(Newt Gingrich) – Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor deserve our thanks for having the courage to do the right thing on immigration reform. They are insisting that the legislative process be allowed to improve and fix a badly flawed Senate bill.
The House Republican position is exactly right, but it is going to come under attack from every establishment figure who wants a conservative surrender on immigration. House Republicans need to adopt a disciplined, positive answer whenever asked about immigration (see below on communications).
It is ironic that the pressure for the House to adopt a massive Senate immigration bill comes precisely as the last massive Senate bill (Obamacare) is coming apart.
I am opposed to massive bills. No one understands all the details. They usually become massive by including a lot of special interest provisions to buy votes. They are often internally contradictory. They usually represent Senatorial staff drafting with only vague oversight from elected officials. They often promise many things in vague language and have no effective enforcement mechanisms.
It would be far better to pass a series of relatively small, understandable bills written in subcommittee and committee and amended on the floor.
In the process of steady incremental reform, each bill could be studied and understood in its own right.
Of course this would require the Senate to consider individual improvements instead of a single gigantic bill.
There is no real pressure on House Republicans to adopt the Senate bill. It was passed by 55 Democrats and 13 Republicans while 32 Republicans voted no. That means by two and a half to one Senate Republicans rejected the massive bill.
The legislative process allows both the House and the Senate to work on legislation. It does not require the House to subordinate its judgement to the Senate’s latest demands.
House Republicans currently have a problem because they are consistently put in the position of explaining why they are against the Senate bill and then having opposition to the Senate bill interpreted as opposition to immigrants.
This is a very self-destructive communications strategy and House Republicans need to adopt a new communications strategy on immigration reform.
House Republicans have a number of positive things they are for. They should answer every question on immigration by first listing two or three things they want to pass.
If their first response is, “I am glad you asked about immigration reform because I agree the system needs to be reformed and here are some things I am for passing immediately,” then it gets pretty hard for the reporter or interviewer to paint them as anti-immigrant.
As is often true of Republicans, the substance is much better than the current communications.
Consider some of the immigration reforms House Republicans already favor:
Interior Enforcement: Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (“SAFE Act”), H.R. 2278
— Improves interior enforcement of our immigration laws and strengthens national security
— Gives states and localities the authority to enforce existing federal immigration laws even if the Obama administration refuses to do so
— Makes it more difficult for those who pose a national security risk to enter and remain in the U.S. and expedites the removal of criminal aliens
Agricultural Guestworker Program: Agricultural Guestworker Act (“AG Act”), H.R. 1773
— Replaces an outdated guestworker program that is complicated, expensive, and hurts American businesses
— Removes red tape, expediting the hiring process and easing the paperwork burden for employers
— Ensures that guestworkers are not eligible for Obamacare and other welfare programs
Mandatory Nationwide E-Verify: Legal Workforce Act, H.R. 1772
— Requires eligibility checks for all newly-hired employees nation-wide using E-Verify
— Makes E-Verify checks completely electronic, streamlining the process for employers
— Protects personal data from identity theft
High Skilled Immigration: Supplying Knowledge-based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas Act (“SKILLS Visa Act”), H.R. 2131
— Gives American employers access to the most talented individuals by increasing and improving high-skilled immigration programs
— Creates incentives for foreign graduates of American universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields to stay in the U.S. by making more green cards available to them
Border Security: Border Security Results Act of 2013, H.R. 1417
— Strengthens our national security, holds government accountable and combats wasteful spending
— Provides for a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. Border security by the Department of Homeland Security
— Requires an independent GAO analysis of DHS plans
In addition to these five reforms, Chairman Goodlatte is beginning to work on a bill which would provide a path for citizenship for immigrants brought in as children who have lived in the United States for most of their lives.
These six reforms give House Republicans a lot of positives to explain before they allow reporters to try to trap them into negative positions. They simply need to approach the communications process in a disciplined, determined and positive manner.
(Mr. Gingrich is a former Speaker of the House)