Immigration Newsmaker: A Conversation with Chairman Bob Goodlatte

Transcript: Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Talks Immigration

By Rep. Bob Goodlatte and Jessica M. Vaughan on December 9, 2018


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Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) was featured in an Immigration Newsmaker conversation hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies on Tuesday, December 4, at 1:00 p.m. at the National Press Club.

Rep. Goodlatte has represented the Sixth District of Virginia (in the southwestern part of the state) since 1993 and presently chairs the House Judiciary Committee. He has been a strong advocate for border and interior enforcement, and sponsored a number of important reform bills, most recently including asylum reform, a national E-verify mandate, ending the visa lottery and reducing chain migration, measures to streamline the deportation of criminal aliens, and penalties for sanctuary jurisdictions. In addition, Mr. Goodlatte conducted vital oversight over executive branch policies such as the controversial prosecutorial discretion scheme implemented by the Obama administration and the government’s handling of the recent influx of unaccompanied minors and family units. Rep.

Goodlatte has announced that he will retire from Congress at the end of this term. After his departure, there will be major changes in the composition of the committee.

The conversation was moderated by Jessica Vaughan, the Center's director of policy studies, and covered prospects for immigration legislation and the challenges the country will face in upcoming years.

Introduction and Moderator

Jessica Vaughan
Director of Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies


Rep. Lamar Smith
R-VA, Chairman of of the House Judiciary Committee

JESSICA M. VAUGHAN: Good morning. Or, excuse me, good afternoon. And thank you for coming to our – the latest installment of our newsmaker interviews at the Center for Immigration Studies. Our guest today is Mr. Bob Goodlatte. Recently – well, still, for a few more weeks, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. And Mr. Goodlatte represents the Sixth District in Virginia, right? So welcome, and thanks for being with us.

REPRESENTATIVE BOB GOODLATTE (R-VA): Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with all of you.

MS. VAUGHAN: All right. Well, how long have you been in Congress?

REP. GOODLATTE: Twenty-six years – well, 25 years, 11 months, and – (laughter) – some days. But –

MS. VAUGHAN: Not that you’re counting the days left or anything. (Laughs.)

REP. GOODLATTE: No, I will miss the Congress. I am ready to go do something else. And my chairmanship ends. Whether we’d kept the majority or not it would end, so it’s a good time.

MS. VAUGHAN: Because of term limitations.

REP. GOODLATTE: Right. My wife is ready for me to do something else. We’ve got two little granddaughters. So something that doesn’t take 90 hours a week. Maybe half that would be good. (Laughter.)

MS. VAUGHAN: I can imagine. What did you do before being elected to Congress?

REP. GOODLATTE: I was an attorney and practiced law in a small law firm in Roanoke, Virginia. And before that, I was a member of Congressman Caldwell Butler’s staff. I was his district director in – based in Roanoke. And as his district director, I did his immigration case work. So after I had – I was already an attorney. So after I left Mr. Butler and I opened my own law practice, I passed the word that I thought I could handle immigration cases. I turned out I could. And by the time I ran for Congress, about half of my practice was immigration work. About three-quarters of that would be business-related immigration and a quarter family-based. I did not handle deportations and other proceedings like that. Since I was so far from Washington, if I got one of those, I would refer them to somebody up here to handle those cases. So it was a very positive experience with immigration. Helped people legally immigrate to the United States from more than 70 countries during my time practicing law.

MS. VAUGHAN: And you understand the ins and outs of how our immigration law and our system really works as a result of that experience, I imagine, particularly with the employment –

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, the law’s changed some since then. But, yes, it was a good foundation. And I’ve been on the Judiciary Committee the entire 26 years I’ve been in Congress, and very much involved with immigration issues during that time as well.

MS. VAUGHAN: It’s the committee of jurisdiction for most of it.

REP. GOODLATTE: That’s right.

MS. VAUGHAN: So, well, let’s face it, the big issue that everyone’s talking about right now, the hot issue of the day as far as Congress is concerned in immigration, is the spending bill, because there’s seven appropriations bills remaining and one of them is the Department of Homeland Security’s. What is – what do you think is going to happen with that? I heard that there’s now approval for a continuing resolution for two more weeks to put it off for some time. Why is that?

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, they’re having issues. Part of it is related to – I wish it were about the more nitty-gritty details of immigration, because what we really need to do is have some major reforms of our immigration laws to close loopholes related to asylums, related to catch and release, related to interior enforcement in general. And of course, as you probably know, legislation that I introduced, along with Mike McCaul and Martha McSally and Raul Labrador, went a long way toward closing a lot of those loopholes, and did something to address the DACA recipients, and did fund the border wall, did provide other measures for increased enforcement, and included things like E-Verify.

I thought it was a great bill. It’s not comprehensive immigration reform, but it touched on all three of the areas of immigration reform hat need to be addressed – enforcement, legal immigration reform, and doing something about people who are not lawfully in the present – you know, in the country right now. So it was a good bill. Unfortunately, it got tangled up House politics. And got 193 votes. I think if it had been the only bill offered it might have passed. And if it had been worked hard by the – by the leadership organization to get the votes to pass it.

