David Frum

05.20.13

The House of Representatives' Confusing 3-Headed Immigration Monster

Compared to the relatively smooth Senate procedure for immigration reform, the process in the House of Representatives resembles a confused, three-headed monster that will baffle even relatively informed voters.

In the spirit of knowing how our government thinks it works, here's a brief primer on how to understand the House's path to an immigration reform.

(Rep. Raul Labrador, Getty Images). (Rep. Xavier Becerra, Getty Images) (Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Getty Images) ()

A comprehensive reform bill is expected to be introduced on June 3, after the House returns from Memorial Day weekend.

This effort is being advanced by an eight member bipartisan working group which includes Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), John Yarmuth (D-KY), John Carter (R-Texas), Sam Johnson (R-Texas), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), and Raul Labrador (R-ID). Most observers are calling this group the 'Gang of Eight,' which as you'll see in a moment, can be quite confusing.

As senior House aides told The Daily Beast, the bipartisan working group's bill is expected to contain a 15-year path to citizenship, an E-Verify system that is roughly analagous to the senate bill, and a pair of guest worker plans that will be sorted out at a later point. The group has been working on this bill since the beginning of the Obama presidency, and took up the issue with enewed vigor after November's elections.

Steve King, ringleader of the Gang of 6 ()

The second of the three-headed House immigration monster is what's termed the 'Gang of Six.' Comprised of six Republicans and basically led by Steve King of Iowa, the Gang is staunchly opposed to an immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. King is so against the bill that he's publicly said immigration amnesty is worse than Obamacare, no slight claim for the never-understated Iowan.

Video screenshot

Democratic Senators have made quite clear that immigration reform will not become law without such an immigration amnesty, but the House Gang of Six would prefer the bill not pass at all. King and crew will almost certainly be joined by a substantial portion of the more conservative members of the Republican caucus.

Senate staffers are hoping to counter this conservative opposition by passing the final deal by such a wide margin that Speaker John Boehner will allow the House to take immigration to a vote without the majority consent of the Republican caucus.

(Related: Ditch the Hastert Rule, Speaker Boehner.)

Finally, there's the House Judiciary Committee, through which any bill must pass prior to reaching the floor of the House. Chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the committee has thus far shown mixed interest in the reform process.

Goodlatte has personally introduced two bills, one dealing with E-Verify, the other a guest worker program, but otherwise the committee has been rather quiet on the process.

On Wednesday, the committee will be hosting a hearing to discuss the Senate's reform bill. (One witness scheduled to appear is Chris Crane, president of a union for customs enforcement officers.)

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Mark Wilson/Getty Images) ()

As the Senate bill has yet to pass through the Judiciary Committee, and the House bill has only been agreed upon in principle, the hearing is more for show than anything else. Aides tell me they believe Goodlatte is keeping the process at a snail's pace to allow differences to be resolved, and are generally far more optimistic than I'd have expected about the chances of the legislation passing the House.

This immigration reform process will play out well into the summer, with the Senate leading the way. (Don't get me started on the new norm of the Senate starting legislation and the House following its lead.)

But I digress. For now, when the House immigration debate is discussed, remember the following things:

The 'Gang of Eight' is in favor, the 'Gang of Six' is opposed, and the House Judiciary Committee is on the periphery (for now). If you get that, this process will make far more sense when it ramps up next month.