Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte
Full Committee Hearing on “America’s Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws against Illegal Immigration”
Chairman Goodlatte: Good morning. Today, we hold the first hearing of the Judiciary Committee in the 113th Congress.
This year, Congress will engage in a momentous debate on immigration. This will be a massive undertaking with significant implications for the future direction of our nation. As such, we must move forward methodically and evaluate this issue in stages, taking care to fully vet the pros and cons of each piece.
This debate is often emotionally charged. That is because it is not about abstract statistics and concepts, but rather about real people with real problems trying to provide a better life for their families. This holds true for U.S. citizens, for legal residents, and for those unlawfully residing in the U.S. I urge the Members of this Committee to keep that in mind as we begin our examination.
America is a nation of immigrants. Everyone among us can go back a few or several generations to our own relatives who came to America in search of a better life for themselves and their families. But we are also a nation of laws.
I think we can all agree that our nation’s immigration system is in desperate need of repair and it is not working as efficiently and fairly as it should be. The American people and Members of Congress have a lot of questions about how our legal immigration system should work. They have a lot of questions about why our immigration laws have not always been sufficiently enforced. And they have a lot of questions about how a large-scale legalization program would work, what it would cost, and how it would prevent illegal immigration in the future.
Immigration reform must honor both our foundation of the rule of law and our history as a nation of immigrants. This issue is too complex and too important to not examine each piece in detail. We can’t rush to judgment. That is why the Committee’s first hearing will begin to explore ways to fix our broken system. Future hearings will take place in the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee under the leadership of Chairman Gowdy.
Today, we will begin our examination of the U.S. immigration system by evaluating our current legal immigration system and ways to improve it, as well as the history of the enforcement of our immigration laws. The United States has the most generous legal immigration system in the world – providing permanent residence to over a million immigrants a year.
And yet, all is not well. Prospective immigrant workers with approved petitions often have to wait years for green cards to become available. So do their employers. It has gotten so bad that the immigrant scholar Vivek Wadhwa, who will be testifying before the Committee today, states that “if I were a young immigrant technologist in my mid-30s, stuck on an H-1B visa in America, and trapped in a middling job, I would probably have decided to return to Australia or India.” What does this foretell for America’s continued economic competitiveness?
Furthermore, legal permanent residents of the United States have to endure years of separation before they can be united with their spouses and minor children.
Our laws also erect unnecessary hurdles for farmers who put food on America’s tables. Our agriculture guestworker program is simply unworkable and needs to be reformed.
At the same time, we allocate many thousands of green cards on the basis of pure luck through the diversity lottery. And we allocate many thousands of green cards to non-nuclear family members. Some characterize this as “chain migration”, which former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has recently written “does not promote the nation’s economic interests.”
It is instructive to note that while America selects about 12% of our legal immigrants on the basis of their education and skills, the other main immigrant-receiving countries of Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada each select over 60% of their immigrants on this basis.
These are just a few of the issues plaguing our legal immigration system, not to mention the larger question of how to address the estimated 10 million individuals unlawfully present in the U.S.
Whether or not America should become more like our global competitors, we do need to have a serious conversation about the goals of America’s legal immigration system.
Today, we will also discuss the extent to which past and present administrations have enforced our immigration laws and whether we believe those efforts have been sufficient and effective. This is a crucial question. The year 1986 was the last time Congress passed comprehensive immigration reform. At that time, Congress granted legal status to millions who were unlawfully present in exchange for new laws against the employment of illegal immigrants in order to prevent the need for future amnesties.
However, these “employer sanctions” were never seriously implemented or enforced. Even Alan Simpson, the Senate author of the 1986 legislation, has concluded that, despite the best of intentions, the law did not satisfy “its expectations or its promises.”
This Committee needs to take the time to learn from the past so that our efforts to reform our immigration laws do not repeat the same mistakes.
Regardless of the conclusions of this national conversation, I think we can all agree that America will remain true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants, as well as a nation of laws.
I look forward to the testimony of all of today’s witnesses and I turn to Mr. Conyers, Ranking Member of the Committee.