(Feb. 9) House Agriculture Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., looms as a major hurdle in the effort to pass the important AgJobs bill this year.

While Senate support could approach 80 votes, Goodlatte’s refusal to endorse AgJobs — and the stubbornness of other House Republicans to forgo rhetoric for progress — may doom the chances of the bipartisan bill, which has been under construction for eight years.

The sticking point for many conservative House Republicans is their rejection of “amnesty.” In their view, the U.S. government should do nothing to reward those who entered the country without proper documents.

That principled position would be appropriate if the U.S. had already been serious about its immigration policy. As it is, the government has turned a blind eye to the illegal immigration of millions of Mexicans in the past two decades.

Those immigrants, without proper documentation, now have established roots in America. They have filled jobs that otherwise would go begging.

We agree the U.S. must better control its border; that is why AgJobs is important to implement. But America cannot uproot the 8 million to 12 million undocumented workers already in the country and send them back to Mexico. There must be a process under which they can work in this country, help U.S. agricultural producers and eventually earn the right to apply for permanent resident status. Goodlatte appears to brings a judiciary committee mentality to the agriculture committee. By refusing to give any quarter to rule breakers who entered the U.S. without documents, he is doing a disservice to the agriculture community he is in a position to serve.

Immigration reform will be impossible without Goodlatte and other Republicans putting the interests of their country and its producers above easy political rhetoric.