But instead, people were given a menu. They were given two choices. There was that bill, and there was a bill that had a lot of good provisions in it, but just not as many as the first one. So for most Republicans, the first bill was most attractive and got by far the most votes. Democrats, unfortunately, decided to pass on either one, which to me is telling about what their view of respect for the rule of law and enforcement of the law is, and what we might see from them in a – in a Democratic House.

MS. VAUGHAN: Mmm hmm. Yes. And I do want to talk about that at a certain point. So, I mean, a lot of the problems that we’re facing now could have been addressed by the – and would have been addressed by the things in your bill. So, remind me, it got 192 or 193?

REP. GOODLATTE: Hundred and ninety-three votes. I think that day we needed about 214 votes. There were a few people who weren’t there. So we were 20-21 votes short. And very unfortunate.

MS. VAUGHAN: And leadership was pushing the other –

REP. GOODLATTE: About 41 Republicans voted against it. So if we had gotten half of them to join with us we would have gotten it. And there were a few on the conservative side who didn’t feel the bill went far enough, which is also unfortunate because it’s probably as close as we’re ever going to get to their ideal of what should be in a bill. And it would have put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Senate to start getting serious about addressing these enforcement issues.

MS. VAUGHAN: Mmm hmm. So some of the conservatives, they objected to the amnesty provisions, or just that the enforcement was not enough for them?

REP. GOODLATTE: I don’t want to speak for all of them. They all had a little different takes on what they’d like to see. Some of them said: I’ll do something for the DACA recipients, but only after these other things are passed, put into effect, and operational. And of course, that’s a multiyear process. And there just simply aren’t the votes to do that. Obviously there weren’t even the votes to do what I was trying to do, but –

MS. VAUGHAN: And leadership – Paul Ryan and some others in leadership – were backing the other bill, which also had your name on it, by the way. (Laughs.)

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, many of them voted for both of them. The problem wasn’t with the merits of either bill. The problem was with the strategy of having two bills, because we did have some members who wanted to have less enforcement and more for the DACA recipients. And I understand that, but there’s simply – when there are no Democratic votes, there simply were no votes to pass that. So the strategy of having two options really let people have an off-ramp. They could vote for the more conservative bill against the other or vote for the second bill and not the first. And that’s just not a good strategy. And I complained about it at the time. I said, you’ve got to narrow this down to one bill, and then work really hard to get the members to vote for that one bill.

MS. VAUGHAN: And most of the things in your bill were not new proposals really, either.

REP. GOODLATTE: Oh, no. That’s right.

MS. VAUGHAN: And in fact, hadn’t it been introduced the year before as a bill that didn’t –

REP. GOODLATTE: Yeah, there were a lot of changes. There were some things included that were not included in the earlier bills, and some things that were in the earlier bill that were not included in this bill. But it was a good, solid start at addressing President Trump’s concerns and the secretary of Homeland Security’s concerns about what need to be done to make our border secure. And – and this is very important, and there’s no discussion about this when you’re talking about people gathered on our border in Tijuana to surge the border entry at San Ysidro, no discussion about the fact that 40 percent, perhaps, of the people who are unlawfully present in the United States today entered lawfully on student visas, visitor’s visas, business visas, visa wavers, and simply overstayed their visa. The border wall is important, but it doesn’t address that. So there has to be a greater attention to interior enforcement. And one of the greatest points about this bill, in my opinion, was that it included an E-Verify requirement.

MS. VAUGHAN: Right, to address the problem of illegal employment and make it easy for employers to verify the status of people that they hire.

REP. GOODLATTE: In my opinion E-Verify is very good right now. It’s come a long way over the 15 years of so that it’s been in place. It’s more than 99 percent accurate. It addressed the concern employers have of the “Catch-22” situation they’re in now, where if they refuse to hire somebody and it turns out the person is lawfully present in the United States, they can be sued for discrimination. On the other hand, if they decided to hire somebody and they find out they’re not lawfully here, because they presented forged documents or whatever, they can be charged with violating our immigration laws.

So the fact of the matter is it created a safe harbor for that small percentage where you’d get a false positive or a false negative, where they could retain the employee until such time as that was resolved. And then if it came back positive, they’d keep them. If it didn’t, then they would have to, of course, let the go. It’s very inexpensive. It can be done in a minute or two on your smartphone. And it’s very effective, but only for the 7(00,000) or 800,000 businesses in the United States that use it. And of course, most large employers, most major employers use it. But I suspect people who don’t want to know or who do know about their workforce – and, by the way, it was only prospective. It didn’t even apply to your – you didn’t have to go through your existing workforce. You only had to apply it to new hires. It’s a very good bill, a very good piece of the law. And it should be made mandatory, so that everyone has to participate.

And we had a phase-in of that. So major businesses that weren’t already participating were the quickest to have to comply. And then smaller businesses. And then agriculture was going to be the last sector of the economy that would have to comply. But, again –

MS. VAUGHAN: And doing it on a smartphone is a way to address some of the concerns that those types of employers have had about their location, and where they hire, and so on, I guess, but –

REP. GOODLATTE: I think that all of those concerns could be addressed. And I respect all of those things. But the fact of the matter is, the most effective tool to make people abide by our laws – whether they enter the country illegally or enter it illegally and overstay – is to cut off the number-one magnet that draws them here. And heaven knows, we have, you know, a very low unemployment rate. We have a need for some workers from elsewhere in the world to come here and work.

