Politics Special

Republicans loosen their stance on immigration

Updated: 2014-01-31T05:26:04Z

By DAVID LIGHTMAN and FRANCO ORDONEZ

McClatchy Washington Bureau

— House Republican leaders on Thursday proposed legal status for most undocumented immigrants, a stance aimed at helping their party appeal to Hispanic voters but also likely to further divide the GOP.

“There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws,” said the draft statement of standards presented to House Republicans at a retreat at a Maryland resort.

But it added, “These persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families without access to public benefits.”

Not eligible would be criminal aliens, gang members and sex offenders.

And, the statement says, “none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.”

The House template also calls for tighter border security and interior enforcement, a new electronic worker verification system, and a path to citizenship for those who were brought to the country illegally as children.

“One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents,” it said.

The draft is similar to points introduced in the Senate last year. The Senate passed a comprehensive measure with bipartisan support that provided a 13-year path to citizenship and tougher border security and enforcement.

The House plan suggested potential progress toward some immigration overhaul, more progress than this issue has enjoyed in months.

Unlike the senators who passed one sweeping bill, House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, wants to address the principles through a series of proposals. But the key House-Senate difference is that the House Republican principles do not include a path to citizenship.

Although that mollified opponents of an overhaul, some advocates for undocumented immigrants expressed concern.

“The Republican principles would in effect create a permanent underclass without the full access and benefits of American society,” said Kica Matos of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, which advocates for a path to citizenship for the undocumented.

Nonetheless, the principles got a warm response from a key Democrat.

“While 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,” said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. “It is a long hard road, but the door is open.”

Boehner said Thursday the standards were as far as he was willing to go.

“I have been clear that I oppose the massive, flawed immigration reform bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate. I’ve been clear that the House will not take it up or engage in negotiations with the Senate on it,” he said. “We will address this issue in a step-by-step, commonsense fashion that starts with securing our nation’s borders and enforcing our nation’s laws.”

Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho on Wednesday told Spanish-language television network Noticias Telemundo that it was “impossible” that the House would pass an overhaul in 2014. Labrador, a key negotiator in failed efforts to introduce bipartisan legislation, said Republicans had no faith that President Barack Obama would enforce laws that they passed.

Immigration has been a fiercely emotional, divisive issue for Republicans. For years the party has been split between hardliners who insist on tough border security and are reluctant to offer breaks for illegal immigrants and those who want a path to some sort of legal status.

Supporters of an overhaul gave mixed reviews. Those with ties to the business community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, praised the release.

Those who advocate directly for undocumented families said they were encouraged but added the principles fall short because it has no path to citizenship.

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