- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2015

House Republicans will introduce four new immigration enforcement bills this week and plan to begin pushing them through committee next week as the GOP sets up the outlines of what the post-shutdown showdown immigration fight will be.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte will shepherd the four bills, which try to undo the loopholes that allowed thousands of illegal immigrant children to gain a foothold in the U.S. last summer, grant states and localities the power to help enforce immigration laws, require businesses to use an electronic system to verify their workers’ legal status, and curb the Obama administration’s expansive use of the asylum system.

Taken together, Republicans say they amount to a substantive pushback against President Obama’s efforts to water down immigration enforcement.

“There are many issues plaguing our nation’s immigration system but the biggest problem is that our immigration laws are not enforced,” Mr. Goodlatte said. “While presidents of both parties have not fully enforced our immigration laws, President Obama has unilaterally gutted the interior enforcement of our laws.”

The four measures round out the House GOP’s enforcement plan, and could help Republican leaders plug a hole that sprung in their strategy last month when they tried to speed a border security bill to the floor, only to face a rebellion from conservatives who said it didn’t get at the main issues involved in the immigration debate.

Some of the new bills track legislation that passed the House last year, while one bill, sponsored by Rep. John Carter, Texas Republican, is specifically designed to change the law and make it easier to send home the illegal immigrant children who surged across the border last year, exploiting a loophole in the Obama administration’s interpretation of law that meant most have been granted permission to remain in the country temporarily while they fight for permanent rights.

Known as the Protection of Children Act, the measure would allow the government to treat Central American children the same as those from Mexico, who are quickly turned around and sent home. It also speeds up children’s hearings with immigration judges, so valid claims can be approved and those without viable arguments will be sent home.

The other bills include the Legal Workforce Act, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, which would require businesses to use E-Verify to validate new employees’ work status; the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, which would narrow the grounds for claiming asylum and require social workers to aid in deporting ineligible illegal immigrants; and an interior enforcement bill sponsored by Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, which would enlist state and local police to enforce immigration laws, free federal agents to carry out their duties and speed deportation of criminal aliens.

Republicans view the measures, along with January’s border security bill, as the first part of their step-by-step approach to immigration, which GOP leaders promised last year as a reply to Mr. Obama’s all-in-one-bill approach.

“We must ensure enforcement of our immigration laws before we can address other broken aspects of our immigration system, such as high-skilled visa reform and addressing our broken agricultural guest-worker program,” Mr. Goodlatte said.

The bills come even as Congress is still struggling over how to handle homeland security spending in 2015, and whether to tie funding to provisions halting Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty, announced in November.

A judge has issued an injunction halting the amnesty, though the administration has appealed that ruling.

If no spending bill is approved by Friday, the Homeland Security Department will go into a partial shutdown.

For Republicans, the new set of bills could be the outlines of a post-shutdown showdown strategy, giving them a renewed chance to push back against Mr. Obama.

Democrats, however, have balked at get-tough measures, and say even the border security bill that had to be pulled from the schedule in January was too strict.

Democrats also insist that a pathway to citizenship for most illegal immigrants must be part of any eventual immigration deal.

Mr. Obama’s political arm posted a Twitter message Tuesday saying House Republicans, led by Speaker John A. Boehner, should go back and take up the immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013.

“A comprehensive immigration reform bill sat on Speaker Boehner’s desk for more than 500 days,” Organizing for Action, the president’s former campaign, said.

That bill, which passed the Senate on a bipartisan 68-32 vote, was actually never sent to the House as Democrats’ leader, Sen. Harry Reid, refused to send it over.

But House Republicans also refused to write their own bill, arguing that Mr. Obama had poisoned the well by taking unilateral action.

For his part, Mr. Obama said he took unilateral action because the House GOP wouldn’t do what he wanted.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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