Obviously, there are differences of opinion, that maybe we could do something to drive up the workforce participation rate and not have that. But I’m a believer in legal immigration, as long as it’s a two-way street. I know why people want to come to the United States. But I also understand why people in the United States want to make sure that our immigration laws serve the interests of the United States and its citizens. And that’s what I think this bill was focused on, and why it’s a sad thing that we came up short.

MS. VAUGHAN: And it also addressed chain migration categories and the visa lottery also.

REP. GOODLATTE: It did. It did. It didn’t go as far as I would have liked to have gone, but it made major steps in reducing chain migration. And I think that was something that also was very attractive to the president, to the White House, and would have been a good thing as well. So getting as close as we did – now, you have to keep coming back to the fact that the Senate would have been a whole different ballgame to deal with. But the House actually passing a bill that addresses all three of these areas – I mean, this was the first time Republicans were willing to do something about DACA in order to get these other provisions. And I think that was a major step.

MS. VAUGHAN: What else – you said it didn’t go as far as you would like to have gone on legal immigration. What –

REP. GOODLATTE: On chain migration.

MS. VAUGHAN: On chain migration. What would you like to have seen?

REP. GOODLATTE: I’m trying to think back about all of the different categories that we eliminated. I don’t think we eliminated every single one of them.

MS. VAUGHAN: Siblings –

REP. GOODLATTE: Our goal was – our goal was to limit it to family-based immigration. Limit it to members of your immediate family. In other words, your spouse and your minor children. And maybe it did – maybe it did – I think actually the first bill probably did eliminate, for example, parents of United States citizens, which is a major fulcrum in the chain migration issue, because once a child is able to petition for the parent, then the parent can petition for their other children, and it extends out pretty rapidly.

MS. VAUGHAN: And the parents are one of the unlimited categories.

REP. GOODLATTE: That’s correct.

MS. VAUGHAN: Meaning there’s no waiting list. So the numbers are large, and it’s one of the faster-growing categories, and it kind of leads to the rest.

REP. GOODLATTE: That’s correct.

MS. VAUGHAN: So these changes evolved – these proposals had been on the table before, in fact even the spring before. Where – and you said – you know, pointed out correctly, I think, that this bill would have enacted a lot of the president’s agenda on immigration.

REP. GOODLATTE: The president definitely supported the legislation.

MS. VAUGHAN: The president did –

REP. GOODLATTE: The president even supported the second measure, which had less of all these things in it, but still was a significant step in the right direction.

MS. VAUGHAN: In 2017 – last year – was the White House out there as much as you thought they should have been in promoting these reforms and this bill in particular?

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, the president’s been very outspoken about this issue. And I think that I would not lay any complaint about it not passing on the fact that the president was presented with these two different bills. He, in the end, agreed to support both of the pieces of legislation. The problem, however, is, I think, that one bill that everyone could get behind who supported major immigration reform and major changes in our laws regarding enforcement and building the wall – now, in my case I would bill the wall where it’s most needed. And I’m confident that the president –

MS. VAUGHAN: Right. Not coast-to-coast but – (laughs) –

REP. GOODLATTE: I don’t think you have to have it from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. I think where there are deserts and mountains and rivers, you have some natural impediments that would allow you to do something less than a 20-foot-high wall. But I’ve been out to San Diego. I’ve seen the various prototypes and so on for the wall construction. And I’m confident that in a place like San Diego it’s badly needed. And you can see it right now. And if you go visit the border there, you’ll see how in a matter of seconds somebody in a fog – and the fog comes in and overlays that whole area of the border for miles inland – they can cut out a section of the current fence in a matter of seconds and be through in the fog. So –

MS. VAUGHAN: Or lift children over, as was all over the news this morning. Although, that wasn’t California. I think that was in Arizona. But still, the –

REP. GOODLATTE: Yeah, no, wherever it is, they need to have the resources to put better enforcement mechanisms in place. And a lot of technology and more efficient use of our border patrol. A lot of places you need a road more than you need the wall. For example, along the Rio Grande River, somebody comes across the river if they get to a wall and there’s no way for border patrol to get there, because there’s no road to get there, they can be over that wall and gone. So a road to get to some points through that area is oftentimes more effective.

But the point is, whatever the president gets I’m sure he will use effectively to secure the most important spots. But the more money he gets in this appropriations bill, the better. And I think that he’s holding out for $5 billion. And I think that would go a long way to strengthening this situation in the areas where it’s most needed.

MS. VAUGHAN: And of course, it’s really a modest sum compared to the cost of illegal immigration to our taxpayers. But do you think the president is going to go to the mat and do you think there’ll be a shutdown over this issue? Or can there be some agreement?

REP. GOODLATTE: I don’t know there’ll be a shutdown, but I think the president has shown a great deal of determination. Every time in the past they have come up with a way forward, but unfortunately that way forward has not included money to control the border. And I think that the president is well-served by insisting on this funding being provided. We’re certainly prepared to do that in the House.

