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The only way forward on immigration reform

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    April 10, 2013: Activists rally for immigration reform in Los Angeles. (AP)

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    Monday, April 22, 2013: The Rev. Eugene Barnes of Illinois, joins immigration advocates outside the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. (AP)

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    People fill a committee room on Thursday, April 18, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. A Vermont House committee is hearing testimony on a bill that would allow farmworkers in the country illegally to become drivers. Last week, the Senate gave final approval for a bill to create driver privilege cards for people not eligible to get an enhanced driver's license under the federal REAL ID law. The measure is expected to extend driving privileges to 1,200 to 1,500 immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala and mostly working on Vermont dairy farms who are in the United States without the legally required immigration papers.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Nearly everyone agrees that we need to fix our nation’s broken immigration system but the way for Congress to get there is through regular order.  

For far too long, the standard operating procedure in Washington has been to rush large pieces of legislation through Congress with little opportunity for elected officials and the American people to scrutinize and understand them.  

Before we hurry to overhaul our immigration laws, we must methodically look at each of the various components that need to be remedied. Immigration reform is too important and complex to not examine each piece in detail.  

Immigration reform is too important and complex to not examine each piece in detail.  

By now, we’ve all learned what happens when Congress rushes legislation and bypasses regular order.  In 2010, the House jammed the 2,700-page ObamaCare bill through Congress without a single hearing or markup on the bill that was ultimately signed into law.  

Americans are now stuck with the consequences of this hasty decision—higher premiums, more taxes, over 20,000 pages in new regulations, and overall bad policy.  Even Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of the bill’s chief architects, warned last week that he sees ObamaCare as a “huge train wreck coming down.”

Regular order is also important because it allows Congress to reflect on past legislative mistakes and avoid making similar ones in the future.  

For example, nearly 30 years ago Congress passed and President Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, assuring the American people that it would fix our immigration system. 

We were promised tougher enforcement in exchange for the legalization of roughly three million people.  But these promises were never kept and our immigration laws remain broken.  The American people want to know how Congress plans to avoid this similar outcome in the current debate surrounding immigration reform.

Some critics may think the call for regular order is an attempt to kill a larger immigration bill but this could not be further from the truth—the two are not mutually exclusive.  

Regular order will help us get immigration reform right and win the trust of the American people so that we don’t face the same problems we do now down the road. 

While the Senate works its will, through the Gang of Eight’s bill or some other piece of legislation, the House will do the same. 

Once each chamber holds Committee hearings, markups, and passes legislation, the House and Senate can work out their differences.  That’s the American legislative process.  

This process can be long but it allows every representative and senator to have their constituents’ voices heard, rather than solely the opinions of a few members in a working group. And by taking a fine-tooth comb through each of the individual issues within the larger immigration debate, it will help us get a better bill that will benefit Americans and provide a workable immigration system.  

The members of the Senate Gang of Eight have worked hard to produce legislation and their efforts should be applauded.  

While it’s true that many in the House of Representatives have concerns about the Senate immigration bill, we are hopeful that we can produce better solutions.  

The House Judiciary Committee has held numerous hearings on immigration and also plans to hold one on the Senate immigration bill in the coming days to consider its merits and flaws.  

At the same time, we are receiving input from members from both sides of the aisle, as well as stakeholders and other interested parties, in order to reach consensus on many of the issues plaguing our immigration system.  

Consensus has been reached on some issues and the House Judiciary Committee this week will introduce a couple of stand-alone bills that tackle various issues within our immigration system.  

One bill will create a new temporary agricultural guestworker program that meets the needs of farmers so that they can continue growing our crops and providing a reliable food source for Americans. 

 The other helps ensure we turn off the jobs magnet that attracts illegal immigration by requiring all employers to use E-Verify.  This web-based program provides employers with a quick and easy way to check the work eligibility of their newly hired employees.  

Following regular order, the House Judiciary Committee plans to hold legislative hearings on these bills soon so that members can ask questions of the legislation and look for ways to improve them.

The introduction of these two bills doesn’t mean that a broader immigration reform bill isn’t achievable. We hope to reach consensus on more issues but in the meantime these stand-alone bills are a down payment on a larger bill. 

Immigration reform is not an easy task but a solution is not out of reach.  Through regular order we can make sure we get immigration reform right this time so that we don’t have the same problems in the future.  

Republican Bob Goodlatte represents Virginia's 6th congressional district in the House of Representatives. He is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over intelligence-gathering programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.