WASHINGTON (AP) - The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Tuesday the U.S. immigration system is "in desperate need of repair" as he opened Congress' first hearing this year on immigration. Whether Congress will be able to agree on how to fix it remained unclear.
The session came as President Obama buoyed by fresh momentum after his solid election victory pushes for swift action to pass immigration legislation and as bipartisan Senate negotiators work to craft a bill. But in a sign of the difficulties to come, the Judiciary chairman, Republican Bob Goodlatte, cautioned against a "rush to judgment" and said each piece of the issue must be examined in detail.
Goodlatte said there are lots of questions about how any large-scale legalization program would work, how much it would cost and how it would prevent illegal immigration in future.
Obama supports a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country, something many Republicans oppose. But some party members are showing signs of changing their position after losing the votes of Hispanics in the 2012 elections. Hispanics are a growing bloc and are likely to become more important in future elections.
Goodlatte questioned whether another approach might be possible: "Are there options we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?" he asked.
His question underscored the discomfort of many majority House Republicans with granting eventual citizenship to illegal immigrants, something conservatives often decry as amnesty. Many Republican lawmakers have to worry about being challenged by conservatives from within their party than about general election races against Democrats.
At one point the hearing was interrupted by protesters, apparently young illegal immigrants brought t to the country as children, who shouted "undocumented and unafraid!" before being led out.
Yet Tuesday's hearing, which focused on fixing the legal immigration system and on enforcement, was notable for the generally measured tone from some Republicans known for strong anti-immigration positions.
Several questioned whether there's a way short of citizenship to deal with illegal immigrants, and others on the panel agreed on the need to allow more high-skilled workers to enter the country, a priority for technology companies.
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