MS. VAUGHAN: Now, what about – there were some other items on the DHS appropriations bill that the House Appropriations Committee passed. In addition to funding for the wall, there were some measures to try to suppress some of the reforms on asylum that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had put forward and was trying to implement. And there were some very controversial provisions on guest workers as well, including an end to the country cap on employment-based guest workers that Mr. Yoder had –

REP. GOODLATTE: Yes, and I support that end. It is not without controversy, because what it means is that people from countries with by far the heaviest demand have much longer waits than people from other countries have. And the change – the elimination of the per-country cap in the employment-based area means that people from, say, Great Britain, or wherever, their wait is going to go up some, and the wait for people from these other countries is going to go down considerably. So everybody will be on the same playing field. That has the unfortunate effect of allowing most of the people in those categories to come from a small number of countries. But on the other hand –

MS. VAUGHAN: Mainly one, and to a lesser extent –

REP. GOODLATTE: One or two – well, probably three or four. But the important thing here is that if an employer wants to bring somebody here, and they’ve been through American universities and they have an engineering degree, or whatever, and the employer needs them and is going to train them in the specialized work they have here, they would much rather keep them here and ultimately become a permanent resident, than to have them stay here, become frustrated because they’re on a 20-year waiting list, and leave the country, perhaps even bringing sections of a company’s business to another business location elsewhere in the world. So making it possible for an employer to make a long-term commitment to the employee, and ask the same of the employee, is the thing that’s harmed by the very long waiting list in the current per-country cap issue.

MS. VAUGHAN: Hmm. It’s interesting, because, I mean, it seems to me that most of the people who would benefit from ending the per-country cap are employers – or, employees who came here originally as guest workers, and were –

REP. GOODLATTE: I think they came here probably as students, and then they probably got onto an H-1 – this is the type of work I did when I practiced immigration law. General Electric Company was my largest client. And we routinely got people coming out of U.S. universities. They’d be hired by the company. They’d get an H-1B visa, which you can renew for up to seven years. And then you could, during that time, back then the waiting lists were much shorter, for example, for India then. So you could work through the process of getting labor certification and a green card during the time that you were on your H-1B. It got so bad that they’ve now modified the law to say you can continue to say even after your H-1B’s seven years has expired, as long as you stay with the same company. But –

MS. VAUGHAN: Because the number of H-1Bs far surpass – during certain years, when we had that bulge because of the legislation that was passed, the number of H-1Bs being issued far surpasses the number of employment green cards available.

REP. GOODLATTE: Correct. Correct.

MS. VAUGHAN: So that’s why we have the big waiting list, and particularly from that country. But for those employers that don’t hire a lot of H-1Bs, it makes – I wonder if removing the per country caps wouldn’t hurt them, because if they want to direct hire someone on an employment-based green card, the waits are going to be so long for them. And that person happens to come from really any other country in the world –

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, they’ll still be under the amount of time that somebody would remain here on an H-1B. So I think – I hear what you’re saying, but I think that there’s a fairness issue there to say that somebody who comes from a particular country and wants to remain in the United States and has a valuable skill that our government policy has determined is needed in the United States, the fact that they’re from a particular country shouldn’t be an impediment to their being able to get green card status. So I see that both ways, because I hear what you’re saying. But after looking at it for a long time and looking at the overwhelming support that was generated for it, I said: Let’s include it in our legislation. It was sort of a late add to the legislation, but we said we would go ahead and do that.

MS. VAUGHAN: What about – rather than doing that on the spending bill, what about pairing that up with some reforms to the program that would help American workers?

REP. GOODLATTE: Much prefer to do that. Absolutely.

MS. VAUGHAN: Is there any prospect of legislation like that?

REP. GOODLATTE: We’re not seeing it. It really – it really comes down to the president focused on money for the wall. And I think really the president should be saying: I want some money for the wall, but I also want some enforcement reforms related to asylum, I want some reforms related to the catch and release policies that are basically forced on any – you saw what they went through in attempting to come up with a way around catch and release and the problem that was generated by that. And these two flaws in the law, they work – they work together to exacerbate the situation, because as soon as they find that they’re going to be detained then they switch over and say, well, now I’m applying for political asylum. And of course, they don’t have a basis for that.

And it’s unfortunate that the – again, a judge out West has determined that the policy, which I think is a very legitimate policy, of saying that if you want to apply for political asylum you have to do it legally at a port of entry. You can’t enter the country illegally and then if you’re apprehended – because, believe me, very few of them enter illegally and then suddenly turn around and say, hey, here I am, I want political asylum. They wait until they’re apprehended, and then they ask for political asylum. That’s a very bad system and I don’t see that our law should be interpreted to say that we can’t require them to go through a process of entering the country legally.

MS. VAUGHAN: How would your bill have addressed that? Because I know you’ve been working on the asylum issue for many years.

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, first of all, we would raise the initial – you know, you go through a multi-stage process. And we would have raised the bar that you had to meet for the initial process. If you didn’t meet that, then you would be immediately deportable again, whereas now the threshold for that initial process to get through to a hearing before an immigration judge is a very low bar. And then the waiting list to get to the judge is so long that the government is basically forced to allow people into the interior of the country, even given work authorization. And a high percentage of the people who get into that situation never come back for the asylum hearing.

