CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- House Republican leaders unveiled on Thursday their
principles for an overhaul to the nation's immigration laws, which
require tighter border security, more interior immigration enforcement
and allow the nation's undocumented immigrants to "get right with the
law" and stay in the country.
The principles, distributed to
Republicans gathered here for a three-day annual retreat, say
undocumented immigrants can legally live and work in the country if they
register with the federal government and are "willing to admit their
culpability." They must also pass a "rigorous" criminal background
check, pay "significant" fines and back taxes, learn English and civics
and prove they can support themselves without government assistance.
principles do not make clear whether most undocumented immigrants would
ever be able to apply for green cards or become U.S. citizens. But it
does say that those brought to the country as children "would not be
punished for the mistakes of their parents" and could eventually become
U.S. citizens if they meet certain criteria.
"This problem's been around for at least the last 15 years. It's been
turned into a political football, I think it's unfair. So I think it's
time to deal with it," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said
Thursday before huddling with his members. "But how we deal with it is
Boehner has been up front that Republicans
continue to favor a step-by-step approach vs. one comprehensive piece of
legislation akin to what the Democratic-controlled Senate approved last
year. The Senate bill includes a pathway to citizenship for the 12
million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Senate Democrats were encouraged by what they saw in the one-page set of principles.
these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they
leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans, in both the
House and Senate, can in some way come together and pass immigration
reform that both sides can accept. It is a long, hard road but the door
is open," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. in a statement.
The most contentious issue among Republicans is how to address the status of undocumented immigrants.
the eve of Thursday's GOP retreat, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan,
R-Wis., laid out how undocumented immigrants could reach citizenship.
told MSNBC that undocumented immigrants could immediately qualify for a
"probationary status" and that the government would then have an
undetermined amount of time to reach certain security benchmarks,
including stronger border security and enhanced interior immigration
If those benchmarks are met, then the undocumented
immigrants could qualify for a more permanent legal work permit,
allowing them to live and work in the country without fear of
At that point, only those who can qualify for
already-existing channels of legal immigration - meaning they're related
to a U.S. citizen or are sponsored for a green card by their employer -
could get on the road to citizenship, he said.
Under the Senate
plan, the vast majority of the nation's undocumented immigrants can
apply for U.S. citizenship. It would take them 13 years and they would
have to clear several hurdles, including paying fines, back taxes and
maintaining a clean criminal record. But they could then apply for
Ryan criticized the Senate proposal as a "special pathway to
citizenship" that is unfair to people around the world who have been
waiting years to apply and legally enter the USA.
"If you want to
get in line to get a green card like any other immigrant, you can do
that," Ryan said. "You just have to get at the back of the line so that
we preference that legal immigrant who did things right in the first
The two approaches would have a big effect on who could qualify for citizenship. A Congressional Budget Office analysis
of the Senate plan estimated that about 8 million undocumented
immigrants would qualify for green cards and U.S. citizenship. The House
approach laid out by Ryan would allow between 4.4 to 6.5 million
undocumented to reach that status, according to a report from the National Foundation for American Policy, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank.
Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., told reporters at the retreat that he was
receptive to that alternative. "I think we as Republicans can find a
path to legal status that does not include citizenship," he said,
dismissing political concerns that taking on immigration could divide
the GOP and spark primary challenges in an election year.
afraid to deal with anything at anytime," he said, "If we focus on the
right policy, the politics will take care of itself."
Democrats have long insisted that they could not negotiate with the
House if it presented a plan that forever barred undocumented immigrants
from attaining U.S. citizenship. With the new GOP principles at least
providing access to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants,
Democrats said it was something they could work with.
I hear from in Congress is talking about immediate citizenship for
everyone or mass deportation for everyone," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez,
D-Ill., who has led immigration efforts for Democrats for years.
can find common ground that allows millions of the undocumented to
eventually apply for citizenship, legalizes millions who are working and
contributing to the country, and puts our economy, our security, and
the legality of America's workforce on solid ground."
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that Boehner has
informed her of their intent to put out some guiding principles.
see what it is, but I believe it is a good-faith effort to find common
ground. And we look forward to seeing what they are," Pelosi said.
she said any bill that does not ultimately include a path to
citizenship is unlikely to garner much support from Democrats. "We need
to have that path."