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 comprehensive immigration proposals from President 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."
Castro joined seven experts on immigration who spoke about proposals to rework the laws, attract more high-skilled immigrant workers and improve border security.
Julie Myers Wood, a former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said any new legislation must consist of stronger employment-verification systems and improve the resources of agencies that were charged with enforcing immigration laws.
"If we're going to do this again, we've got to get enforcement right and get it right from the get-go, or otherwise we'll be in this situation again," she said.
As the meeting got under way, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised the ongoing efforts of Senate and House bipartisan groups that are working on immigration proposals, and he advised members to take their time.
"This is not about being in a hurry," he said. "This is about trying to get it right on behalf of the American people and those who are suffering under an immigration system that doesn't work very well for anybody."
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., today will present several immigration-related bills, taking advantage of the momentum immigration reform has generated since the presidential election.
He said his bills have to do with "other aspects of border life," not strictly immigration issues.
One aims to strengthen border development and commerce, Grijalva said, by creating the U.S.-Mexico Economic Partnership Commission. That bill also proposes adding 500 Customs and Border Protection officers to Arizona's ports of entry.
The second bill, The Border Security and Responsibility Act, will secure and conserve federal public lands along the border.
Both bills have been introduced in the past but didn't get far in Congress.