MS. VAUGHAN: Right. Apparently half don’t even fill out the asylum application. Many – probably half don’t show up for their hearings. And few of them even qualify for asylum once their case is heard.

REP. GOODLATTE: Right. So in my opinion, that is the most important area that needs to be changed in the law. And it would take an immense amount of pressure off the situation you have right now, with caravans and the – and the tension at the border.

MS. VAUGHAN: Mmm hmm. So it would raise the threshold for credible fear determination to, what, more of a likelihood than just a possibility.


MS. VAUGHAN: Basically, like, withholding of removal, is that?

REP. GOODLATTE: That’s correct.

MS. VAUGHAN: OK. The other big crisis, to me, in terms of interior enforcement is the proliferation of sanctuary policies across the country. Just the other day the attorney general of New Jersey, for example, has announced that law enforcement officers may not cooperate with ICE. They’ve pretty much gone full-blown sanctuary. We have a court-imposed sanctuary policy in Massachusetts – the state of your birth – that prohibits cooperation. And a police chief in Texas recently himself – the chief of San Antonio personally interfered with an encounter his officers had with a big smuggling load in an 18-wheeler in San Antonio. And went to the scene and blocked ICE from taking custody of the smuggled aliens and released them instead to an immigration attorney affiliated with an activist group. And now the state is prosecuting that chief under their state sanctuary law. But what can Congress do to address the problem? And what would – your bill had some measures as well.

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, our bill did have measures. This gets into a very difficult realm, because of the – the federalism that’s built into our law. I mean, immigration laws are federal laws, and the federal government has to take the primary lead in enforcement of them. But cooperation from law enforcement at the state and local level is critically important. And it’s hard enough even just getting them to participate when there isn’t any prohibition. But in these cities that have become sanctuary cities, and now two states that are calling themselves sanctuary states, the fact of the matter is it makes it much more difficult for ICE agents and much more dangerous for ICE agents, because now they have to go out and find people in the community rather than picking them – you know, criminal aliens – picking them up at the jail or at the prison.

MS. VAUGHAN: Which is most of ICE’s caseload.


MS. VAUGHAN: Criminal aliens in jail.

REP. GOODLATTE: Right. And you would think that states would be anxious to see that happen. But it’s amazing how the liberal trend is, in the minds of some people, that respect for the rule of law would even go to the point of taking the risk not just to the ICE agents but to everyone in the community that these people will commit additional crimes. So to me, and I we’ve seen plenty of examples of people who have been released by state or local governments going on commit pretty heinous crimes after that occurred. So forcing the states to do this is a difficult thing.

The effort has focused on cutting off funds. One would think, well, you just cut off all the funds to the state, and they would have to comply because there’s a lot of federal dollars that go into a lot of state programs. But the Supreme Court, in totally unrelated areas of the law, already ruled that there must be a close connection between the punishment, the cutting off of funds, and the purpose that you’re trying to protect by cutting off the funds. So cutting off funds for law enforcement, cutting off funds for certain homeland security-type programs does comply with that. But then you get pushback from law and order folks who say: Well, we don’t want our police to lose these funds. It’s not their fault that the state legislature or the city council is saying don’t do this.

And if you try to say we’re going to cut off highway money, then you run afoul of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law. We’ve seen that in areas where they’ve said you can do it – like cutting off funds for highway programs when you have a seatbelt requirement –

MS. VAUGHAN: Mmm hmm, right, or cutting off education funds to universities that bar military recruiters, things like that.

REP. GOODLATTE: Right. And we’ve seen it where it didn’t work. In fact, Republicans were pushing for it not to work, and that was the provision in Obamacare that said that a state had to expand its Medicaid program, or the government was going to cut off funds to existing Medicaid recipients. Sounds like a similarity, but someone who’s already qualified for Medicaid has nothing to do with somebody who wants to have Medicaid. And the Supreme Court so ruled. They said that the Obama administration could not cut off those funds to try and force a state into the expansion of Medicaid.

MS. VAUGHAN: Mmm hmm. So the Trump administration has taken the approach of simply trying to enforce one provision of law – U.S. Code 1373 – which is already the law. And it’s a requirement for federal funding to comply with all federal laws. But now a judge has found that – one judge had found that that law, I believe, it’s unconstitutional to start with. So the basis of that –

REP. GOODLATTE: And enjoined them from doing it, right?

MS. VAUGHAN: Yeah, across –

REP. GOODLATTE: Across the country.

MS. VAUGHAN: Across the country. So to a lot of people, as important as all these issues are – asylum reform, sanctuaries and the border crisis – if, you know, legitimate good-faith efforts to fix these problems are blocked by federal judges, where are we and what can be done about that?

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, I have actually had the opportunity to address the – so, two things. One, I’ve introduced legislation to say that a district court judge cannot issue a nationwide injunction. I mean, to me, it’s ridiculous that a judge in Hawaii would issue a nationwide injunction regarding the enforcement of any immigration law, particularly one that involves entering or leaving the country illegally, because his injunction worked perfectly fine for Hawaii. And beyond that, it’s, in my opinion, none of his business. I mean, we don’t have people swimming to Hawaii from anywhere else to enter Hawaii illegally.

