Former House speaker Dennis Hastert, the longest serving GOP speaker in history, told the Wall Street Journal that his former colleagues should pass an immigration bill that would improve border security and give legal status to the estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the USA.
“We need to give these people legal status,” Hastert said in the Wall Street Journal interview. “They live here. They work here. They raise families here. We need to recognize that they’re here.”
Hastert, from Illinois, was speaker in 2006 when a major immigration bill passed the Senate but got nowhere in the House of Representatives. Fast forward to today. The Democratic controlled Senate passed an immigration bill last year, which includes a path to citizenship, but the GOP controlled House has yet to consider the same legislation. The former speaker said politics makes it necessary for the House to act. “Why alienate a large voting bloc of American people?” said Hastert, who left office in 2007.
The House GOP announced its broad principles for immigration legislation. When Mr. Hastert was speaker, he faced the same problems that the current speaker, John Bohener of Ohio, has now in rounding up GOP votes for an immigration bill. He declined to bring legislation to the floor, even after it cleared the Senate in 2006.
“It was pretty obvious at that point that it the legislation didn’t have the votes to move it out, especially in the Judiciary Committee,” he said. “It was pretty well stacked with people who weren’t willing to move.”
It was that debate, in fact, that spawned the notion of a “Hastert rule,” by which the speaker is not supposed to bring legislation to the House floor unless it has backing of a majority of the majority in this case, a majority of Republicans. With that in mind, Mr. Boehner is working to round up GOP support for an immigration bill.