US House to weigh in on immigration effort

The US Senate has spent months thrashing out a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but House members are now getting in on the action, introducing two smaller measures on the issue as early as Thursday.

Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that will shepherd any immigration legislation through the chamber, said his panel would file "several" standalone bills and suggested he preferred that method to the Senate's sweeping, 844-page bill introduced last week.

"We believe that the appropriate thing to do is for the House to begin this process," Goodlatte said.

The measures being unveiled this week would create an agricultural visa program and require employers to use an electronic verification system, known as E-verify, two elements addressed in the sweeping Senate bill.

Perhaps the most contentious immigration issue -- what to do with the 11 million people living in the United States illegally -- will likely come up in the other proposals that are yet to be introduced.

"This process can be long, but it allows every representative and senator to have their constituents' voices heard," Goodlatte told reporters.

"By taking a fine-toothed 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."

Goodlatte has been non-committal on where he stands on the pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, and said House negotiators have yet to commit to such a step.

"We are not to that point yet," he said.

The Senate bill offers such a path after 13 years, and requires applicants to pay fines and back taxes, undergo criminal background checks and wait for border security measures to be implemented.

But Goodlatte stressed that "it's our hope that we will be able to accomplish" an immigration bill in 2013.

Senators voiced concern that the piecemeal tactic -- at odds with a group of congressmen in the House who have been negotiating a broad immigration bill for years -- might backfire and leave lawmakers with nothing to show for their efforts.

"I think the idea of doing separate bills is just not going to work," said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, a member of the "Gang of Eight" who crafted the broad Senate bill.

Breaking up the legislation, he said, would trigger endless calls to rework the language by various interest groups.

Senator John McCain, a Republican in the grouping, agreed. "It has got to be a comprehensive approach," he said.

Any House immigration bill is widely expected to adopt a more conservative approach than the one put forward in the Democratically-held Senate.