MS. VAUGHAN: Don’t give anyone any ideas. (Laughs.)

REP. GOODLATTE: So this is, to me, very wrong. But it’s also not something that the Congress ever created. This is entirely court-made law. And if you go back, I don’t know exactly how far, but if you go back 50 years you would see very few, if any, nationwide injunctions issued by U.S. district court judges. And this is true all the way back to the beginning of our country. The courts took a pretty firm stand, and they didn’t have any authority to do that. But by not challenging some nationwide injunctions in previous administrations, and by higher courts giving the nod to that, we have essentially evolved into a situation where any judge anywhere can issue a nationwide injunction.

Now, in the immigration area, that’s actually worked to the benefit of those of us who think that the laws should be enforced, because not DACA but DAPA was ruled unconstitutional by a district court judge in Texas. And he issued an injunction. And that injunction was honored and held until it was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. And we won that case. So that –

MS. VAUGHAN: There were, what, 26 states, I think, that were –

REP. GOODLATTE: Twenty-six states joined in that – in seeking that injunction. So in my opinion, the Congress should pursue this. But given the difficulty of getting things through the Congress, particularly the Senate – no matter who’s in the majority, having to get to 60 votes in the polarized environment we operate in today – getting 60 votes for any significant change in the law or a – basically, just simply a law saying you can’t do what you’ve been doing because there’s no – nothing in the law that says you can do it, and now we’re passing a law that says you can’t, that’s tough. On the other hand, I went before the Judicial Conference of the United States with the chief justice sitting next to me, and made a presentation to them, and said that this is a very harmful expansion of the powers of the judicial branch to allow nationwide injunctions in these circumstances.

MS. VAUGHAN: And individual judges.

REP. GOODLATTE: And the courts started it, and the courts can fix it.

MS. VAUGHAN: All right. So –

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see.


REP. GOODLATTE: There has been some talk. There are – there are plenty of justices at the Supreme Court and the appellate court level who agree with that, who think that something needs to be done here. But having it work out that it’s accomplished is something that takes time. And it takes – even more than time, it takes some determination.

MS. VAUGHAN: Well, your bill was passed out of Judiciary with a 14-6 vote, right, so we’ll see what happens on that.


MS. VAUGHAN: Well, there are going to be some changes coming in January. We’ve got a few weeks left with the Republicans controlling the House. Is anything going to get done besides a spending bill?

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, a number of members have come to me –

MS. VAUGHAN: On immigration.

REP. GOODLATTE: – and said we should take up the so-called Goodlatte I bill, the Securing America’s Future Act that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about here today, and I’ve told them to take those to our leadership in hopes that they could convince them to put it on the floor. But so far I haven’t seen any expression of intent to do that.

MS. VAUGHAN: OK. All right. One last question and then I’m going to move to some from our audience here.

REP. GOODLATTE: You got a stack of them. (Laughs.)

MS. VAUGHAN: Yeah. That’s a good sign. That means everybody’s interested. (Laughs.)

What do you think are going to be the priorities for the Democrats when they take over the House with respect to immigration?

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, they say – they say they want to do immigration. I hope they take up the issue. But I am dubious, since when they were in the majority previously in the House for four years from 2006 to 2010 they did virtually nothing in the immigration area. And in part that was because of the unfortunate position taken by some members on the Democratic side that unless they could do everything they weren’t going to do anything. Well, trying to do everything is a – is a very difficult challenge.

And the Senate knows that from their own experience with so-called comprehensive immigration reform, which when we looked at the details of that we were appalled by many, many, many of the provisions in that. And so we set out in response – this is when I first became chairman of the committee, nearly six years ago – we set out to do what I called a step-by-step approach. And we started passing bills that addressed the problems with enforcement addressed some of the legal immigration reforms that were needed. And we said at the time, now I don’t we passed any bills out of the committee, but we said at the time that we would address some categories of people who were not lawfully present in the United States if we saw that our borders were secure, and the interior enforcement of the country was enforced.

We didn’t get anywhere with that. They didn’t get anywhere with theirs. And that’s what led us to a smaller, but still very significant bill, the Securing America’s Future Act, that did something. It was a – it was a down payment on enforcement and it addressed one category of people who were not lawfully here. Actually, two categories, because we also addressed agricultural migrant immigrant farm workers. So –

MS. VAUGHAN: Was that creating an H-2C visa? Is that –

REP. GOODLATTE: That’s correct. That’s correct. So –

MS. VAUGHAN: But we already have an agricultural –

REP. GOODLATTE: We have an H-2A program that does not work very well. And so – and overwhelmingly is not used by agriculture. Although, to President Trump’s credit, now that he is securing the border better – still not anywhere near what needs to be done but better – we have seen an uptick in the number of farmers using the H-2A program. But there’s still a lot of problems with that program. So we developed a new program that I think works better for American agriculture.


REP. GOODLATTE: The difference between agriculture and other sectors of the economy is that virtually everything that’s produced on a farm in the United States can be produced somewhere else in the world and imported into the United States. So you’re competing directly with people with very different circumstances. And if you can’t get the labor, you’re going to lose the agriculture going outside of the country. But so –

MS. VAUGHAN: But not having that steady supply of illegal immigration, nor fear of enforcement –

REP. GOODLATTE: We want to do away with that.


