Boehner Immigration Guidelines Would Grant Legal Status

Image: Boehner Immigration Guidelines Would Grant Legal Status

Friday, 17 Jan 2014 01:11 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The House Republican leadership is expected to release a one-page list of principles governing immigration reform efforts next week that for the first time backs legal status for undocumented immigrants.

But the plan falls short of providing for an immediate  pathway to citizenship as outlined in the comprehensive Senate bill passed last year.

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Still, The Wall Street Journal that the move could help break the logjam over the issue, which has divided Republicans and left Democrats and reform advocates fuming over the GOP leadership's refusal so far to move on a comprehensive measure through the House.

House Speaker John Boehner, with the support of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, is expected to circulate the plan to GOP members before it is publicly released ahead of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Jan. 28.

Rep. Lee Terry told the Journal the move could 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," the Nebraska Republican said. However, he added, "It will still be a very difficult sell."

There was no indication from Republican leaders on when the House might start voting on reform measures and what exactly they might look like, according to the Journal. That led some critics to charge that the new guiding principles are little more than a political move that may or may not work to attract Hispanic voters in the November midterm elections.

According to the National Journal, Boehner has little to lose in trying to convince his fellow Republicans to follow his new guiding principles. If conservatives object to any part that resembles amnesty for immigrants, Boehner and other Republican leaders can still say they tried to push though legislation so that the House and Senate could then go to conference to pass something.

"We can win in 2014 without resolving it. We can't win in 2016 without resolving it," Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told the Journal.

The new plan, while stopping short of endorsing amnesty, still provides a legal process that will require immigrants to admit guilt, pay a fine and back taxes before being legally allowed to live and work in the United States, congressional aides familiar with the plan told The Wall Street Journal.

Immigrants would not automatically qualify for a "pathway to citizenship," which is called for in the Senate Bill. Instead, would force them to seek legal permanent residence, or green cards, in order to be eligible for citizenship.

Goodlatte, who supports that approach, told Telemundo Sunday that he is open to new legislation, saying he sees "no reason" illegal immigrants 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," California Rep. Tom McClintock said Thursday.

House Democrats may also end up opposing the Boehner plan. But some still called the move to lay out a guiding set of standards by the leadership a positive development in the immigration debate.

Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois it "a very important moment" because the debate up until now has been framed as including citizenship for all, or "justice for no one."

He added that he is not yet ready to endorse GOP approach, but admitted that it could end up being better than the current rules that result in thousands of people being deported each week.

The National Foundation for American Policy also said this week that the GOP's potential new rules could result in 4.4 million to 6.5 million of illegal immigrants qualifying for green cards, compared with 8 million under the Senate bill.

Boehner's plan also calls for increased border security, increased employment verification, a temporary permit 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, sources who have seen a draft of the plan told the Journal.

Some of those proposals have been under consideration by various House committees for some time but have never moved. Republican advocates for immigration are hopeful that is about to change.

"[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," said ImmigrationWorks USA President Tamar Jacoby, a GOP reform advocate.

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