Immigration: GOP steps away from any path to citizenship; House leadership to hash out plan

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House Republicans are meeting Wednesday to hash out their own strategy on immigration, but already one major difference has emerged between them and their Senate counterparts — they are far less enthusiastic about an eventual path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Even many of the 32 Senate Republicans who voted against their immigration bill last month said they think a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants is necessary, and eventually likely. But in the House, that’s far from a majority stance.


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“I believe any talk about a pathway to citizenship will only make the problem worse because our borders are open and you’re encouraging people to come here illegally,” said Rep. Lou Barletta, a Pennsylvania Republican who pioneered immigration crackdowns as a mayor before winning election to Congress.

He said the chief goal for Republicans when they huddle Wednesday afternoon to talk strategy should be to establish that immigration enforcement must come before anything else.

For Democrats, the path to citizenship is non-negotiable as a part of the bill.

“Without a path to citizenship, there is not going to be a bill,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said as he emerged from a meeting with House Democrats.

Mr. Schumer’s Senate bill offers illegal immigrants quick legal status and work permits but withholds full citizenship rights for most of them until more than a decade down the road. Younger illegal immigrants and those doing agriculture work with have a quicker path.

Democrats hope to convince Republicans in heavily Hispanic districts that it’s in their political interests to vote with Democrats to back the path to citizenship, but many Republicans say that amounts to amnesty.


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House Republicans meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday to talk about how to proceed. After they hash out the issue, the leaders will meet to decide a final path forward.

Several options are on the table.

They could take up individual bills to boost border security, to impose a mandatory electronic verification system for employers to check the status of potential hires, and to rewrite parts of the legal immigration system; or they could combine those into one broad bill.

Another option is to wait for a broad bill that is being written by a bipartisan group of seven lawmakers, and that is closer to the Senate’s approach, complete with a specific path to citizenship.

Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said it was dangerous to broach any broad immigration bill as long as Democrats have a majority in the Senate and control the White House. He said there would be pressure to include at least some legal status for illegal immigrants, which eventually would become full citizenship.

“Anything that contemplates legalization ends up in citizenship, so that is just how it ends,” he said.

He said he has seen some signs of movement from his own party leadership in recent weeks. Indeed, while House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, hasn’t changed positions, his emphasis has shifted since last year.

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