential race.”

But Gowdy, a former South Carolina prosecutor, offered a blunt and unyielding argument against immigration reform:

QUESTION:  “Will you be able to resist the pressure that’s coming from the Senate, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, growers and labor unions?”

GOWDY: “I don’t think it’s a question of resisting. I think it’s a question of meeting with the groups – and I have met with every one of those groups multiple times. The issue is not the broad principles of the immigration reform and humanity and respect for the rule of law. Virtually everyone agrees on the broad principles. Where we get ourselves into a little bit of a difference of opinion are the details.

“So everyone agrees on border security, for instance. But I cannot sell in South Carolina a border security plan where the security comes after the legalization. I can’t sell a border security plan where [Homeland Security Secretary] Janet Napolitano gets to tell us the border is secure. I can’t sell a border security plan where the executive can turn on and off triggers for political expedient reasons. Nor would I try to sell any of those plans.”

QUESTION:  “Why do you feel the need to address these issues of border security first before you approach the issue of a path to citizenship or at very least, some sort of legal status?”

GOWDY:  “I do agree that what we have now is de facto amnesty. I have argued that from day one. But I also agree with this. There is a diminution of trust among our fellow citizens. And the notion that I can tell them we're going to provide legalization but trust us on the border security, trust us on the internal security, trust us on E-Verify – that’s not going to fly in South Carolina. I doubt it’s going to fly in Arizona or New York.

“There is a lack of trust in the institutions of government. So, what I think is [it’s] important to tell fellow citizens we got the lesson from [the] 1986 [immigration reform legislation]. We learned our lesson. We’re going to have security mechanisms in place, which is respect for the rule of law. And then, we’re going to show humanity that defines us as a republic. I'm fine with showing the humanity. But the order in which it’s done is important.”

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.