REP. GOODLATTE: We do not –

MS. VAUGHAN: That creates an incentive for the guest workers programs to be used, but –

REP. GOODLATTE: That’s right. If you couple E-Verify with a – with a legal guest worker program, I think you would find that we could stabilize that problem. But what’s happened is people have said, well, you know, if they’re working in agriculture, why not come over here and work in construction, or in hotels, or whatever. The difference is, that we can’t import a house from another country like you can import apples or wheat or beef or poultry. And you can’t import a hotel. So those areas of the law, I would argue, you need to have the requirement that they comply with the law. And if they aren’t getting the workers that they need in compliance with the law, they might have to raise their wages. Wouldn’t that be something, right? (Laughter.) And help deal with the fact that when you have illegal workers going into those sectors of the economy, you’re depressing the entire workforce.

I do not think the same thing is true of agriculture. I think it’s very, very hard to find people, American citizens, willing to do the hard, gritty work that goes into harvesting crops and some other agriculture-related items. We might say – we might, you know, think, well, ideally if everything – push came to shove, they would do it. I think the likelihood there, because of the international competition, is you’d lose that sector of the economy before you’d find the workers.

MS. VAUGHAN: Hmm. Do you think mechanization offers some hope?

REP. GOODLATTE: Mechanization has helped some. But I think it’s proven to be more difficult than people think to harvest certain types of crops. I had some farmers in from North Carolina who harvest sweet potatoes. And I’m saying, well, have you come up with some mechanization – they were complaining about some labor issues. And I said, have you – you know, I’ve seen some sectors where they have things that shake the blueberries out of a tree and it takes a lot of the labor out of that. Can you do that for sweet potatoes in the ground? And he said, well, the skin is so thin. And they have not. You know, they try. They try to develop equipment that will modernize –

MS. VAUGHAN: It works in some crops and not others. It’s good for greens and –

REP. GOODLATTE: Right. And I think that pressure toward mechanization is a good thing. And it will always be there. But I also think we have to have a workable guest worker program.

MS. VAUGHAN: And how do you keep workers, guest workers in agriculture? I mean, some people want – I think amnesty is the solution –

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, the way you do it is through E-Verify and stronger interior enforcement of laws, and also an entry-exit visa system, so that when people enter legally – we should know whether or not they’ve left the country. And if they haven’t, then we could develop, you know, a more focused way of looking for specific people when they apply for jobs and so on. You shouldn’t just get turned down because the Social Security number you presented happens to not be a legitimate Social Security number and therefore didn’t work in the E-Verify system. The next step should be, well, now here you are. We know where you are. You entered the country legally, but we’re going to require you to leave the country now.

If that were taken seriously, I think that would help the entire, you know, system. If we find places where there’s a shortage of workers and the public has a confidence in our enforcement of our immigration laws, I think there’d be much greater public support for saying, well, this area of the economy does need some type of either temporary workers, or even a more generous immigration system.

MS. VAUGHAN: All right. Over the next three decades 50 million immigrants are expected to arrive, adding 75 million people to the U.S. population. In your view, is the level of immigration too high, too low, or just right?

REP. GOODLATTE: It’s too high. I think that – if I were able to write these laws myself and I didn’t have to go through a House, and the Senate, and the president, I would have our immigration programs fluctuate with the economy and the labor demands, because it constantly fluctuates. So I would be happy to see things go down when there’s an abundance of workers and go up when there isn’t. But part of that is driven by the fact that people enter the country illegally – even in the Trump administration – in huge numbers. Nobody knows exactly how many enter. Nobody knows exactly how many overstay. I tell you, if Visa, the credit card company, were keeping track of these visas, as opposed to the U.S. government, they could probably have a system set up in a year that would be an electronic biometric entry-exit system. And we’d know much more about who was in the country and who wasn’t.

But, yes, that definitely concerns me. So eliminate chain migration, focusing on employment-based legal immigration and the immediate nuclear family. I think anybody who wants to marry somebody from anywhere in the world, wants to bring them to the United States, our law allows that and should continue to allow it, as long as it’s not fraudulent. And their children, of course. But that’s the kind of reform that I think would be good for immigration policy. I also think that immigration in general is a positive thing, not a negative thing, for our country. Our country has grown over centuries through immigration. But as much as we’re all – we’re a nation of immigrants, everybody in this room can go back a few generations or several generations and find someone in their family who came here. My wife’s parents were both from Ireland. My grandfather came from Germany. My son-in-law’s father came from Switzerland.

We are also a nation of laws. And losing respect for the rule of law is what is at stake here. And it’s not just respect for immigration laws. You can flout these laws, as so many people – both people in this country and people trying to enter this country are doing cooperatively, like we’re seeing right now at the border. If you can flout those laws, you’re going to flout other laws as well. And you’re seeing that too, to the extent that people who’ve committed very serious crimes, there’s in some places not the sentiment to say, well, you can serve your time, now you’re going back to your home country.

MS. VAUGHAN: Who do you think will be ranking member come January? I assume it’s –

REP. GOODLATTE: Oh, he’s been elected. It’s Doug Collins.

MS. VAUGHAN: It is Doug Collins? OK. And how about chair?

