House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders are expected to release their one-page list of principles next week for U.S. immigration reform before President Barack Obama makes his State of the Union address.
But there's no indication when the provisions on the supposed far-reaching plan will come up for a vote.
The proposal stops short of the pathway to citizenship endorsed by the Senate in its citizenship bill passed last year, sources tell The Wall Street Journal,
while representing a step toward recasting the immigration system that could appease immigration advocates and Democrats, who have led an outcry over the House's inaction on a national plan.
Boehner and his team — which includes Majority Leader Eric Cantor; Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy; GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers; and immigration-law expert Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — are expected to circulate the plan to build support among lawmakers before it is released publicly, a move that Rep. Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican, says may help win hard-to-get GOP support.
"If it doesn't lead to a pathway to citizenship, I think you will get more people to at least embrace that or be OK with that," Terry said. "It will still be a very difficult sell."
Critics say the new principles are a political move that may or may not work to attract Hispanic votes as the fall elections near. Boehner and other Republicans, after the groundswell of Hispanic voters that helped elect Obama to a second term said, have said they favor a broad immigration overhaul.
And as Obama's ratings are dropping among Hispanic voters, now may be the time for the GOP to attract people who are turning away from the Democratic ticket. According to a December Gallup poll
, Obama's ratings have fluctuated widely among Hispanics, peaking at 80 percent and dipping down to 49 percent.
But even if the House does not approve of Boehner's plan, he could still come out looking like a winner, reports The National Journal
. If the plan fails after conservatives object to any part that resembles amnesty for immigrants, Boehner and other Republican leaders can still say they tried for legislation.
"We can win in 2014 without resolving it. We can't win in 2016 without resolving it," Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said.
The new plan, while stopping short of endorsing amnesty, still provides a legal process that will require immigrants admitting guilt and paying fines, plus back taxes, before they are legally allowed to live and work in the United States, insiders familiar with the draft told The Wall Street Journal.
However, immigrants will not automatically qualify for a "pathway to citizenship" that is called for in the Senate bill. Instead, it will allow newly legalized immigrants to seek legal permanent residence, or a green card, and after that be eligible to apply for citizenship.
Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who supports that approach, told Telemundo Sunday that he is open to new legislation, saying he sees "no reason" illegals can't gain citizenship.
But there are still many Republicans who oppose legalization, and Boehner and his team may have a difficult time getting them to agree with his plan.
"Illegal immigration is a crime and ought to be treated that way," Rep. Tom McClintock of California said Thursday.
Democrats may also oppose the Boehner plan; many believe any proposal that does not allow citizenship is unacceptable. But some Democrats are optimistic about the potential of a new list of immigration standards.
Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, while calling the GOP's plans "a very important moment," said the debate has also been framed as either including citizenship for all, or "justice for no one."
He said he is not endorsing the GOP approach, while admitting it could be better than the rules already in place that result in thousands of people being deported each week.
The National Foundation for American Policy said this week the GOP's proposal could result in 4.4 million to 6.5 million illegal immigrants qualifying for green cards, compared with 8 million under the Senate's bill.
Boehner's plan also calls for increased border security, increased employment verification, a temporary worker program for low-skilled workers, allowing more visas for high-tech workers, and a pathway to citizenship for people brought to the country illegally while they were children, said sources who have seen a draft.
If the extensive plan gets positive feedback, it will allow Goodlatte, Cantor, and California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa to advance legislation that has been under discussion for some time, reports The National Journal.
Cantor and Goodlatte talked about a pathway to citizenship for those who came to the United States as children, and Issa is considering broader legalization for unauthorized immigrants.
ImmigrationWorks USA President Tamar Jacoby, a Republican advocate for immigration reform, said the proposals sound "dramatic."
"[There are] at least five and maybe six or seven House Republicans getting ready to introduce legalization bills — House Republicans competing to write bills for what they once called amnesty. I think that's pretty dramatic, as I understand from the outside," Jacoby said.
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