House Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner are preparing to unveil a major immigration initiative this week that many hope could trigger movement on an issue that has troubled the nation for decades.
The brief outline of immigration principles Boehner will unveil at a three-day Republican leadership retreat in Cambridge, Md., will include strengthening border security and creating new visas for foreign workers, and offer a path to legalization – though not necessarily citizenship – for the nation’s 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants, according to people briefed on the deliberations who spoke to The New York Times
and The Washington Post.
Coming on the week of President Barack Obama's "State of the Union" address, which will be given Tuesday night, some Democrats are expressing hope that new momentum could yield results after months in which the issue languished in the House.
On Sunday, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Rand Paul said there is some room for compromise on immigration with the Obama administration.
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"We don’t agree on the whole comprehensive package with the Democrats, but I’ll bet you about half of it we agree on," Paul said. "The question is: are we willing to narrow our focus and go after things that we can agree to and get them done, or are we going to stay so polarized that we always have to have our way or the highway?”
Administration officials and others told the Post that there still is a long way to go before any compromise could be reached between the House and Senate, which approved a bipartisan plan to overhaul border-control laws last June.
"It’s a very big deal, and there’s a path here that could get it done," Cecilia Munoz, the White House’s director of domestic policy, told the Post.
Specifically, Boehner’s initiative would come in the form of simple statement of principles.
The central idea is to put forth separate bills dealing with such issues as:
- border security
- the hiring of illegal immigrants
- guest-worker rules
- a path to citizenship for those who arrived in the country illegally as children
- a plan to legalize undocumented workers who have American family ties or sponsoring employers
This is far different from the view long held by Obama and Democrats that immigration could be taken up in a single, sweeping bill.
But Obama and Democratic leaders have said they are open to the multiple-bill approach favored by Boehner and key Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio’s backing is crucial for the key bloc of tea party Republicans in both the House and the Senate.
Fixing the immigration crisis is believed key to the electoral fortunes of both Democrats and Republicans. Obama is facing mounting pressure from immigration advocates to halt deportations, which are on pace to soon top the 2 million mark during his tenure. That’s more than the George W. Bush administration deported in its entire eight years.
Republican Party leaders, meanwhile, are convinced that their party must broaden its appeal to Latinos and Asian Americans. Obama won reelection in 2012 with the support of more than 70 percent of those voters.
On Friday, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned Republicans that fixing immigration is essential to their plans to take the Senate in 2014 and recapture the White House in 2016.
"If you are against the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country, you and your party don't have a future," Bloomberg said flatly at a forum on immigration Friday with Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who served in President George W. Bush's administration.
"The principles they lay out I’m sure won’t satisfy everybody,” Bloomberg said. But, he added, "if we can make some compromises here for the good of the country, I think we have a very good chance for the first time in a long time of changing something that is really damaging all of us."
Boehner’s plan is designed to assuage concerns of conservative Republicans who oppose outright citizenship or amnesty for illegal immigrants who arrived in the country as adults, but do not oppose a path toward legalization.
Alfonso Aguilar, of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said the question now is whether Democrats would kill any plan toward legalization that does not include citizenship. He pointed to a Pew Hispanic Center poll that showed 61 percent of immigrant Latinos place legalization higher on their preferences than citizenship, the Post reported.
Conservative opponents of any compromise on immigration reform had hoped to obstruct the Senate immigration bill in a Senate-House conference committee. However, party leaders appear to be trying to come up with a compromise that circumvents the formal structure of a conference committee, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, House immigration hawks are working on an alternative to Boehner's proposal, Breitbart reported.
On Thursday, aides to House conservatives who oppose the leadership’s plan gathered in the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a fierce opponent of the immigration push, to plot a strategy to torpedo it.
Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, a Republican of Idaho and once a leading immigration negotiator in the House, told the Times it would be a mistake to push forward.
"The president has shown he’s not willing to work with us on immigration,” Labrador said. “It’s not worth having a party divided when we have so many issues we can come together on."
Still, many Republicans — especially governors like Snyder — are thought to favor an rapid, comprehensive overhaul of the system.
"We need comprehensive immigration reform. To be blunt, we have a dumb system," said Snyder, who described efforts in Michigan to grant visas to immigrants for work. He said it would "turbo-charge" the economy in places like Detroit.
Gutierrez said that without immigration overhaul, "our workforce down the road doesn't grow," and argued that there was increasing recognition within the GOP that it must be the party of immigration.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the No. 3 leader in the House, expressed support this week for legalization for many of the immigrants here illegally while Democrats have pressed for a path to citizenship.
An unusual coalition of business, labor and evangelicals has lobbied hard for immigration legislation. Thomas Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, has said immigration overhaul is a top priority this year. Donohue met with Boehner last week.
The issue is also crucial to several House Republicans whose districts have seen an increase in Hispanics and who are concerned about their re-election chances.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who met with Boehner earlier this month, said the speaker is "very committed to getting it done and getting it done this year. He quoted Boehner as saying, "There's no good time to do it, so let's just get it done now.'"
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