REP. GOODLATTE: Of the Judiciary?


REP. GOODLATTE: Well, I think – I don’t know if they’ve finished the process, but I’m pretty sure it will be the current ranking member Jerry Nadler will become chairman of the committee.

MS. VAUGHAN: How about for the Immigration Subcommittee?

REP. GOODLATTE: That I don’t know. I will say that Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has been the chair in the past. And she may decide she wants to do that. On the other hand, she is the second-most senior member on the committee. And she would qualify for other subcommittees as well. But it’s usually – it was, in my case, on the Republican side, the chairman gets to report the subcommittee chair. So it really will be up to Mr. Nadler what subcommittee chair is filled by what Democratic member. So we’ll have to just wait and see. But she certainly has the experience in that area. And her views on this are very, very different than mine. But that would be one possibility. But it could be that she takes something else and goes further down the seniority list to somebody else.

MS. VAUGHAN: OK. This one asks: Are the next two years likely to be pure gridlock on immigration or are there possible areas of cooperation with the Democrats, given those differences that you just alluded to.

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, there is the possibility. But I would urge the president and I would urge the Senate, and I worry because I don’t know what resolve they’ll show, but nothing – in my opinion – nothing should be done like the comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate passed several years ago. And if they’re going to do anything, it’s got to be conditioned upon fixing these problems with loopholes in the law. That would be my number-one priority. And number two would be modernizing the system with an entry-exit visa system, and having a mandatory E-Verify system, and then deploying more technology and, you know, walls where walls are needed, and other measures where they’re not needed at the border. So I wouldn’t say we should be legalizing large numbers of people who are not here unless we do those things, because we’ve already been there and done that.

In 1986 I was practicing immigration law at the time. And I was appalled that the Congress passed, and the person who I think it was the greatest president of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan, would sign. I think it was done in good faith. But would sign a law that said that if you’re not lawfully present in the U.S. – and it covered almost everybody who was not lawfully here – you can get amnesty and an immediate pathway to a green card and to citizenship, in exchange for simply new enforcement requirements with regard to employers. The idea being that everyone who was here illegally will suddenly be legal, and employers will comply with the law, and therefore there will be no magnet to draw people into the country, therefore our problem with illegal immigration would be at an end.

That was the theory. It was a total disaster in practice, because it said to the world, hey, they gave amnesty to 3 or 4 million people. They’ll probably do it again. We better get in there before the next time they do it.

MS. VAUGHAN: Is there incentive for the Democrats to agree to that scenario?

REP. GOODLATTE: If they feel that there is enough DACA-like things to do some enforcement, there could be some deal done. I wouldn’t expect it to be a big deal. If it is a big deal, it’s probably a bad deal. But I think the step-by-step idea – do some enforcement, build the public’s trust that our laws are going to be enforced, and then maybe you can do more, is a better way to go.

MS. VAUGHAN: Mmm hmm. So that would be the deal, not something on guest workers or –

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, there’s always pressure – there’s always pressure to find workers in these – in these areas where there is a shortage. My concern – my belief is that there are only a – there were a few Democrats, but only a few, who were willing to support the guest worker for E-Verify. Personally, I think that’s a good trade. But the type of guest worker that I set up is not what the Democrats have historically had in mind. The – I’m trying to think what it was called – the ag –

MS. VAUGHAN: Ag jobs?

REP. GOODLATTE: Ag jobs, right. The ag jobs bill was a path – it was amnesty. It was a pathway to citizenship. Well, there’s a huge flow of that. And if you’re – if you’re an American farmer and you’re having a hard time getting labor, the last thing you should want is to have all of your workers given a green card. You should want them to have a guest worker status where they can go home, back and forth, as they want to, legally across the border, but it’s temporary, and no pathway to citizenship. Now, if you – you know, if you found some other way to legally qualify to do something else, well, that’s great. That’s part of our immigration laws. But no way of saying, oh, I’ve been here a certain number of years, so I’m automatically eligible for a green card, and then citizenship. Once somebody working on a farm has a green card, they can work in any business in the United States that wants to hire them. And they can start their own business. Why would they want to stay on a farm?

The American Farm Bureau will tell you that when they did the amnesty in 1986 about half of the people who were in agriculture working illegally left the farms and created a huge labor crisis. You know how they solved it? More illegal workers. And that’s why you have to avoid that type of a solution to a labor problem.

MS. VAUGHAN: All right. Well, I know – I know we’ve reached out time, but I have to ask you one quickie lighting question. What’s next for you?

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, thank you. I am looking forward to taking some time off. And I’m sure that I’m going to always be interested in issues related to immigration, and I’m always going to be interested in finding solutions to problems. So I hope to find something meaningful to do in the future. But at this point in time, my wife and I are looking forward to just taking some time with our grandchildren and figuring out what that next chapter is. But stay tuned.

MS. VAUGHAN: All right. We will. And all of you please stay tuned. This will be broadcast also on our website eventually. It’s been live on Facebook. But I thank you very much for coming today, but also for all your hard work on the Judiciary Committee and the Immigration Committee in working for some better immigration policies in the national interest.

REP. GOODLATTE: Well, thank you. Thank you all. (Applause.)