Goodlatte among chief foes to reform

Fierce resistance by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte to immigration reform, at least as it is conceived by President Obama, is a leading reason why the president is preparing an executive order to overcome his congressional opponents.

The House Republican Conference Wednesday reaffirmed Goodlatte’s importance to the immigration debate by voting to renew his chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee in next year’s Congress.

The Judiciary Committee is at the center of legislation affecting civil liberties, a host of federal regulations, terrorism, crime and patent protections. But none of them is commanding as much attention at this moment as immigration reform.

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June 2013 that has languished since then. Goodlatte’s rejection of the Senate’s sweeping overhaul and his insistence on considering immigration issues one by one has stymied Obama and his congressional allies. Goodlatte has also repeatedly objected to what he terms amnesty — a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — and made strict border security and law enforcement the centerpieces of his vision of immigration reform.

On Tuesday, Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, joined U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in firing off a letter to Obama protesting the president’s impending executive order.

“The Constitution is clear that it is Congress’ duty to write our laws and, once they are enacted, it is the president’s responsibility to enforce them,” Goodlatte and McCaul wrote. “Something as important as changing our immigration laws cannot be forced by unilateral action by the president. That is not the way our system of government works.”

Latino organizations backing immigration reform turned to Obama after their hopes for a bill crumbled in the House.

Tim Freilich, legal director of the immigrant advocacy program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, said hoped an executive order from Obama will encourage illegal immigrants to speak up and perhaps create a political environment more receptive to the kinds of reform they are seeking.

“For years, members of the House leadership have erected barriers to any sort of fair immigration reforms,” Freilich said. “I think the president’s actions later this week, if the reports are correct, will help millions of immigrants get past those barriers.

“It will then be up to Rep. Goodlatte and other members of the House leadership to decide if they’re going to help our nation forward and put those immigrants on the path to citizenship they’ve earned or whether they’re going to lead our nation backward and frustrate the president’s effort to finally bring some order to our broken immigration system.”