Despite Decades of Effort, Immigration Reform Still Eludes Congress
When President Reagan signed comprehensive immigration reform in 1986, he promised that "future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people: American citizenship."
Nearly 30 years later, however, the nation's immigration system remains dysfunctional. About 11 million undocumented immigrants reside within U.S. borders (by comparison, close to three million undocumented immigrants were granted legal status in 1986), and the legal immigration process is complicated and outdated.
Once again, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are ready to come together to look for solutions to these problems -- solutions that last. In the House Judiciary Committee's immigration reform hearing today, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who leads the committee's immigration and border security subcommittee, will be asking what went wrong in 1986.
"Twenty-five years ago, we were told this is the going to be the last time we have this conversation as a country, but we're having the conversation again," he said to CBSNews.com. Gowdy was elected to Congress with the tea party wave of 2010 and represents a very conservative district.
"At least in my district, I'm going to have to convince them the level of seriousness with respect to border security and employment verification is higher than it was in 1986," he said. At the same time, he's interested in finding a fair way to bring the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. "Not to seem to Pollyanna-ish about it, but I think everyone agrees on why people would want to come to our country."
While there appears to be bipartisan agreement on broad principles when it comes to immigration reform, it's unclear how congressional talks will proceed once legislative details are unveiled. That's why the House Judiciary Committee's first hearing this year is tackling the issue and why committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., plans to hold more hearings and informational sessions.
"I think there's a lot of interest in this issue right now ,and therefore it's a good time to be taking this up," he told CBSNews.com. "Most members of Congress are not fully versed in immigration law -- it can be a rather obscure topic -- and we want to immerse them in more information."
A group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House is far along in crafting an immigration reform proposal, but if House Republicans plan to take up immigration reform through regular order -- as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has indicated -- it will have to go through the Judiciary Committee. The committee is made up of some of the most passionate immigration reform advocates on the left, like Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and hardliners on the right, like Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. One of the biggest sticking points, predictably, is expected to be the issue of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.