WASHINGTON — Republicans in the House of Representatives kicked off their first hearing on immigration Tuesday with a stated goal of harmonizing the principles of humanity and the rule of the law.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee met after a wave of immigration proposals from President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of senators calling for a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants now residing in the United States.
But Tuesday's gathering emphasized how many House Republicans still oppose granting a path to citizenship, which several committee members referred to as "amnesty."
"The question of the day," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., was whether there were any signs of compromise between the "extremes of mass deportation and path to citizenship."
"America is a nation of immigrants," he said. "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."
Julian Castro, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio, testified on behalf of a path to citizenship.
He cited the hearing as a further example that the country is "on the cusp of real progress." But he warned lawmakers that any plan that doesn't include a path to citizenship risks creating a population of "second-class noncitizens."
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, cited his concerns and those of other Republicans about repeating the mistakes of the so-called amnesty legislation of 1986.
That law, signed by President Ronald Reagan, also promised to grant legal status to illegal immigrants, secure the borders and beef up worker-verification protections. But the enforcement protections were largely unmet, and millions more illegal immigrants flooded into the United States.
"In the minds of many, Mr. Chairman, the country got amnesty, but we're still waiting 25 years later on the border security and employment verification," Gowdy said. "So here we are back again asking our fellow citizens to trust us."
Labor and business: President Barack Obama, who has said he'd like to see immigration legislation passed by June, held separate private meetings at the White House on Tuesday with labor leaders and top business executives, . Attendees declined to release details of their conversations, but they described them as productive.